Celtic play Rangers on Sunday in a title-deciding match at Parkhead. Perhaps we’ve all been…
I must admit, when I first read about the rumours of Steven Gerrard becoming the next Rangers manager I thought it was complete and utter nonsense. As ever, I took to Twitter to complain about bookmakers shortening their odds just to create some buzz. Gerrard? Rangers? It was just too farfetched to even take seriously.
But the stories didn’t go away. In fact, they got more and more frequent. And before long it wasn’t just the Scottish media that was contemplating the concept of one of modern football’s most prominent stars taking up the reigns at Ibrox – ESPN, the Daily Mirror and even Match of the Day were reporting or at least discussing it as a done deal.
What has then come from all of this is a bubble of excitement that has grown and grown, engulfing everything within its path. Unless you’re a card-carrying member of the Green Brigade it’s hard to consider Gerrard coaching in Scottish football without getting quite giddy at the thought.
He’s a solid, professional guy that would project our corner of the globe on to the world stage. Just as Brendan Rodgers did almost two years ago, Gerrard would force critics and simple bystanders to take another look at the Scottish Premiership and perhaps reevaluate their opinions. Most would most likely cling to their biases, but if one or two had a peak and enjoyed what they saw with pleasant surprise then it would all be worth it.
People saying ‘how can you be excited about Gerrard? He’s a youth coach!’
I’ve been to Annan and Brechin and Elgin to watch Kevin Kyle, Ian Black and Holiday Daz.
And you ask why I’m excited about this incredibly glamorous superstar coming to my club?!!
— Heart & Hand (@ibroxrocks) April 27, 2018
At least, that’s the positive spin on the proposed appointment. For although Gerrard would undoubtedly do all of those things, he would also prove to be an almighty risk to the only club that should matter in this circumstance: Rangers. And in many ways, the Ibrox club look set to make yet another mistake in their quest to catch Celtic.
The rather large elephant in the room is, of course, Gerrard’s coaching experience. Although the 37-year-old is a coach at Liverpool, he only began his post-playing career last January. And it wasn’t until September of last year – eight months ago – that he eventually took up the role of coaching the U18s.
Even if Gerrard had studiously been jotting down notes throughout his time as a player under fantastic coaches like Rafa Benitez, Roy Hodgson or Brendan Rodgers, it’s impossible to assume that he’s ready to hit the ground running. With the best intentions in the world, Gerrard is still a complete unknown within the world of coaching – especially within the context of Scottish football. Rangers have been here before. Multiple times.
During the financial disaster, none other than Ally McCoist was tasked with leading the club up the league ladder. After seven years under the tutelage of Walter Smith, McCoist was named the first-team coach in 2011 with no prior experience of running a team – or entire club – on his own.
Although McCoist coasted through the first two promotions, Rangers quickly grew to appreciate the gulf in talent between their sideline fan favourite and what would be needed to best Hibs and Hearts in the Championship. By Christmas, McCoist had already decided he’d had enough and after a notable gardening leave fiasco with the club, he returned to punditry.
McCoist was initially replaced by Stuart McCall but then properly succeeded by the experienced and perfectly competent Mark Warburton, who built a decent enough squad and won promotion to the Premiership before also getting sacked. Yet instead of finding another coach with relevant experience, the Rangers board turned to the completely unknown Pedro Caixinha to lead the charge against Celtic in the 2017/18 season.
Caixinha approached the Ibrox job with notable exuberance and plenty of confidence but was undermined at every turn by his misunderstanding of the Scottish game and no, notable achievements to fall back upon. It wasn’t so much that he was a foreign coach being air-dropped into the Premiership, but rather that fans couldn’t quantify his track record and afford him time. It’s one thing to let a proven coach take his time, but it’s another thing entirely to just hope that a manager with no prior proof of success will suddenly pull it out of thin air.
Then came along Graeme Murty. First as interim coach and then as a fully-fledged first-team manager, Murty has proved capable of getting Rangers to play exquisite football in one direction but has completely and utterly failed in any attempt to keep goals out at the other end. The Ibrox club’s struggle to tie down second place isn’t through a lack of goals scored, but rather a failure to properly train and set up a defensive system. Which isn’t all that surprising when the man in the dugout is still learning his trade.
Indeed, Gerrard would be joining Rangers as their fourth unknown manager since 2011. A fourth coach with little or no experience in dealing with the very precise nature of the Rangers job. And ultimately the fourth needless risk taken by the club.
Although all of those managerial appointments weren’t made by the current board, such disregard for serious, long-term planning seems to have withstood the multiple changes among the top brass at Ibrox.
While Dave King & Co. have stood by their promises of putting necessary cash into the club, there’s no denying that the sheer amount of money spent thus far hasn’t brought Rangers any closer to their hope of matching Celtic on the park. And although it now seems impossible to comprehend how they could match their cross-city rivals in the transfer window while Celtic remain so much further ahead financially (Celtic made £90.6m to Rangers’ £29.2m in the last year) the Rangers board still seem intent on this quick-fix, short-term approach to solving their problems.
If there was a coherent, long-term plan at Ibrox then David Bates wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to leave the club while Bruno Alves still picks up outrageously high wages every week. Danny Wilson also wouldn’t have left Rangers so easily. And the club’s transfer activities to date under Mark Allen wouldn’t be dominated by loan signings or players approaching their 30th birthday.
Instead, Rangers would be doing what every other well-run club in Europe does: buy young, develop the talent and then either watch them perform on the pitch or sell them for ten times the amount you invested in them. If it’s good enough for Celtic then it’s definitely good enough for Rangers.
Yet Gerrard’s arrival suggests no clear planning has been made. Although the 37-year-old Anfield legend is quite literally a youth coach, he hasn’t had anywhere near enough time to prove he’s capable of developing young players. Or indeed at getting the very best out of senior players either.
As cynical as it may sound, this Premier League star won’t be coming to Rangers to put in the hard yards and fix the thousands of minute problems at Ibrox. He’ll be looking for instant success, prominent padding of his CV and an ideal stepping stone into a big managerial job back in England.
As loathsome as the connotations surrounding the term are, the club really needs a “Rangers man” in the sense that they need a coach that appreciates the weight of expectation and thrives under the glory of managing a club he adores. Gerrard may have plenty of respect for Rangers, but he’s a superstar from England. And at no point will he ever think he needs this club as much as they need him.
As such, it’s something of a lose-lose scenario for Rangers. Gerrard’s tenure at Ibrox will either be another disastrous fiasco which will end up with him being dumped in a pile with all the other failed, short-term experiments, or he’ll steady the ship and be on his way before the club can build anything off the back of it.