After yet another tempestuous campaign for Glasgow Rangers, South Africa based owner Dave King has decided to make another change in order to course correct. The dismissal of Graeme Murty as manager was to be expected given recent disappointing results including a 5-0 hammering by rivals Celtic. Murty, who was given the job until the end of the season following Pedro Caixinha’s sacking in October, knew that it was coming after doubt started to surface about his ability to manage the club long term. The need for a more experienced manager to come in and sort the club out appeared to be the most logical next step. Thats why the appointment of Steven Gerrard, the untested former Liverpool and England midfielder as the new Rangers manager raised more than a few eyebrows.
Gerrard becomes Rangers 18th manager in its history and arguably its most inexperienced yet the failures of Mark Warburton, Caixinha and to a lesser extent Murty before him, should mean that the former Liverpool midfielder will be given much more leniency. He doesn’t officially start until June 1st but the size of the challenge that lies ahead of him (and assistant Gary McAllister) will mean that Gerrard will sleep little between now and then. His lack of experience was pinpointed by the media as his potential downfall but the same can be said about the squad he is about to inherit. Few of that squad know what it’s like to win a title or in some cases even taste cup success so turning them into believers may be Gerrard’s biggest challenge. Before he can fix the squad spiritually he must remove the deadwood. And there is a lot of it. Not only does it feature poor signings from his predecessors eras including Carlos Pena, Fabio Cardozo and Eduardo Herrera but it also features a lot of players who should have moved on along time ago. Captain Lee Wallace is one such figure who splits the Ibrox faithful when it comes to his future. There are those who believe Wallace is a symbol of a fallen period, someone who when times got tough stuck it out with the club and should be held in prestige because of that. But there are others who feel that Wallace has been a passenger for several seasons now and it’s only been the clubs turmoil off the pitch that has saved him from the axe. Wallace’s card may already be marked even before Gerrard gets his say following a club dispute that neither side is willing to go into detail publicly to clarify. His departure in the summer along with his co accused teammate Kenny Miller who happens to be out of contract soon will signal the changing of the guard and hopefully wipe the slate clean for Gerrard to build upon.
The job however is not as easy as it seems. Yes money will be made available and to date no announcement has been made on exactly how much but he will have some to strengthen. If he needs more then he will have to find buyers for those surplus to demands which will be a task in itself. Many expect Gerrard to call in favours both at his old clubs, Liverpool and LA Galaxy but also with his numerous friends and connections in the game including former managers like Rafa Benitez at Newcastle. One person he won’t be calling to get players is Brendan Rodgers who is now in charge of Rangers arch rivals Celtic. Rodgers who is looking to complete an unprecedented back to back treble has yet to reach out formally to Gerrard to offer his congratulations however has been vocal in the press about the maturity and influence Gerrard will have on the Rangers squad. That doesn’t mean he is convinced Gerrard will be a success or even be able to stimulate his side enough to effectively challenge Celtic next season but it’s a nice gesture all the same. In honesty, Rodgers is probably delighted that Rangers have hired a novice manager rather than going for a more experienced head like Neil Warnock or even Frank De Boer. It could be argued that both have a better tactical knowledge than Gerrard having managed and won several trophies in their careers.
Time will tell if his lack of managerial experience has any bearing on where the title ends up next season. Those close to Scottish football will tell Gerrard that the most important games to win will be the ones against Celtic. Historically this was purely down to pride and bragging rights for the week following the game but now in a league with teams that have struggled to take any points off of Celtic, the Old Firm derbies are where the title destination is ultimately decided. And before the Aberdeen, Hibernian and Kilmarnock fans start writing hate mail about that last line, it’s worth noting a few things. Yes those clubs have “challenged” in recent seasons but to win the league you actually have to beat Celtic regularly, not just once or twice every five years or so. The other consideration is on resources and in particular the money that can be invested into new players. Only Rangers have the finances to compete with the budget of Celtic (and even then it’s still sizeably smaller) so it’s no wonder that Rangers are time and time again viewed as the only viable challenger.
Gerrard arrives knowing the history of Rangers and will have been informed in no uncertain terms about the importance of stopping Celtic reaching ten consecutive titles in a row. That is the holy grail and to outsiders may seem insignificant but to both sets of supporters it’s often perceived as more important than life itself. Since Rangers ran to nine in a row back in the late 90’s, Celtic fans have stewed and pined for the day when they can get revenge. It comes down to nothing but bragging rights but in a city divided into green and blue, that all that matters. It’s here that Gerrard might actually make sense as an appointment. Having grown up in a similarly passionate city divided into red and blue (Liverpool) he will understand the desire on both sides to gain the upper hand and silence the other half of the city. Passion was what fuelled Gerrard as a player and spurned him on to become the leader he was. He will need to be the embodiment of passion and find players that complement this if he is to be a success. The four year contract handed to him suggests that the board will given him time to course correct the club but if the gap between the two clubs continues to widen and Celtic close in on ten in a row, Gerrard may find himself out of a job.