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The irresistible rise of new Rangers boss Steven Gerrard

 

The football icon says taking the manager's job at Rangers is a 'no-brainer'. But if the lad from Whiston, Merseyside, who joined the Liverpool academy aged nine, hopes to succeed Jurgen Klopp in the Anfield hot-seat, he'll have to negotiate the treacherous currents of Glasgow's Old Firm, writes Hyder Jawad.

As the photographs of Steven Gerrard arriving at Ibrox yesterday went into circulation, a sense of chimera presented itself in both Glasgow and Liverpool. This was, after all, the end of a week in which the Liverpool team he loves, and for which he distinguished himself from 1998 to 2015, reached the final of the Champions League.

What a time to leave fantasy in favour of reality. What a time to risk your managerial future on the roll of a dice.

Is that too harsh? The complications of Ibrox should have been the last place to find a man whose career has been characterised by constant success and hero worship.

But in taking over at Rangers from Graeme Murty, Gerrard has propounded the view that his self-belief and experience eclipse any feelings, or fears, he has for the risks involved.

It is a telling feature of Gerrard's life story that the most significant earthquake of his playing career came not on the pitch, where he won almost everything, but off it, when he handed in a transfer request at Liverpool on July 5, 2005, pending a move to league rivals Chelsea.

As so-called fans burnt their Gerrard shirts for the benefit of television, the player himself realised an immutable truth: that moving outside of his traditional milieus - the neighbourhood nationalism of his Scouseness, the essence of Kopite culture and that blood-red Liverpool shirt - repulsed a natural order.

More than most footballers, he thought like a fan, just as he spoke like a fan and played like one - with the heart. His links to Liverpool FC are so inextricable that the idea of him employed by another club - even Los Angeles Galaxy, at the end of his career in 2015 - seemed incongruous.

In such a context, then, what should one make of Gerrard, aged 37, leaving his job at the Liverpool Academy, where he was proving successful, to join Rangers?

On one level, this is a dream position for a man who has made no secret of his managerial ambitions and is seen widely as a future Liverpool manager.

On another level, the fraught nature of Rangers' existence exaggerates for Gerrard both the risks and potentialities. He will also have the added headache of whether to relocate his wife, Alex Curran (35), and their four children, Lilly-Ella (14), Lexie (11), Lourdes (6) and Lio George (1).

He might only have to survive in Glasgow to enhance his job prospects, setting him on a road, surely, to taking over from Jurgen Klopp at Anfield, when that vacancy arrives.

But Ibrox these days contains more vagaries than most clubs, and even those Rangers fans who are in favour of the Gerrard appointment will not be anything like as well-disposed towards him as Liverpool fans.

It will have been noted at Ibrox that Gerrard does not come with any baggage, either religiously or politically.

He did attend the Cardinal Heenan Catholic High School in the West Derby area of Liverpool. However that was a move born of expediency, a footballing decision, rather than just a religious one.

Gerrard is not Catholic, and, in any case, the city's football culture has rarely conformed to sectarian dichotomies.

There is nothing new to add about Gerrard's playing career. Apart from the Premier League title, he won everything at club level with Liverpool and scored in a Uefa Champions League final, a Uefa Cup final, an FA Cup final and a League Cup final. He also scored in the World Cup for England.

At his best, around 2006, he was arguably among the top 10 players in the world and, by the age of 26, had presented himself as a true captain.

But it was for his work with the Liverpool under-18 team at the club academy in Kirkby that Gerrard began to earn a reputation for being disciplined, passionate and intelligent.

He found it inconceivable that some of the youth players would turn up late for training, and he put a stop immediately to poor punctuality.

Aware that character was more important than skill, Gerrard was keen to ensure that no young player perpetuated bad habits, lest they be cast out of the game and advised to find a new career.

The perception was that his youth team role at Liverpool was the start of a plan to eventually make him the first-team manager. If that was true, he certainly never behaved with any sense of entitlement.

He walked around the academy like an employee, rather than a beloved former player, and knew that if he wanted to reach the top, he had to work his way up from the bottom. With his humility, he endeared himself to Jurgen Klopp.

Tough, but sensitive, knowledgeable, but street-wise, he seems to have a natural aptitude for knowing which young players had the right attitude and skill sets to warrant promotion to the first-team squad.

Trent Alexander-Arnold - now Liverpool's first-choice right back - is the most notable of the players to have benefited from working under Gerrard. There are others - Adam Lewis and Curtis Jones, for example - who are likely to acquire first-team squad numbers next season.

Liverpool fans noted with delight Jones celebrating in Rome among the players as the team clinched their place in the Champions League final against Real Madrid on May 26. Gerrard, working as a pundit, noticed this. Perpetually short of cash, Rangers are as impressed with Gerrard's youth team work as with his playing successes. Although the likelihood is the new manager will have already asked for appropriate funds in an attempt to bridge the chasm that exists currently between themselves and Celtic.

The transfer market is a real test of a manager's ability, and in that regard, Gerrard has no experience. He will soon learn the value of negotiation, of bargaining, of financial planning and of telling some players that it is time to find a new club.

Expect a lot of the latter over the course of the summer. Expect, too, a proliferation of Scouse accents at Ibrox as Gerrard brings in, or attempts to, some of the Liverpool youth team players he deems to be of the required standard.

For all his lack of managerial experience at first-team level, Gerrard has, for Liverpool and England, worked under some of the game's most distinguished and notable coaches: Gerard Houllier, Kevin Keegan, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Rafael Benitez, Roy Hodgson, Brendan Rodgers, Steve McClaren and Fabio Capello - an eclectic mix of philosophies and personalities.

The irony here is that he played his best football under the manager to whom he was least endeared: Benitez. There is a moral there, surely.

If, in future, Gerrard is going to join Benitez on the list of Liverpool managers, he will have to make himself as significant to Rangers over the next three years as he did to Liverpool from 1998 to 2015.

No pressure, then.

Hyder Jawad has worked for The Times, the Liverpool Echo and the Birmingham Post. He was the 2005 British Sports Journalist of the Year in the Regional Newspaper category. The author of 12 football books, he ghost-wrote John Aldridge's autobiography in 1999. His latest book, Colin Grainger: The Singing Winger, is published later this month

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