Not every great player becomes a great manager, but Steven Gerrard has so far done a good job of translating his ability on the pitch into a promising career in the dugout. Indeed, there is a lot of excitement around Aston Villa’s appointment of the 41-year-old following the success he enjoyed in three years as Rangers boss.
Gerrard took Rangers to their first Scottish top flight title in 10 years and even guided the Ibrox club to the last 16 of last season’s Europa League. His impact in Glasgow was profound and played a key role in turning Rangers into Scottish soccer’s predominant force in a turnaround of fortunes that didn’t look likely when he took his first management job back in 2018.
Now at Aston Villa, Gerrard has been tasked with turning around a club with much more talent than their current 16th place in the Premier League
However, the Aston Villa job isn’t the one Gerrard really wants. The Liverpool legend has long been talked about as a future manager of the Anfield club and so every step he has taken over the course of his managerial career to date has been analysed in terms of how much closer, or further away, it takes him from his spiritual home.
Jurgen Klopp’s contract as Liverpool manager ends in the summer of 2024 and so some believe Gerrard is positioning himself to be the ideal candidate to succeed the German at Anfield. Having proven himself as a title winner in Scotland, and having led a team in continental competition, the former midfielder will now test himself as a Premier League manager.
What would constitute success for Gerrard at Villa Park, though? Aston Villa have made great strides in recent seasons, but they still don’t have the resources of the so-called ‘Big Six.’ Leicester City present Villa with a precedent to follow, but the Foxes boast one of the best scouting and recruitment departments in the country. Aston Villa aren’t at the same level in that regard.
If Gerrard’s ceiling as Aston Villa is a top eight finish, will that be enough to convince Liverpool that he is the right man to take over from Klopp? What experience is Gerrard gaining in the West Midlands to prepare him for the Liverpool job that he wouldn’t have received had he stayed longer at Rangers?
At Rangers, Gerrard could have achieved Champions League qualification (this season’s Scottish Premiership winners will automatically qualify for next season’s group stages). North of the border, he was expected to win every single match and faced intense scrutiny every time there was a dip in form. Was this not better preparation for what life as Liverpool manager will be like?
Gerrard should be commended for backing himself to succeed in the Premier League, even if the Rangers support have been left hurt by his decision to leave the club mid-season, but there are questions over how Aston Villa will ultimately lead him back to Liverpool, as has been his ambition all along.