London (AFP) – Rangers’ search for a saviour to end Celtic’s run of seven consecutive Scottish league titles has led them to Steven Gerrard — a global figure but a managerial novice.
The former Liverpool and England captain must now cut his teeth as a coach under the intense spotlight that pursues managers on either side of the Old Firm divide in Glasgow, where finishing second best is rarely tolerated.
Gerrard, 37, signed a four-year deal at Ibrox on Friday but the chances of his seeing out that contract if he has not interrupted Celtic’s march to a record 10 league titles in a row are slim to non-existent.
For all the glamour that a huge fanbase may offer, Gerrard is walking into a club in the doldrums, still reeling from liquidation and subsequent demotion to the fourth tier of Scottish football in 2012.
The 54-time Scottish champions are now in their second season back in the top flight, sitting third in the Premiership with just three games of the campaign to go, lagging behind Aberdeen as well as Celtic.
A 5-0 thrashing at Celtic Park last weekend that allowed the hosts to seal the title showed the magnitude of the job that awaits Gerrard.
The arrival of a Liverpool legend to Ibrox for his first role in senior management has drawn comparisons with Graeme Souness’s return to Scotland in 1986. However, the resources Gerrard will have to work with could not be more contrasting.
– ‘Back foot’ –
Souness was handed an open chequebook to attract a host of England internationals. Gerrard, by contrast, will go up against his final manager at Liverpool in Celtic’s Brendan Rodgers at a club now operating with a third of their cross-city rival’s budget.
“He would be going into a club that is on the back foot, that has been in turmoil for almost a decade now,” Souness wrote in the Sunday Times.
“It doesn’t matter what Steven has achieved as a player, there is nothing that prepares you for management.”
A more apt comparison could be with Liverpool great John Barnes’s ill-fated seven-month stay at Celtic in 1999/2000.
“The reality is that the way the Old Firm clubs’ finances are, I don’t think even a manager such as Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp could do anything better than finishing second in terms of competing against Celtic,” said Barnes this week.
Gerrard’s own coaching experience is limited to one season in charge of Liverpool’s under-18 side but Rangers’ hope is that his aura will encourage quality players to join him to bring back the glory days to Ibrox.
If Gerrard can turn the tide in Glasgow he will make himself a hero among the Rangers fans and also put himself in the shop window for a potential return to Anfield as Liverpool manager one day.
But there is a risk Gerrard shoots his managerial ambitions in the foot straight away by choosing the wrong club at the wrong time.
His appointment also represents another huge gamble for a beleaguered Rangers board, whose history of managerial choices does not inspire confidence.
Portuguese coach Pedro Caixinha was parachuted in from Qatar a little over a year ago with no experience of Scottish football and sacked seven months later, leaving behind a club financially burdened by a number of poor signings.
Under-20s coach Graeme Murty was then promoted to the top job on an interim basis before being sacked this week.
“Rangers appointed an under-20s coach and then expected him to do a fiendishly difficult job. Murty is now getting routed by the Rangers support,” wrote the BBC Scotland’s chief sports writer Tom English.
“Many of them want Gerrard in the door. The lesson the club seems to have learned is that this job is far too big for an under-20s coach who has never managed at senior level. Better instead to give it to an under-18s coach who has never managed at senior level.”