into new season
It's very much early days but the beginning of Steven Gerrard's tenure as Rangers boss…
We all thought Steven Gerrard wasn’t going to work at Rangers. Okay, maybe some of you did. If you’re a Rangers fan then you almost certainly hoped for the best. But the vast majority of the media, along with fans of every other club in the Scottish Premiership, assumed it was a PR exercise first and foremost and Gerrard’s actual acumen as a manager was neither a priority or indeed a guarantee for future success at Ibrox. Here is my own take back in April calling Gerrard’s appointment an unnecessary risk.
We’re now almost two months in to the new manager’s tenure at Rangers and although it’s far too soon to suggest he’ll be an unquestionable success in Govan in the long term, he has, so far, taken to every aspect of the job with more precision and success than even the most staunch supporter could have dreamed of.
Last night, Rangers held strong in a 0-0 draw with Maribor to ensure their progression to the final qualifying round of the Europa League. It wasn’t flashy or entirely dramatic. But it worked. And to perhaps the great horror of their rivals, Gerrard’s Rangers didn’t look like the Harlem Globetrotters or a porous team of mercenaries, but instead embodied a well-prepared team that simply gets shit done.
While Celtic fans have lamented the manner in which their club have lingered a little too long in the summer transfer window to find upgrades to certain areas of their own squad, Gerrard has rebuild the Govan outfit at a cost similar, if not slightly smaller, than what the Scottish champions spent on Odsonne Edouard.
Over the past two or three months we have seen a remarkable transformation in the Rangers first team squad that has seen 10 new faces arrive at Ibrox to largely replace the players that were there before. Like Homer in that famous Simpson’s episode in which he becomes the coach of Bart and Lisa’s pee-wee football team, Gerrard has seemingly read out a long list of Mark Warburton and Pedro Caixinha signings along with the word “cut” after every name. The starting XI on Thursday had just six players from last season’s squad and on the bench were four more new faces (two of which were promoted youth players) that hadn’t featured at all in the previous campaign. Gerrard has wiped the slate clean with a ruthless efficiency that most Rangers fans would agree was necessary.
Perhaps most importantly, Gerrard has fixed a defensive line that dogged both Caixinha and Graeme Murty. Not only were both central defenders replaced by Premier League pedigree in Connor Goldson and the young, promising talent of Nikola Katic, but Rangers also went one step further and replaced a relatively solid goalkeeper in Wes Foderingham with Allan McGregor – an extra addition that has already proved his credentials a number of times throughout Rangers’ Europa League qualifying campaign. The club have even shown a remarkable degree of ingenuity and speed in the market by signing left back Borna Barisic after he impressed in a game against NK Osijek in the earlier rounds.
In last season’s Premiership campaign Rangers averaged an astonishing record of 1.3 conceded goals in every match. Despite finishing the season as the league’s top goalscorers, it was clear that that the leaky backline had held them back against Celtic and Aberdeen. So far this season Gerrard’s team have conceded 0.375 goals per match on average. Sure, it’s a tiny range of just eight games but there’s no doubt that the new manager has accurately identified Rangers’ biggest weakness and effectively fixed it for the time being.
Gerrard has managed all of this due, in part, to the authority he unquestionable holds at Ibrox. Unlike Caixinha or indeed Warburton, the new Rangers manager wields the full support of the jam-packed stands at Ibrox every weekend. And in turn that allows him to rule with absolute authority. If you watch closely it’s blatantly apparent.
While Rangers have brought in a number of new players this summer, the manner in which they have sold players has been calculated and ultimately along the lines of Gerrard’s demands. Sure, old, expensive players like Kenny Miller and Bruno Alves have been relinquished of their duties, but so too have decent squad players like Josh Windass and Declan John once good enough offers have come along. It’s worth noting the contrasting manner in which Rangers have happily dealt with these offers and the way they’ve quickly and effectively rejected approaches for key players like James Taverner and Alfredo Morelos. If Gerrard has no place for player they can go immediately, but if they’re a part of his plans then the club will fight tooth and nail to keep them at Ibrox.
In the opening weekend of the Premiership season, Gerrard’s post-match response to drawing 1-1 with Aberdeen after Morelos received a red card was to suggest that his club were fighting against the world. Had Caixinha or Murty suggested as much they would have been lambasted by fans and critics of the club alike. Yet, in Gerrard, Rangers have a manager with the authority to make such claims. He probably doesn’t believe it and may just be building a siege mentality but that’s largely besides the point; what really matters is that he has the support to make such claims. Rangers fans are right behind their new manager and so far he’s making the doubters look like fools.