WHY STEVEN GERRARD HAS MADE THE RIGHT MOVE IN JOINING VILLA
Steven Gerrard has been appointed as new head coach for Aston Villa. It was officially announced yesterday, as Gerrard succeeds Dean Smith who was sacked a few days before. Villa paid Rangers compensation of around £3m to release Gerrard and fellow ex-red Gary McAllister from their contracts. We take a look at his managerial career so far and judge why this is an excellent move.
Gerrard as a player was as great as they come. He was the heartbeat of his boyhood club for the best part of a decade and a half before moving to LA Galaxy ahead of retiring from the game. He’s widely regarded as the best player in the club’s history, and the story of the love affair between him and the club doesn’t feel over. He got his first taste of management with the Club’s Academy.
Back where it all started
He was appointed as a youth coach in early 2017, as he dipped his toes into coaching. He impressed Jürgen Klopp and Alex Inglethorpe with his work ethic, knowledge and attitude towards academy coaching. So much so that he was promoted to U18s coach ahead of the 2017/18 season. He would also take charge of the U19s in the UEFA Youth League.
It is there he worked closely with the likes of Curtis Jones, Rhys Williams, Neco Williams, Caoimhin Kelleher and the likes. He took his young side to the Quarter Finals of both the UEFA Youth League and the Premier League Cup, whilst finishing third in the league. His presence at the Academy drove up attendances as naturally, fans wanted a glimpse of how he was faring as a coach.
After that brief spell at the Academy, Gerrard was ready. He agreed a four year deal to take over Scottish side Rangers ahead of the 2018/19 season. Rangers had just enjoyed their first season back in the Premiership after promotion. Gerrard took his side to the QF of the Scottish Cup and the SF of the League Cup, whilst finishing runners-up to Celtic in the league, trailing their fierce rivals by 9 points.
Gerrard oversaw Rangers’ qualification to the group stages of the Europa League where they unfortunately couldn’t make it out of the group. That was the first time in seven years that the Scottish side had made it all the way to the group stage of a European competition. He also guided Rangers to their first win over Celtic in seven years, winning the second Old Firm derby of the season 1-0. Not a bad start.
In his second season at the helm, Gerrard oversaw progress across board. He took his side to the QF of the Scottish Cup again, whilst reaching the Ro16 of the Europa League. He then guided his side to the League Cup Final where they lost 1-0 to bitter rivals Celtic. The league season was cut short due to the pandemic, and Rangers finished runners-up to Celtic once again.
The Europa League run really captured the hearts of Gers fans, as well as boost the club’s coffers. Gerrard’s first two years at the club laid the foundations for what was to come next. The 2020/21 season saw Rangers reach the Round of 16 of the Europa League again (after topping their group) as they established themselves in Europe as a force. It was their third consecutive season in the Europa League.
Rangers clinched their 55th Scottish championship with a whopping 102 points, finishing 25 clear of Celtic. They ended Celtic’s stranglehold of the title, denying them a tenth consecutive title win. Rangers remained undefeated in the entire league season to achieve Invincible status, becoming the first club since Celtic in 2016/17 to reach the 100 point milestone. They won all 19 home games at Ibrox.
They also equalled the league record of 26 clean sheets in a campaign, setting a new British record by conceding only 13 goals in their entire league campaign. An astonishing season was the culmination of the hard work of the coaching staff, led by Gerrard, and a group of players who gave their all for the cause. The sense of harmony and togetherness in the entire club was a key factor to success.
Gerrard hasn’t left Rangers in a bad place either, he’s guided them to the top of the league table again, with a 4 point buffer over Celtic. They also remain involved in all cup competitions and have a chance of making it out of their Europa League group once more. He came to the club when they were just getting their feet under the table after returning to the top flight.
He leaves them as defending champions, with a squad full of talent and a team spirit carefully woven over the past three and a bit years. Whoever takes over from him will have huge boots to fill. Gerrard now continues on a journey that could end with him at the helm at Liverpool, his beloved club. It started there and he is sure to end there sooner rather than later if he keeps finding success.
On to Villa
Making the move to the Midlands club is a terrific move for Gerrard after constant links to the Newcastle job before the appointment of Eddie Howe. Villa is currently a more attractive job than Newcastle. That may change in the coming years, but in the here and now, it’s a very enticing job. These are some reasons why I think Gerrard has made the right choice;
° First and foremost, the Premier League was always the next step. Having impressed with Rangers, the next logical step was for Gerrard to test his managerial acumen in the PL. It is the toughest league in the world and one he knows so well. He will get to test himself against the very best tacticians in world football, (the likes of Klopp, Guardiola, Tuchel, Conte, Bielsa, Moyes etc) which can only help make him better.
° Earning respect. Brendan Rodgers won the ‘treble treble’ with Celtic and didn’t really get the respect he deserved because it was ‘only the Scottish league’. Gerrard has done an amazing job with Rangers but to truly make his mark and get the acclaim he deserves, he must do it in the toughest league of them all, something Rodgers has done and is still doing with Leicester City.
° Being visible to the Liverpool owners. No matter how well Gerrard did at Rangers, it would have been unlikely to see him take over at Liverpool on his Rangers success alone. Coming to the PL and even facing up against Liverpool will make him impossible to ignore. Find success right under the noses of FSG, and he will be right up there at the top of the list when Jürgen Klopp leaves.
° Villa is a stable club. Aston Villa is a more stable environment than say Newcastle United for example. Stevie, like any other manager, needs that level of trust and patience to work. Dean Smith did an amazing job for the club and to enable him do that, he was given time. The new owners don’t have a reputation for losing patience quickly, and that is key, as the last thing Gerrard needs is to be fired from his first PL job.
° The quality of the Villa squad. Go through the Aston Villa squad and you’ll find genuine quality running through. It isn’t a case of a club not having enough quality hence results being poor. It’s more down to a slump than anything else, and a fresh face with fresh ideas could be just what is needed. Martinez, Cash, Mings, Konsa, Tuanzebe, Targett, Luiz, McGinn, Buendia, Ings, Watkins, Bailey, Traore. Seriously!
° The backing he’ll receive. Aston Villa’s new owners aren’t shy in backing their manager in the transfer market. Villa are in the top three across Europe for net spend over the past three seasons (£282m). Co-owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens have thrown their weight about in the window. Go back further to the last five seasons and Villa are in the top five for net spend, despite spending two of those campaigns in the Championship.
° The ambition of the club. With such backing comes ambition. The Villains threatened to fight for the European places before they fell away to finish 11th. The owners want the club to compete in Europe, and be another force to reckon with. This sort of ambition is what drives men like Steven Gerrard, and he will make it his mission to deliver.
° Carefully planned career. With the end goal being manager of Liverpool Football Club, Gerrard has carefully mapped out his career path. He doesn’t make moves lightly, with every last detail well thought out. In November 2016, days before retiring as a player, Gerrard had an interview for the vacant managerial post at League One club MK Dons, but turned it down as he felt he was not yet ready for the job.
Ahead of the 2019–20 season, Gerrard was linked with the managerial position at Newcastle United after Rafael Benítez left the club at the end of his contract. Gerrard reportedly turned down the opportunity due to his comfortability at Rangers and the unfinished business he felt he had in Scotland. Point is, if he’s made this Villa move now, it is because he knows the timing is right and the club is also right.
Liverpool fans across the globe will be keeping a keen eye on how he fares. On whether he will be able to revitalise the club and get them into Europe. His style of play and press conferences will all get pored over to the minutest detail. It is a very interesting appointment and we will all keep our eyes peeled to events at Villa Park.
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