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Julian Taylor

The coming season will define Steven Gerrard's reign at Rangers whether he stops Celtic's 10-in-a-row or not

Julian Taylor


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Steven Gerrard

Steven Gerrard

Steven Gerrard

"You need direction, yeah you need a name

When you're standing in the crossroads every highway looks the same

After a while you can recognise the signs

So if you get it wrong you'll get it right next time..."

Listening to 'Get It Right Next Time' by the late Glasgow songsmith Gerry Rafferty on Friday reminded me of how appropriate the sentiments are now facing Steven Gerrard.

The Rangers manager hardly needs prompting that the Glaswegian interpretation of time can get the better of the biggest names. Yet to deliver silverware, this is a case of 'Let's Go' - as he famously announced upon his appointment in June 2018 - at the third stage of asking.

Champions Celtic may be bound by their own sense of history as they go for 10 in a row, but this season the added pressure rests on Rangers. It will, one way or another, define Gerrard.

The desperate onslaught of Covid-19 has, naturally, afflicted the Scottish game, but somehow - and without the support of packed Ibrox houses for the foreseeable future - Gerrard must find a sustainable, winning formula. Neil Lennon has a squad at Celtic proven in this respect. Therefore, Rangers must go again.

As expected, a lot of discussion concerns Alfredo Morelos and whether his future will be at Ibrox. You score a bundle of goals for one of the Glasgow giants and the drearily predictable opinions slew forth that Scotland is too narrow to satisfy career desires. It is a taxing argument but, ultimately, money talks.

Still, it would require a hefty wedge for Gerrard to think about selling the Light Blues' prized asset, particularly when, even with Morelos, he really needs to invest in another striker. Injured Jermain Defoe is likely to be out for the next few weeks and Gerrard also has to consider what kind of forward he wants.

So then. Lyndon Dykes, Livingston's muscle-bound centre-forward, is regularly linked with the Gers. It is one thing that he has played well against Gerrard's side, but quite another stepping up to a vastly greater responsibility. In assessing players from smaller Premiership sides, the fundamental question Ibrox fans have to ask themselves is, 'Will this guy be good enough to stop Celtic?' In any case, Gerrard's philosophy of fast, pressing intricacy is effectively at odds with buying a battering ram.

Nevertheless, this Rangers squad is more than simply a Morelos saga. In fact, any hopes of dislodging Celtic's domestic dominance rests on the Ryan Kent-Ianis Hagi-Joe Aribo axis. The Ibrox trio, on form, are electrifying - but now is the time for gritty consistency from all, individually and as a middle-to-front unit. In view of an expected hectic schedule, with Premiership, Europa League and League Cup, the demands will be intense. An awful second wave of Covid-19 would make matters increasingly complicated.

Aribo is an intriguing figure. Gerrard's judgment on the 24-year-old has been vindicated and the Nigerian's pre-season form shows how pivotal he can be. Nimble touches before a tidy finish against Motherwell in an Ibrox friendly last week was, regrettably, wasted considering the closed-doors nature of the game.

Aribo, noted for his passing and ingenuity, could be forgiven for a wry smile when reflecting upon this time last year. Then, Lee Bowyer, his former boss at Charlton, proclaimed the midfielder would have been better off at the higher end of the Championship than - I'm kind of paraphrasing - a fraying tartan wasteland.

The natural, glaring point to consider is that only a naive fool would discredit the opportunity of learning under Gerrard. Aribo is still fine-tuning, but clearly Old Firm clashes and the Europa League have more measurable appeal than being dragged down by Bowyer to League One.

Gerrard has demonstrated fuss-free pragmatism of late. His capture of former Hearts and Sunderland goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin is a smart move to keep Allan McGregor alert, and Friday's swoop for former Brighton free agent and Nigeria international Leon Balogun should be an adept consolation for defender Nikola Katic's long-term injury.

Rangers start their campaign away to Aberdeen on Saturday. And, against a side that traditionally bristle at the mention of the Ibrox club, we shall see if Gerrard has his direction full-on.

Belfast Telegraph