With little more than a year as coach of Liverpool’s Under-18 side, could Steven Gerrard install his winning mentality as a player on a Rangers side that needs more than a project in charge of first team affairs?
Gerrard returned to Kirby in February 2017 after he retired from playing football, and after a few months he replaced Neil Critchley as Under-18s manager in the summer of 2017.
When he walked through the doors at the academy he took a stripped-back, no-nonsense approach looking to run the rule over his team before making any decisions on the squad. And he will almost certainly take the same approach at Rangers with the last three games of the season still to play and a pre-season to work through.
Speaking to BT Sport in April 2017, Gerrard claimed to make it as a senior footballer ‘you have to be obsessed’.
He added: “I love talent and I love seeing it, but at Liverpool’s academy, the important thing is they need to understand the other side of the game. Fighting, winning, tackling. Going where it hurts, letting your lungs burns, really digging deep. My teams will be physical.”
Fortunate to work with a highly talented group of players
When Gerrard took over the Under-18 side, he was fortunate enough to work with a highly talented group of players thanks to the work that Liverpool’s academy has done over the years.
He took the squad back to basics, playing 4-4-2 diamond or alternating to a 4-2-3-1 with several injuries over the course of the season forcing him to switch to a 3-4-3 formation. While his tactical nous changing also depending on the opponents, saying: “You play against different tactics, different formations— a different style.”
Gerrard can be flexible with his formations and tactics with youngsters can his practical and theoretical experiences be used to rebuild a playing squad from Pedro Caixinha’s leftovers – including the returning Carlos Pena and suspended skipper Lee Wallace?
Jürgen Klopp instructions
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp instructed Gerrard to undertake the best possible grounding before stepping into the spotlight as a manager.
Gerrard admitted that he has aged two years in about six months as Under-18 coach, his appointment as Rangers manager will come as an even bigger shock to the former England skipper.
Speaking to The Guardian, Gerrard said: “I’m definitely feeling it. I’ve aged about two years in six months. Jürgen’s advice when I came back was: ‘I only want you to shadow for a short time because you need to have a couple of years of making mistakes, of picking your own team, of deciding tactics. You need to find your philosophy, a way of playing, you need to deal with individual problems, you need to praise individuals, help individuals, you need to feel disappointment and setbacks and then after a couple of years you’ll know if this gig is for you.’ He painted a real picture of how it is.
“For the last five months I’ve felt all the highs and lows and experienced all the daily stuff that managers deal with, albeit at youth-team level. It will definitely prepare me for wherever I end up. It is not scaring me or putting me off. I know the further I go there is more scrutiny, more attention, more opinions, more criticism, more praise. I get all that. For me it was important to get a taste of it away from the cameras and experience all these things before you go into the madness.”
Refuses to live off his playing days
While Gerrard’s illustrious playing career is one that any professional footballer would dream of living, but during his time as Under-18 coach he refused to live off his playing days and separated his playing days with Gerrard, the rookie coach.
He added: “I never bring up my playing days and I never bring up footage of when I was involved. If I want to show them something tactically I’ll always use Liverpool’s first team now or someone else’s first team now. I don’t think it’s right to say: ‘Look at this’ and I’m running around. Don’t get me wrong, if there’s something blatantly obvious that happened to me – good or bad – and I thought it’d benefit them, then I’m not going to hide it from them. But I just don’t think it’s right to be saying: ‘Look at what I done and look what we did’. My career as a player is gone. It’s about what’s happening tomorrow, not yesterday.
“I’m not one of those academy people who say it is all about development and results don’t matter. You’ve got to teach players about winning, about what you’ve got to do to win and create that attitude and that mentality that surround the club. You can’t say to a player at 18 years of age: ‘It’s all about winning now, it wasn’t from seven to 17.’ Of course it is about winning. If you asked me whether I wanted to win the league or get two players through to the first team, I’d say getting the players into the first team. Really I want both.”
Show players work ethic and win their trust
As Under-18 coach he would work six days a week, showing the players that his work ethic was the right way to do it and win the trust of the players.
He explained: “As a player I could switch off when the game was done. That is very difficult as a coach. That has been the main difference. Now after a game I’m thinking what went well, what didn’t go well, what individuals do I need to work on this week, who do I need to praise, who do I need to speak to, who’s been naughty at school? Having to handle that side of it has been very different for me, not that I was an angel at school, but we have a guy here, Phil Roscoe, who works on the education and welfare side of things and he is brilliant, absolutely brilliant. I would be lost if I didn’t have Phil’s help and support. The staff have been a huge help.
“There is a lot more to it than you think when you’re a player. I have more respect for coaches and managers now even though as a player I always respected the ones I worked with. I didn’t realise how much was involved in their roles until I tried it myself.”
Is Gerrard prepared for the next step?
Going into a club like Rangers with huge demands placed on the manager from the fan base, even more so now with Celtic inching towards ten titles in a row, is Gerrard prepared for the next step?
He may have been involved in huge derby games with Liverpool against Everton and Manchester United, but the Glasgow goldfish bowl is a different kettle of fish altogether and while he could handle such environments as a player – can the same be said at management level?
We shall see if he becomes a managerial sensation, if the board actually go through with and give Gerrard what they promised him they give him or if he will be a present day John Barnes and flop.
Rangers have called a press conference at 3pm where it is expected they will unveil Gerrard as their new manager.