The former Liverpool player’s move to Glasgow has been hailed as a risk for all – but Rangers can hardly get worse than they’ve been this season
11 May ~ Zinedine Zidane is the shining example of Champions League-winning players going straight from youth coaching into the management deep end. But the 7,000 Rangers fans who turned up at Ibrox last Friday for Steven Gerrard’s unveiling, were thinking of another European Cup-winning player. Thirty-two years after the arrival of Graeme Souness we hope we’ve found another rookie manager who, in order to return to Anfield, will drag Rangers up by the hair.
As Gerrard signed a four year contract and confirmed former Liverpool team-mate and Scotland captain Gary McAllister as his assistant, “a huge risk for all parties” was the dominant press reaction. The notion remains, certainly within the media, that Rangers’ best path back from liquidation in 2012 was frugally developing young Scottish talent. Chairman Dave King’s convictions for tax evasion in South Africa insult this ideal – as does putting a retired superstar in charge of playing matters.
Yet five days previously Rangers lost 5-0 at Celtic in the worst Old Firm defeat for over 60 years. A 4-0 derby loss in the Scottish Cup semi-final two weeks earlier saw the team openly revolt against the manager, former Under-20s coach Graeme Murty. For Rangers players, slow growth is no growth. Ibrox operates on celebrity signings.
Yes, it’s disingenuous to celebrate this as Rangers signing a Champions League-winning captain with 114 England caps. But it’s equally unfair to frame it as merely passing the first-team job from the Rangers Under-20s coach to Liverpool’s Under-18s manager. Gerrard’s composed demeanour at his Ibrox press conference, as much as his “fronting-up”, “bring it on” and “let’s go” soundbites embodied King’s accurate assessment that the job now needs character more than experience.
Murty’s predecessor Pedro Caixinha lasted until October, despite overseeing the most embarrassing European defeat in the club’s history – to Luxembourg’s Progres Niederkorn – in July. This display of patience allowed Rangers to crash out the League Cup semis to Motherwell and underpinned our worst ever season of home form.
The courting of Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes in December was another attempt at sober, steady progress. But McInnes rejected the move and, this Tuesday, Aberdeen took their only point from Rangers this season, against a side under the caretaker management of Jimmy Nicholl until Gerrard’s contract as a BT Sports pundit expires at the end of the month.
This isn’t a Rangers where only league titles and European glory will suffice. Despite the second-largest budget in the land, they go into this Sunday’s final round of Premiership matches with an opportunity to sneak into second, but also retain an outside chance of slipping to fourth. Either way, they will end the season at least ten points behind Celtic. Rangers simply couldn’t get any worse and Gerrard can’t fail to improve us. Neither party is risking much.
This season I’ve watched Rangers players celebrate winning a tackle. It’s impossible to reconcile such nonsense with Gerrard’s reputation. His profile should bring investment – King announced a £6 million share issue last Monday – and he also brings members of the coaching team who helped Liverpool Under-18s reach the quarter-finals of the European Youth League and supply the first-team squad who have just reached the Champions League final.
Rangers’ slowly improving infrastructure is commensurate with neither past glories nor today’s 40,000 season ticket holders. There are nothing like the resources Souness enjoyed. But all we need right now is a cup and to become Celtic’s biggest annoyance rather than their easiest fixture. Alex Anderson