In the Red corner coming off an impressive undefeated 14 matches and 12 knockouts, weighing in at an estimated 183 pounds and standing six feet tall, The Scouser Supreme, “Captain Fantastic,” Steven Gerrard. And his opponent standing in the opposite corner that is also colored red, 11 knock outs in 22 matches, The Dutch Oven, “The Pep in your step,” Pep Lijnders.
Before we get to tonight’s main event, we wanted to provide our sports fans with a bit of the match build up and background on tonight’s history-making bout.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has informally announced that he will seek a break from football upon the completion of his Liverpool contract in 2024. A panic among fans has already begun despite there being more then three years remaining on Klopp’s current contract, which symbolizes his importance to the Anfield faithful. But who will be the next manager to step up and into the massive ass kicking boots of Jurgen Klopp to lead our boys and the fans through our next era of football?
There are a few potential choices on FSG’s supposed wish list. Realistically, the fans know there are really only two likely candidates. When Steven Gerrard retired from football and went into coaching, it was automatically assumed he would one day return to lead Liverpool to glory. After failing to win the Premier League title during a 17 year stay with Liverpool, it has always felt like unfinished business for the former captain. Gerrard started his managerial career similar to the way he started his playing career, working in the youth system at Liverpool. After some impressive tactical displays, Scottish league side Glasgow Rangers came calling offering Gerrard the perfect chance to test out his skills full time. The first two seasons were not exactly perfect but this time around it is as if Liverpool’s title triumph has inspired Gerrard to step up his game in an attempt to claim glory in Scotland.
You would think that Steven Gerrard – former Liverpool captain, the hero of Istanbul, the hero of the FA Cup final, and so much more – would be a shoo-in for next manager. Sadly, the trendy thing these days is to forsake Stevie G and focus on Klopp’s current assistant manager Pep Lijnders. Pep Lijnders joined Liverpool as the U18 coach in 2014 and saw a brief stint as Brendan Rodger’s assistant. He spent a few years working as part of Klopp’s staff before departing to take the head job at NEC Nijmejen in 2018. After 22 games in charge, Pep was sacked when NEC Nijmejen failed to earn promotion to the Eredivisie. He quickly returned to Liverpool and was welcomed back into Klopp’s backroom staff playing a key role in Liverpool’s recent successes.
I am not going to sugarcoat this or bullshit you – I am extremely biased. Of course I am backing Steven Gerrard. You are aware I am the American Gerrard right? I am so biased that I actually initially decided to write this article because I am tired of hearing people say Pep Lijnders would be a better manager.
As I began writing this article and compiling the research I learned a lot more about Lijnders then I originally intended. I love Stevie G but I also enjoy being taken serious as a Liverpool writer. So I decided to take a “neutral” stance and provide my readers the facts to make their own conclusions. I lay it out so you all can play it out… Without further ado, Steven Gerrard vs Pep Lijnders.
The Case for Gerrard
For those who do not know Steven Gerrard is an absolute Legend. He was the Scouse equivalent to Lionel Messi (I swear). At first I was thinking I would not need to explain to anyone who Gerrard is, but then I remembered we just won the title for the first time in 30 years, and there could be new fans who recently joined the Reds family and have no idea about Mr. Liverpool. I could probably write a biography on Steven Gerrard, but to provide a fair comparison with Pep Lijnders I decided to make it short and sweet.
Steven Gerrard was a local lad who grew up in Liverpool. He was part of the academy and eventually played for Liverpool for 17 seasons racking up 504 appearances and 120 goals. He was the captain for Liverpool during a very difficult time when the club struggled with financial issues and poor management. During a spell when Liverpool’s best players often left the club for better opportunities, Steven Gerrard remained loyal to the club turning down some of the top teams at the time like Chelsea, Real Madrid and Barcelona. Gerrard eventually ended his career after a season and a half playing for LA Galaxy in the MLS, the only team he booted up for besides the Reds.
Pep Lijnders never played professional football. Take that Team Pep. Score one point for Team Gerrard.
Steven Gerrard was appointed the U18 coach for Liverpool in July 2017. He spent about a year working with the U18 and U19 setups. As manager of the U18s he oversaw 24 matches winning 12, losing seven and drawing five. Although he managed fewer games, his record with the U19s was a bit more impressive, winning six of his eight matches in charge.
In May 2018 he was appointed head coach at Glasgow Rangers in Scotland. At Rangers, Gerrard has so far managed 134 games in charge, winning 85, losing 19 and drawing 30.
When Gerrard first joined Rangers, the club was a disaster. They had finished third the season prior, and recorded one of the worse defensive records in the league, despite tallying the most goals. Sound familiar? Gerrard brought in a more aggressive pressing game to the Rangers, cutting the goals conceded numbers in half within his first season in charge. Though he failed to usurp league rivals Celtic from their domestic dominance the first two seasons as manager, this season it looks like it might just be time for Gerrard and Rangers. So far the squad is off to an impressive start, winning 12 matches and drawing two (losing none). They even took down Celtic away from home, and sit nine points clear at the top of the Scottish table.
Steven Gerrard claims his style as a manager was heavily influenced by his former manager at Liverpool, Rafa Benitez. Like Benitez, he employs a attacking, possession-based system using a high counter-attacking press on defense. I believe this resemblance of Liverpool’s current style under Jurgen Klopp.
The Case for Pep Lijnders
Pep Lijnders began his career as a manager in 2002 with PSV Eindhoven. He helped the team with youth training and individual player development. In 2006, he moved to Porto and helped improve their youth academy, working under Vítor Baía and André Villas-Boas. Initially, Lijnders spoke no Portuguese at all and had to relay on English-speaking players at different youth levels to translate his instructions to the rest of the squad. Despite the early language barrier, enormous potential was seen in Lijnders and his methods, which resulted in a long term contract after only six months. He eventually went on to work with Porto for seven years before joining Liverpool’s youth coaching staff in 2014.
Lijnders only spent one season at Liverpool’s Kirkby Academy with the U16s before he was called up to work with the big boys at Melwood. In 2015 He took up a newly-created position as the first-team’s development coach. He spent many years as a successful part of Klopp’s coaching team before his ambitions got the best of him and he was lured away for his chance to manage a team on his own.
In January 2018, Lijnders accepted the manager position for NEC Nijmejen in the Dutch second division. Many people expected Lijnders to create his own style at his new club but the Nijmejen squad resembled a Dutch version of Liverpool. They herded opposing players into areas where they were outnumbered before they launched into the Red’s signature press. They shifted tactical positions on defense and they used a counter-attack system dependent on three attacking players up top, which left the opposition outnumbered due to how high they won back the ball.
Unfortunately Lijnders was sacked after only 22 games. His record with NEC Nijmejen was 11 wins seven losses and four draws. The team lost faith with Lijnders when they lost in the promotion play-offs, resulting in another season stuck in the second division.
When you take an honest look at Liverpool as an example of a team using the tactics that Klopp and Lijnders employ, it provides an answer as to why Lijnders may not have been as successful in Holland. It took Liverpool and Klopp several seasons to get the right players into the club, and the existing players up to the needed fitness to play these tactics. You may remember several season ago when the Dutch fitness coach and long-time Klopp detractor Raymond Verheijen ripped Klopp apart for the amount of strain his style of play put on players’ physical conditions. Every season around January the squad fell apart, suffering several unfortunate injuries and setbacks before we had the right “horses for courses.” One could argue that if Lijnders has been given a team to manage with the right fitness levels or given sufficient time and money to build, things might have gone differently in his first time in charge.
After managing in Holland, Lijnders returned to Liverpool, where Klopp has praised him as instrumental in Liverpool’s recent success. Lijnders is believed to be behind Liverpool’s tactical shifts over the last two seasons helping Liverpool become tighter at the back. Klopp’s readiness to listen to Lijnders ideas has helped evolve Liverpool’s style of play helping them challenge for the title in back-to-back seasons.
But Who is Best?
I already warned you I am biased, so regardless Steven Gerrard always wins. In all seriousness, I do personally believe Gerrard would make a better choice for the next Liverpool manager. I do agree that Pep Lijnders probably knows the club’s current style of play better then Steven Gerrard, but who is to say that using the same style and tactics will be as useful in 2024? After watching a bit of Rangers and reading tactical analysis from seasoned professionals, it sounds like Gerrard’s style is not too far off from Liverpool’s anyways. It could be more like a potential successful spin-off.
If we set aside Gerrard’s current impressive run this season, I still think Steven Gerrard gets the nod based on top tier experience as a first team manager. He has been in charge of Rangers longer then Lijnders has managed any team on his own. The Scottish Premier League does not compare to the English Premier League, but Gerrard has gained some valuable experience both domestically and in Europe. Last season, Rangers even advanced to the final 16 in the Europa League.
When Gerrard first came into the Ranger’s side, he joined at time when their biggest rivals were enjoying a healthy dominance over them. The team was struggling to compete, and the pressure was on for whoever took the reigns. One might even compare that pressure to the overwhelming stress the potential manager following Klopp will feel. Celtic and Rangers are big clubs, they may not challenge much in Europe recently but they have massive fan bases. Over 7,000 people lined up outside the stadium for Gerrard’s unveiling as manager – and this was during the time when the fans were generally unhappy with the club.
Gerrard has demonstrated the ability to work with the personalities and attitudes of top talent (or spoiled brats depending how you look at it). If you are not familiar with the Rangers squad, they have a striker named Alfredo Morelos who is considered one of their better players, and last summer he bitched and moaned for a move away. Gerrard responded by benching him, and eventually he started behaving again by scoring goals. I do not personally see Lijnders pulling off the same move and being successful.
With someone like Steven Gerrard, a lack of managerial experience does not take away from the fact he has been there on the field playing the game for 20 years. He has a different mentality to someone who has never played at the top level. Players will respect his experience as a player and show him more respect then a coach who was promoted from the youth team. I know the situation is a bit different with Pep Lijnders already familiar with the club but as Klopp’s assistant would he have the same attraction Klopp has when approaching potential signings? How about right at this moment in time, who do you think the top players would rather play for – Lijnders or Gerrard? I am more than sure most of the top players have never even heard of Lijnders.
Teams like Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea were quick to appoint former players with no successful top tier managerial experience as their coach. Lampard had a season at Derby where he failed to achieve promotion and finished in the same place the team finished the season prior. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got relegated with Cardiff and managed Molde in Norway. Arteta was Pep Guardiola’s assistant manager for about a year and a half. Liverpool would be doing things right giving Gerrard until 2024 to gain as much experience as possible and he is already showing more promise then the other three managers combined. Gerrard could even be managing Rangers in the Champions league next season if they finish in first place domestically and survive the play offs. I would assume at least two of the three teams I mentioned in the beginning of this paragraph will not be playing in the Champions league next season.
You cannot put a price on passion, but I am going to try and factor that in real quick as well. I am not saying that Pep Lijnders would not be passionate about his job if he became the manager at Liverpool… but would he be more passionate then Mr. Liverpool himself? I am a firm believer that passion makes talent and wisdom 100 times more effective – and you can quote me on that. Steven Gerrard carried this team and the fans on his back through the desert for a decade. Can you imagine the passion and drive he would bring managing the club he loves with a set of proper players or a team he inherited from Klopp? I cannot believe I even have to write this article and debate Gerrard’s destiny as one of Liverpool’s future managers.
How much would the chance to be Mr. Liverpool again really mean to Steven Gerrard? Winning the title with Liverpool as a manager would not erase the slip but it would be a great way to start. Pep Lijnders could even be Gerrard’s assistant, although I am sure Gary McAllister might have something to say about that. After all the years of loyal service Steven Gerrard gave us, he deserves a chance to manage Liverpool.
I am Jordan Gerrard and as always I thank you for reading!