On Sunday Steven Gerrard experienced his first competitive defeat as manager of Rangers. It couldn’t have come in a more high profile match, away at Celtic Park in his first Old Firm clash.
It’s a defeat that will no doubt sting both the manager and the Ibrox faithful. The Rangers fans were yet again served a painful reminder of who is the top dog in Glasgow, however it’s a result which should not distract from Gerrard’s overall mission for the blue half of the city.
Kudos from a winning Run
Gerrard’s twelve match unbeaten run prior to the Celtic game had done a great deal to earn him some kudos with the fans, so early on in his managerial career. It’s fair to say the Ibrox club have been meandering for a while, and although they are once more firmly established as a top flight side, they have been widely dismissed as a spent force. A lack of financial muscle and on-field struggles has seen their aura fade significantly. This has caused a great deal of pain to such a proud fan base. To compound their misery, Celtic have remained unchallenged, dominating the country’s domestic game with back-to-back trebles.
Consecutive third place finishes for a newly promoted side would be seen as a major achievement by many clubs. However Rangers are not just any club. By anyone’s standards they are a huge team with a global following, their recent years of mediocrity will have really hurt.
The revolving door at Ibrox
The axe has fallen on many a manager as the club has looked to press the accelerator on their progress back to the summit of Scottish football.
Graeme Murty twice, Pedro Caixinha, and Mark Wharbuton have all bitten the dust since 2015. None of them were disasters to be fair, and the financial restrictions on the club would have hindered any manager no matter how gifted and transfer savvy.
More than anything, what did it for that trio of managers, was the failure of the club to stride back to success and at least give Celtic something to think about. This is the huge challenge that faces Steven Gerrard in his first venture in club management. However the former England captain is well versed when it comes to this sort of challenge.
Chiselled from Experience
Steven Gerrard has already given the Rangers fans something they have not had in almost a decade. Their return to Europe and the adventure through a quagmire of qualification rounds in Europe’s backwaters has genuinely given the fans a great deal of excitement.
Gerrard is a man who knows so well what wonderful effects a heady European campaign can have on the supporter of his teams. As a player with Liverpool, he experienced plenty of great nights under the lights at Anfield. However, it was not always so glamorous in his early years. Often his team, despite their history, were pitted as perennial underdogs taking on many a club that had over taken them as a force on the continent.
Aged just eighteen, the Huyton born lad made his debut for a side that had had to watch from the sidelines as it’s rivals enjoyed great success, some of it coming in Europe, which had been Liverpool’s former stomping ground in their glory days. Chelsea’s antics in the late nineties and United’s European Cup win in ’99 served to rub salt in the wounds for the fans who watched in despair at Liverpool’s nineties slumber.
However, as a young Gerrard blossomed and forged a place for himself in the team, Liverpool slowly began to stir. Between 2001 and 2007 the club reached three European finals, winning two of them.
Perhaps more importantly than the finals though, Gerrard would have tasted the feverish excitement in the city and the fan base as big European nights beckoned. Liverpool supporters could lift their heads once more and believe in their team. The surge in positivity and pride at Anfield in that era will no doubt be at forefront of the Rangers manager’s mind as he plots his new team’s successes on the field.
Europe: a galvanising force
The joyous celebrations on the field and amongst the traveling Gers supporters were extremely revealing. There was an overflow of relief and jubilation as the nine men of Rangers clung on away at FC Ufa to qualify for the Europa League group stages.
Gerrard and Gary McAllister will know all too well just how delighted their fans will be, to match Celtic in The Europa League group stages. The club’s directors should regard it as a massive achievement after years in the doldrums of lower league Scottish football.
After years of watching their fierce city rivals going on European adventures, the supporters can now look forward to their own. Trips to Villarreal, Spartak Moscow and Rapid Vienna now await Rangers. If they can win a few games and challenge in their group, then the recent doom and gloom around Ibrox may will recede even further.
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Yes the pressure to challenge Celitc will still be massive on Gerrard. The Old Firm defeat is disappointing of course, but results against their bitter rivals cannot be the sole basis of judgement on their young manager.
If Gerrard can use the Europa League as a galvanizing force it could just be a very shrewd way of restoring some pride to an injured club. Crucially for him, it could well buy some much needed time as he forges his managerial career at Rangers.
This article was originally published here at FootieBlog #14.
Editorial credit: Kimberley Travis / Shutterstock.com