When Steven Gerrard retired, it was an article of faith among Liverpool fans that he would be the Reds’ gaffer someday. As he prepares to start his third managerial appointment, it seems like a good time to check in on his accomplishments. Let’s see how Stevie G has acquitted himself on the touchline.
Gerrard’s first gig was a good one: Glasgow Rangers in Scotland. As half of the Old Firm, Rangers are Scottish royalty. They’ve been champions of Scotland an astounding 55 times and have over 100 major trophies. Yet, one cannot dismiss the job as easy. The club was liquidated due to a financial collapse a decade ago. Rangers had to claw back up to the Premiership from the fourth division.
When Gerrard took over in the summer of 2018, Rangers hadn’t won a cup or the Scottish Premiership since their 2010-2011 double. Even worse, hated rivals Celtic dominated the Old Firm derby in the interim and won seven consecutive Scottish league crowns.
Stevie quickly returned Glasgow to a competitive state. He delivered the first ‘Gers Old Firm Derby since 2012 in his first December. There was no silverware that first season, but he returned the club to the Europa League. They haven’t missed out on European football since, which is massive for Scottish club revenues. In 2020-21, his “Invincibles” were champions of Scotland with 102 points and returned to the Champions League. The sky was the limit for Stevie G at Ibrox.
I remember the excitement among Reds fans seeing Gerrard return to England. Aston Villa handed him the reigns in November 2021. He’d succeeded on a smaller scale in Scotland. It was now time to see if he could hang in the most-viewed league on the planet.
Villa finished in 14th that season with little to no worry about the drop. We had little reason to believe that the trajectory wasn’t upward for the club but oh how we were wrong. The bottom fell out for Gerrard’s men in 2022-23. Villa won 2, drew 3, and lost 6 to start the campaign. They were firmly in the drop zone with just 9 points when Gerrard was shown the door. Given the impatience of modern owners, especially in England, and the massive number of managers sacked each year, this wasn’t necessarily anything but a hiccup. But what came next was quite concerning regarding our club legend.
Unai Emery took over at Aston Villa on November 1st. The former Arsenal, PSG, and Villarreal boss would win 15 of his next 25 Premier League contests. Taking 49 points from a possible 75 (64% of possible points compared to Gerrard’s 25%) carried the Villans to 7th place and a spot in the UEFA Europa Conference League. From a relegation scrap to European football, surely Emery overhauled the roster, right? NOPE. They added zero players in January. A squad laboring in 16th shot all the way up to 7th. England was not as glowing a resume bullet point for our “gaffer-to-be” as Scotland was. It is still early in his managerial career, but it is still disconcerting.
What’s unfolding now will make it difficult for fans and even directors of football to judge his true level. Steven Gerrard is now the gaffer of [checks notes] Al-Ettifaq in the Saudi Pro League. At 43, he’s chased the check. The club is surely hoping that his presence will help in the recruitment of his successor at Liverpool, Jordan Henderson, among others.
The competition includes Bobby Firmino, Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante, Cristiano Ronaldo, and others making the jump to the Middle East. But what weight will any success carry? Beating aging European stars and Saudi regulars means what exactly? I don’t know. You don’t know. FSG surely doesn’t know.
Benitez ≠ Gerrard
I don’t see how this appointment expedites his return to the European game. In fact, it may prolong it as European teams wait for him to make that next move to reprove himself after a hefty payday. Admittedly, Rafa Benitez returned to England at Everton after a sojourn to the Chinese Super League. But Rafa was a legend before he ever stepped foot in China. Stevie only has parts of six seasons on the touchline with most of them being spotty. I’m hoping that my fear that he’s already torpedoed his own managerial career is unfounded.