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moving forward ‘This was at complete opposite end of the scale to Chelsea slip’ - Steven Gerrard

Gerrard exorcises some league title demons


Rangers manager Steven Gerrard. Photo: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard. Photo: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard. Photo: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Steven Gerrard says he has already experienced enough drama in Scottish football to make his next book a compelling read.

“And that’s just the last two weeks,” he smiles. He is not joking.

Since Rangers’ last league game, Gerrard has become a league champion, found himself embroiled in a row with the Scottish parliament over fans’ celebrations, and is in the midst of a heated debate as to whether Celtic should grant their Old Firm rival a guard of honour tomorrow. And the Ibrox coach arrived for this interview after dealing with racist taunts allegedly directed at his midfielder Glen Kamara by Slavia Prague’s Ondrej Kudela.

“There’s never a quiet day at Rangers,” says Gerrard. “You’re always dealing with something. It comes with the territory and the job description. You have to be prepared and ready. It isn’t just about the players, the team and the way you play. It’s about managing all sorts of different situations.”

Despite the extreme scrutiny, Gerrard has never seemed so relaxed and at ease. No wonder. His prolonged quest to become a league title winner is over. When the end finally came – like all those who have followed his career – his mind could not help but drift to his most excruciating near-miss as a player.

“It was the first bit of success since the lowest point I had been at,” said Gerrard, a reference to the climax to the 2014 title race, when, with Brendan Rodgers’s side apparently on course for the Premier League title, Gerrard’s slip against Chelsea allowed Demba Ba to run through and score the first goal in a 2-0 win that ultimately proved costly as Manchester City overhauled them in the final weeks.

“I’m refusing to speak about this Chelsea situation moving forward,” he says, chuckling. “But it’s been well documented the emotional journey that game and that setback took me on from a personal point of view. To actually be in the place that I was in, in the training ground canteen watching the Celtic game [a 0-0 draw confirmed Rangers’ title], and the outcome was the complete opposite end of the scale. I will never compare what I have done as a player and what I have done as a manager, but the emotional high from the success of winning the league was a brilliant feeling.

“It is one I will cherish forever.” Unintended or otherwise, Gerrard’s reinvention and subsequent success as a coach has been cathartic, softening that most painful Anfield memory, having swapped the Merseyside bubble for Glasgow’s. Like an adopted Scot, Gerrard now refers to England as “down south” when dismissing the “uneducated” opinions of those who might belittle the scale of his Ibrox achievement.

“I cannot control people’s opinions on Scottish football,” he said. “This club has blown my mind in terms of size. Unless you are part of the fabric of this club, you will never appreciate the size of it. When we got it [the title] over the line, it was alongside the high [of winning the Champions League] as a player. I don’t want to compare them.”

They are very different, and I don’t want to take anything away from Istanbul. I would never, ever change anything I did with Liverpool. Istanbul in 2005 was the highest place I ever went as a player emotionally; the buzz, the satisfaction, the pride. The relief as well.

“But this was by far the biggest high I’ve had as a manager, and I will have some way to go to match it or beat it. I’m hoping I go on to achieve many more things as a manager. I will be surprised if I can go to many higher places. To come into this job, the size of the task and the journey that we have been on for nearly three years now, and in the year that we have done it?

“I think you have to be in this job, in my shoes, part of this club to realise the size and the pressure and the responsibility on this season to make it a success.”

From the outside, progression seems to have been serene, Gerrard stealthily reinvigorating a flagging institution. Not so. It is just over a year since he expressed doubts as to whether he could deliver following successive defeats by Hearts and Hamilton Academical, engaging in the kind of soul-searching he once did in his mid-twenties.

“I had been there before as a player for sure,” he says. “That second season here was the most difficult. In the first year the remit was to get some pride and belief back. In the second year we wanted to compete and win a trophy. The bumps felt more painful. You are into the job and there is more pressure and expectation. I knew it wasn’t always going to be rosy and straightforward. I knew I was going into a massive job, and I knew I was going to make mistakes. I knew I had loads to learn. I knew there were going to be setbacks. Some are bigger than others. Some feel different.

“I had to analyse and reflect where we were at, and what were our chances of moving it forward. Were they realistic? You have to lean on those around you who you trust and your board. We got over it very quickly.

“Lockdown allowed us to re-energise, regroup and reset. We had so many analysis meetings and Zoom calls and staff meetings to make sure we came into this season focused on every challenge.”

Now Gerrard has forged his own coaching identity, citing Jurgen Klopp as his biggest managerial influence tactically and emotionally.

“One thing I learnt from Jurgen is to try and detach yourself, and be more balanced around the results. He is a master of it. I am not. I am trying to get better at it,” he says. “I was an emotional player, I wore my heart on my sleeve. I feel results and want to be as authentic and real as I can. But as a manager you have to be more balanced.”

Inevitably, Gerrard is asked: “What’s next?” He has turned down Premier League interest and believes there is more to achieve at Rangers. “I want to try and stay in the now, but I am always aware that there is a short, a medium and a long-term journey for me,” he says.

“I’m really happy in this job. The only real pressure in terms of my role is from my own family. My biggest challenge is to manage my home situation. My family don’t live in Glasgow, and it’s a case of me putting the hours on the road, being up and down. In terms of job satisfaction and being content, I’m proud to be in this position. I want more. The title has made me even more hungry and determined to add to that in the short and medium term. And who knows what comes after that?

“I am doing a decent job. My players are doing a decent job. I take it as a compliment.”

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