Saturday, May 15

Steven Gerrard had to accept the pressure to turn the Rangers around | Ewan Murray | Football

TThe significance of the Rangers’ title win resonates in what would have happened if the Scottish Premiership trophy had been decorated with green and white ribbons for the tenth time in a row. Had Celtic been able to revel in making history, Steven Gerrard’s tenure at Ibrox would have almost certainly ended after three years, so the only key statistic, that of non-championship, would have fatally undermined the Liverpool hero’s development in other places. The club’s balance sheet would have required the kind of makeover that only comes from a series of player sales.

Instead, a positive legacy from Gerrard has been secured at Ibrox. Some consider this championship, confirmed after Celtic drew 0-0 at Dundee United on Sunday, as the most significant in the proud – but recently shaky – history of the Rangers. Gerrard can now look to the Champions League.

Gerrard’s key calculation in choosing the Rangers as his first managerial port of call didn’t really relate to when or if Celtic could be reviewed. Given the perfectly reasonable and widely held assumption that Gerrard is aiming for the home bench at Anfield, he had to determine whether the Rangers provided a superior starting point to the countless championship clubs who would have happily signed him.

Gerrard’s decision made sense on two levels. The first mistakes made in Scotland were not going to have a particularly wide resonance and knowledge of Gerrard’s poor record in the national cup is limited and, for now, considered irrelevant. More importantly, Gerrard has been able to demonstrate a crucial ability to handle the management of big clubs. Walter Smith wasn’t the most talented coach in the world, but he had the personality to lead the Rangers. Paul Le Guen had coaching credentials that saw him hunted by clubs across Europe when he opted for Glasgow in 2006. The Frenchman, however, lacked the personality to survive at Ibrox.

Despite the fact that Gerrard had spent his footballing life under pressure at a high-profile club, he had to show that this could translate into management. That transition is problematic for some. Gerrard has achieved this at Rangers, more than might be the case, for example, at Swansea, Middlesbrough or Stoke. Including – that is, finally reveling in an environment where the expectation occasionally reaches obscene levels. It’s no wonder Gerrard and Smith get along so well.

Steven Gerrard with Alfredo Morelos

Steven Gerrard with Alfredo Morelos, ‘the erratic epitome of a managerial challenge’. Photograph: Andrew Milligan / PA

Those of us who insisted in 2018 that Gerrard was destined for a perennial seconditis at Rangers were wrong. There are two clear mitigating factors behind those predictions that won’t matter to Rangers’ support but are still worth noting. No one could have reasonably foreseen the scale of Celtic’s recent capitulation, given that when Gerrard was hired by the Rangers, his rivals from the city were untouchable in the country under Brendan Rodgers. The Rangers’ own backdrop was unconvincing, meaning it seemed fanciful that the backing, financial and otherwise, as it has been receiving, would actually come. But fueled by European progress, during which Gerrard has shown his versatility as a coach, the Rangers bet the house on his red; it has been worth it.

Few coaches would have been given until season three to reverse the championship fortunes on both sides of the Old Firm, but this was always part of Gerrard’s appeal. The Rangers follow, and direct, more like the status accorded to the club by someone of such a profile. After years of stagnation, it is difficult to envy them that.

The Rangers’ league form has been imperative. Stability, so essential for any winning team, has been obvious. Celtic’s collapse is of course relevant, but the champions are to be commended for the pressure they applied and that has contributed to that. Gerrard, just 40 years old, told his players long ago that he wanted to eradicate a culture of excuses in the Rangers. Gerrard does not complicate the messages.

The fact that so many team members have improved so dramatically under Gerrard, including Glen Kamara, James Tavernier, Connor Goldson and Ryan Jack, shows his talents as a coach. The generally fruitful handling of Alfredo Morelos, the erratic epitome of a managerial challenge, reflects positively on Gerrard. This season’s race means the Rangers have the freedom to sell players on their terms, as part of a perfectly natural business model, and with enhanced values.

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That 55 is the magic number of the title for the Rangers has been loudly pointed out for some time. This particular milestone emphasizes to Rangers fans that their club’s history remained intact after the financial implosion of 2012. If that particular debate is exhausting, the Rangers’ contradictory unwillingness to offer public comment, and much more. minus an apology, after they were featured in a recently published report. in historic child abuse it should disappoint its fan base. It is said that it is a great football club and then it behaves like one, even, or especially, when the landscape is difficult.

Steven Gerrard dejected after his infamous slip with Liverpool against Chelsea in 2014

A dejected Steven Gerrard after his infamous slide with Liverpool against Chelsea in 2014, the closest he came to a league title as a player. Photograph: Peter Byrne / PA

He was tense on the field just over a year ago. The Rangers’ progress is such that since their 1-0 loss to Hamilton at Ibrox on March 4, 2020, they have not suffered a league loss in 33 games. There are valid and recurring questions about the level of the opponent in Scotland, but while the Rangers under Gerrard once weakened on rude matters, now there is a routine to match arrogance.

Gerrard will focus on the value of this championship to his club. If that follows convention, it would be insane to ignore what this means for the manager. Gerrard did not win a league title as a player and suffered injury incidents. Those experiences were easy to ponder, as Gerrard adopted an ironclad, occasionally irritable demeanor as his players approached the distance of greatness.

Surely he would not let this one escape him; and I didn’t. Gerrard, the manager, has broad enough shoulders to carry loads of high expectations. Just as these attributes will have been noticed on Merseyside, Gerrard has earned the right to shape his own future.

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