Julian Taylor: Stevie G has had a fantastic reaction, but hard work now begins in earnest
Steven Gerrard was given the warmest of welcomes to one of the hottest seats in football yesterday, but the Liverpool legend knows he has much work to do before he becomes a Govan great.
The new Rangers manager faces a massive task to restore the fortunes of an ailing giant that has lurched from one crisis to another in recent times and must also try and haul his old Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers down a peg or two as Celtic sweep all before them in Scottish football.
Here are the main things he will have to deal with as he begins his role in the dug-out.
Impact on the club
It is hard to over-estimate the injection of buoyancy Gerrard’s arrival has brought to Ibrox. Rangers have been flailing ever since finally getting back to the Premiership.
Lack of drive and organisation on the pitch, and the kind of weak management which typified predecessors Graeme Murty, Pedro Caixinha and Mark Warburton, is expected to be swept away by the Liverpool idol.
Even the doubters cannot deny that rookie Gerrard’s presence in Glasgow is box office and will give Rangers the kind of psychological lift they have lacked for many years. Those players the manager will retain are sure to feel a lot clearer about the future — and the hard work ahead next season.
Gerrard is boosted by the praise of an impressive cast list who believe he has what it takes — even at a club with Rangers’ colossal expectations.
His former Liverpool managers, Gerard Houllier, Rafa Benitez and Roy Hodgson, as well as current Anfield chief Jurgen Klopp, all endorse the move. The unique style of leadership as Reds captain will serve him well at Ibrox, allowing for natural mistakes on the learning curve. Kenny Dalglish, too, is sure to have privately advised Gerrard on what to expect in Glasgow.
With Rangers legends — Ally McCoist and Paul Gascoigne the latest to speak — also enthused about this bold swoop, Gerrard can feel confident he has made the right decision.
Scottish football revival
For so long, the game north of the border has been patronised by many in England. Of course, it is easy to deride the achievements of Celtic, for instance, when you have access to a blizzard of TV funding — but both Old Firm clubs carry an intrinsic gravitas and history that a majority of clubs envy and cannot buy.
Gerrard coming to Rangers flips this tired, clichéd portrayal to an extent — and the added ingredient of a set-to with his former Anfield boss Rodgers at Celtic makes the prospect of 2018/19 in the Scottish Premiership extra special.
With Celtic cruising Scottish football, the currency has been devalued in terms of wider coverage. Of course, Parkhead fans are happy with the success Rodgers has brought but with Gerrard coming to Rangers, expect changes in how the game is viewed.
The key broadcasters were particularly keyed into the Old Firm environment in the late 1990s in particular, when Dick Advocaat was spending his way to Gers’ success. A renewed interest now with Gerrard is guaranteed, bringing positive ramifications across the Scottish Premiership.
Former Scotland captain McAllister — who has plenty of managerial experience — is crucial to Gerrard’s prospects. For any managerial apprentice, proper guidance is key. And as the pair go back a long way, with McAllister essentially Gerrard’s main mentor during his Liverpool breakthrough, it’s unlikely he will be a mere yes man.
If necessary, frank dialogue, born from mutual respect, will be healthy for Rangers to move forward in these dramatic circumstances.
Shipping out bit-part players will be high on Gerrard’s list of immediate priorities. The new Ibrox chief is expected to sweep out those not up to standard.
Considering Rangers’ wretched season, as they struggle to claim second place in the league, allied to abject performances against Celtic, a large number are on borrowed time.
Lee Hodson, Fabio Cardoso, Andy Halliday, Jason Holt, Russell Martin, Michael O’Halloran and Eduardo Herrera are among those sure to join suspended, and shortly out of contract, Kenny Miller in Gerrard’s out tray.
If the Gerrard gamble is to work, then a productive, close alliance with Mark Allen, Rangers’ Director of Football, is essential. Allen was responsible for bringing in a number of players on loan in January, and while Jamie Murphy provides energy and quality, it is up to Gerrard to instil fresh confidence in the winger for the big games.
Sean Goss, another loanee, provided classy moments before being strangely sidelined by previous boss Murty. However, the midfielder is wanted by his parent club QPR in the summer. Allen will be tasked by Gerrard with recruiting players for this new era.
While there are plenty whose days are numbered at Ibrox, a few could find new motivation and energy. If playmaker Josh Windass can add a flinty work rate to his ability to create, he may thrive. But the midfielder needs to take lessons from Gerrard, a player famed for his absolute determination. Quiet enforcer Ryan Jack is also a player Gerrard is sure to admire.
Jordan Rossiter arrived at Ibrox in 2016 and was immediately compared to Gerrard, with his poise and passing ability. The 21-year-old has just recovered from injury, and as he is well known to the manager, Rangers fans expect a lot from him in the new season.
It is still unclear about the number of new players expected or the precise budget available to Gerrard, but the Gers’ boss is sure to have a wishlist. Rangers’ remaining three games are now essentially auditions for those in Light Blue. Gerrard has probably made up his mind on most.
If he can persuade former Liverpool team-mate Martin Skrtel, currently at Fenerbahce, to move to Ibrox then it would be a good start to his reign and a hint of things to come. Rangers have suffered due to a soft centre this term and Slovakia skipper Skrtel (33) still has the potential to contribute significantly. With highly-rated Burnley midfielder Scott Arfield and ex-keeper Allan McGregor expected to sign, Gerrard is already making impressive statements.
“Nothing prepares you for managing Glasgow Rangers”. And that’s coming from West Ham boss David Moyes, who had an unfortunate time at Manchester United. It’s a challenge Gerrard must now grab with both hands. And the Liverpudlian’s inner steel suggests he is up for the clash with Rodgers.