Steven Gerrard has been in the Rangers hot seat for six months, but if we cast our minds back to when he was appointed, there was a lot of fanfare surrounding his arrival and, of course, the inevitable comparisons with Graeme Souness, who like Gerrard is a Liverpool legend. But with the excitement and hope, was a little bit of caution. Gerrard hadn’t been a manager at the top level before, despite his playing career and in the cold light of day, the board were replacing one youth coach with another.
However, those initial fears were quickly kiboshed when Gerrard held his first press conference. He carried himself like a Rangers manager should and was confident with the questions asked. Frankly, his media handling has been much better than the likes of Graeme Murty and Pedro Caixinha before him. You could see he was at ease with the level of scrutiny that accompanies the Rangers job; he had the mentality for it, although I don’t think that was ever in question.
What impressed me most, though, in the early stages was Gerrard’s choice of backroom staff. Gary McAlister as his assistant, he brings a wealth of experience, has been a manager before in his own right, and has a vast knowledge of Rangers and Scottish football.
Tom Culshaw joined him from the Liverpool set up as did fitness guru Jordan Milsom. However, the capture of Michael Beale has been the one that’s impressed me most. He seems to be the tactical brain behind the operation, but all of the coaching staff bring their own skillset and seem to work very well together. That’s been a major plus point for Gerrard as he’s been able to bring in people who we can work with and, more importantly, trust, on a personal level, which is always going to be a big thing, given this job was his first in management.
Dealings in the transfer market
It was the second summer in succession that the team needed a major revamp. And with the end to the previous season, it was clear what was needed to start with – a strong spine. Scott Arfield was quickly joined by Allan McGregor and Connor Goldson, who along with Alfredo Morelos create the spine that had been missing from the side. Alongside those three new signings, another 12 arrived. They included the likes of Croatian duo Borna Barisic and Nikola Katic and Liverpool duo Ryan Kent and Ovie Ejaria.
In keeping with the revamp, more than 12 went out in total, mostly on loan or returning to their parent club, but the one big one was Josh Windass, who left and joined Wigan. It didn’t take Gerrard long to suss him out.
On the whole, the majority of Gerrard’s signings have been hits, with only a few who have completely failed – Umar Sadiq and Ovie Ejaria, although not completely like Sadiq. The jury is still out on a few, in my opinion. The likes of Eros Grezda, Nikola Katic, Lassana Coulibaly, Joe Worrall and Jon Flanagan have all contributed in some way so far, most of their contributions came towards the beginning of the season, with Grezda and Worrall being the exceptions. Going forward, however, they will have to prove themselves if they wish to be at Rangers long term.
In terms of the hits, I feel Allan McGregor, Scott Arfield, Ryan Kent, Borna Barisic and Connor Goldson have all been fantastic signings and will only improve as the season progresses.
During the January window, he has added Steven Davis and ex-West Ham and Tottenham man Jermain Defoe for their experience. On the face of it, they look to be shrewd signings. Davis will give Rangers the guile they lacked in the first half of the season and, along with Kent and Arfield, he will help unlock packed defences. Defoe brings goals. Is there anything else that needs to be said?
Furthermore, the Bosman signings of Glen Kamara and Jordan Jones look to be good business too. So between Gerrard, Mark Allen and the recruitment team, they haven’t got much wrong so far – and that’s a good sign moving forward.
Gerrard’s first competitive match came against FK Shkupi in the Europa League first round qualifying phase. However, getting past them, then Osijek and then NK Maribor was quite the achievement for his newly-assembled squad. However, the Ufa away match with the nine men and getting through to the group stages was a small sample of what was to come from Rangers in the group itself: determination, grit and putting it all on the line.
In the end, Rangers were unlucky not to progress. However, for Gerrard, he will have learned a lot of lessons from the campaign. Maybe the biggest one will have been to not be so open away in Russia. I always feel that was the biggest downfall in the group. Overall, Gerrard and his team overachieved and gave the fans some memorable highs along the way. In my opinion, the team’s best performances came at Ibrox – the second half against Maribor and the Rapid Vienna win. Despite the campaign being a success, there will always be a ‘what if’ thrown in there. If you compare this campaign to last season’s debacle, Rangers are certainly making good strides in the European arena. That cannot be sniffed at, especially this early into the project.
In domestic terms, the season can be looked upon in a variety of ways. You could say Rangers have underachieved and underperformed in many games, which is true. Or you could say, new players, new manager, he needed time to implement his ideas etc.
I feel the truth is somewhere in the middle. The consistency you would expect from a Rangers side wasn’t on show. Additionally, the form on the road has been nothing to write home about – big improvement is needed from now till May. And the ones that still rankle with me are the two defeats to Aberdeen.
However, on a positive note. The home form has by and large been passable, and the victory over Celtic has, hopefully, broken the psychological barrier – and has given Gerrard some credit in the bank, if he ever needs it. That particular win is bound to give Gerrard more confidence in his managerial ability, proving he can beat his old boss. However, I would class the opening 21 games in the ‘must do better’ category. However, the bigger picture has dictated that Rangers are level at the top, so all in all, whilst they should have performed better the league form, certainly can and should be improved upon going forward.
I have to say, Gerrard’s management style is something I have been impressed with. He sets high standards and if they aren’t met he’s sure to let the players know. He has blasted them in a few post-match interviews if he felt that their performances were below par. But he’s also praised them when they’ve played well. I don’t know about the players, but I find his honesty quite refreshing.
Furthermore, due to his reputation as a player, he commands respect. But he also has made some of the players he inherited better. Alfredo Morelos is the obvious one. He looks happier and already has beaten his goals tally of last season, as he sits on 20.
Gerrard’s man management is a big part of why Morelos is doing so well – he knows when to dig the Colombian out and he knows when to put the arm around him and protect him. It’s fair to say he’s made James Tavernier, who he trusted to be his captain, and Andy Halliday reach levels of performance that many didn’t think they were capable of. He’s also taken Ross McCrorie’s game to a new level, which is pleasing to see.
Outwith the player aspect of the job, he’s big on self-reflection and learning. Over his time in charge, you can see that. For example, early on in the season, he would be late with his substitutions in certain games and when he made the subs, they wouldn’t have much of an impact on the game.
Now, though, it’s as if he backs himself to know what is needed in order to change a game. He is no longer ponderous when making subs or in-game tactical switches. In recent weeks we’ve seen him go to the bench early rather than wait until the hour mark to change things. Even though he is a relative novice in the management game, to see he’s learning from previous errors, is reassuring from a fan’s point of view – and it will only make Gerrard a better manager in the longer term.
Style of play
At times, I wasn’t sure what Gerrard’s Rangers was supposed to look like. There was a period where the tactic seemed to be: get it wide and cross it. If that didn’t work, it seemed like they would just repeat that and hope it worked – this would normally take place against teams would set up in a low block.
However, before that bad period, Gerrard seemed to wish to follow two different tactical plans and styles of play. At Ibrox, Gerrard’s Rangers would try and press high and play fast, expansive football. Away from home it was more of a 4-1-4-1 try and play on the break type of game from him.
However, in terms of the style at Ibrox, the Celtic game has to be the template going forward: press high, be aggressive, move the ball quickly in transition. It was as close to perfect as the game will look in Gerrard’s mind. If we can see more of that, it’s bound to be successful.
Going back to the style away from home. I think that’s one thing, especially domestically that’s let Gerrard down at times. It’s as if he gives those teams of lesser quality far too much respect. Instead of being overly cautious, he should be preaching that he wants to take the ‘Ibrox style’ away from home.
Gerrard has mainly favoured the 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 for the most part. However, a major plus is that he has been willing to change things in certain games. For example, Maribor away: he used the Christmas tree. Motherwell away: he went with a 3-5-2, and the second half against St Johnstone he went with a 4-4-2. That flexibility may prove vital during the remainder of the season, especially as he may look to get Morelos and Defoe into the same side.
So, if you look at Gerrard’s reign over the six-month period. I would have to say that I am happy with how he has performed so far. Yes, he’s made mistakes like anyone learning on the job would. But he’s rectifying them and learning from each game.
However, I feel much more positive right now with Gerrard in charge than I did this time last year. He conducts himself like a Rangers manager, and he’s given the club and the fans their collective mojo back. If I had to rate it out of 10, I would give him a solid seven, with room for improvement. He has an overall win percentage of 50%, winning 1.84 points per match. I have no doubt those stats will be improved upon in the coming months.
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