Rangers went all in on unknown entity Steven Gerrard in a gamble that paid off massively

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Running a football club requires those at the helm to make a series of high-stakes gambles. None more daunting than identifying, recruiting and supporting someone to lead the first team.

Credit to the Rangers board, then, for making a hard six with, effectively, their last role of the dice.

They bet everything, absolutely everything, on a guy who had never taken charge of a single game of senior football.

Steven Gerrard was a gamble of an appointment for Rangers, but one that has paid off

Steven Gerrard was a gamble of an appointment for Rangers, but one that has paid off

A rookie, mind, whose knowledge of Scottish football was limited to attending a couple of Old Firm games as a ‘neutral’ observer.

What made the decision makers at Ibrox so certain that Steven Gerrard was the man to lead their final act of redemption and revival?

Who did they listen to, and what voices did they ignore, when it came to making a decision?

And how did they go about landing a former England and Liverpool great who is now among the hottest managerial properties in the game?

It’s a tale of desperation, inspiration, a helping hand from Kenny Dalglish — and an aspiring gaffer who had been identified as a ‘sure thing’ by more than one good judge of coaching talent.

The background: No more margin for error

This had to work. Because there might very well be no second shot at redemption.

Since their plunge into the abyss of insolvency, Rangers had dragged themselves back to within sight of the summit.

Under ownership of variable quality and ambition, they’d also run through head coaches at a fair old clip.

Ally McCoist was the right man for the right crisis. Stuart McCall answered the call, temporarily, in an emergency.

Ally McCoist was the right man for the right crisis as Rangers navigated their way back

Ally McCoist was the right man for the right crisis as Rangers navigated their way back

Mark Warburton’s jargon-heavy groundwork carried them so far. Pedro Caixinha was, well, a complete and utter disaster. Leaving Graeme Murty to pick up the pieces.

By the time season 2017-18 wound up, Rangers had finished third behind champions Celtic and runners-up Aberdeen.

Dave King and his fellow directors could hardly be unaware that time was running out in the only race that mattered.

Celtic had 10 in a row in their sights. The Premiership crown had become their own private bauble.

If the next man up didn’t work out, there probably wouldn’t be room to identify and appoint a replacement capable of stopping the runaway express train on the other side of Glasgow.

It’s also worth noting that there almost certainly wouldn’t have been the money to carry out an emergency one-off crack at stopping Celtic from making history.

The board were willing to back the new man with ambitious but steady investment. And give him time to build something lasting.

Dave King and his directors knew they had to get the right man to stop Celtic's dominance

Dave King and his directors knew they had to get the right man to stop Celtic’s dominance

The candidate: Why go for Stevie G?

Few will admit to it now but, when Rangers started looking for someone able and willing to take the helm, there were those involved in the decision-making process who shied away from Gerrard as an option.

Graham Potter, Neil Warnock, Kilmarnock boss Steve Clarke (whatever happened to that guy?), shy and retiring Frank de Boer… all were floated as potential appointees.

And then there was Gerrard. The biggest of big names, certainly. But that alone could never be enough.

Working in the Liverpool academy, the former Anfield captain was already building a reputation as an astute coach.

He’d come through the FA system, having begun to plan for life in the technical area when still in his mid-20s.

Neil Warnock was one of the names on the shortlist ahead of Gerrard for the Rangers job

Neil Warnock was one of the names on the shortlist ahead of Gerrard for the Rangers job

Having spoken to a number of peers and tutors who worked with Gerrard during his coaching journey, it’s clear that they all recognised a degree of quality from the outset.

‘He was top class from day one — but also willing to learn, not too big to think he knew absolutely everything,’ one fellow graduate told Sportsmail.

You know the old stereotype about the hardened pro sneering at coaching manuals and playing ‘philosophies’, angrily insisting that no has-been or never-wozzer could teach them anything about the game?

Gerrard was the exact antithesis of that, throwing himself headlong into what the FA call the Four Corners Model.

A modern man for modern times, he has built his success on understanding that there are four keys to player development: Technical/tactical, physical, psychological and social.

Tactically, of course, his game knowledge was off the charts. You don’t do the things he did, as a player, without developing a grasp of complex ideas.

But his instructors and mentors were still surprised by how quickly he picked things up, how sharp his line of questioning was — and his eagerness to work on honing every aspect of himself as a communicator and educator of footballers.

That self-awareness, the recognition that he didn’t know everything, led Gerrard to reach out to Michael Beale — now his right-hand man, along with Gary McAllister, at Ibrox.

The former Liverpool and England midfielder is a modern man for modern times in the dugout

The former Liverpool and England midfielder is a modern man for modern times in the dugout

Beale was Liverpool Under-23s coach when the club legend, finding his feet as Under-18s boss, approached him about a new opportunity in Glasgow.

The fact that Beale had stopped playing at 21, then taken a non-traditional route into coaching, didn’t matter to the man with 114 England caps.

This guy had knowledge and experience of working at different levels of the game. He would complement Gerrard, who had yet to achieve his UEFA Pro Licence when the Rangers opportunity arose — but was already standing out as a leader of men.

The process: Landing the white whale

Dave King, Mark Allen and chief scout Andy Scoulding were the men who made all the running to persuade Gerrard that Rangers were a serious club with realistic ambitions to win trophies — and reach the Champions League.

King likes to mention how former Celtic great Dalglish had recommended Gerrard to him.

Dalglish was certainly involved in the process, although he dismisses any notion that his opinion made much difference, pointing out: ‘To be honest, it didn’t take Einstein to figure out that Steven Gerrard had the qualities to manage at a higher level.’

Gerrard was keen to get into management. And, having done his research on the volatility of life at the Old Firm, he had some concerns.

But he believed in King when the chairman said that, however crazy things might get, he’d stand by the rookie coach — and support him in bad times as well as good.

King played a key role in convincing Gerrard the club were serious about pushing for trophies

King played a key role in convincing Gerrard the club were serious about pushing for trophies

The progress: Closing the gap

Did anyone see this coming? In quite this style? Be honest now.

Under Gerrard, Rangers definitely improved immediately. The new head coach had an ability to develop players, as well as to recruit wisely.

But two whole seasons without a trophy to speak of? That would have caused a less steadfast board to grow twitchy.

Credit to Rangers for doubling down when others might have at least been tempted to cut and run.

Rangers did go two whole seasons without a trophy, as Celtic's dominance continued at a pace

Rangers did go two whole seasons without a trophy, as Celtic’s dominance continued at a pace

The pay-off

A Scottish Cup or even a League Cup would have been celebrated with absolute abandon, of course.

But it feels right that Rangers’ first major honour since 2011 should be the big one. The one they all wanted.

Regardless of what might have been happening elsewhere, Gerrard’s men have set a pace that would have left even the strongest of challengers struggling to keep up.

Having taken that punt on the inexperienced gaffer, Rangers are now reaping the rewards. Not merely the title itself. But a crack at the Champions League. 

It is fitting that the first silverware Gerrard should return at Rangers is their 55th league title

It is fitting that the first silverware Gerrard should return at Rangers is their 55th league title



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