Not long after Pedro Caixinha was first presented to Dave King and the Rangers board as a managerial candidate, Google must have been consulted.
The story goes that former Rangers midfielder, turned agent, Pedro Mendes, was the one to initially put forward the Portuguese coach for the vacancy at Ibrox back in March 2017. Mendes surely came equipped with Caixinha’s CV, so unknown was the former Santos Laguna and Al-Gharafa coach. Whoever first presented Steven Gerrard as a potential Rangers manager didn’t have the same issue.
13,000 fans turned up to Ibrox, filling the bottom tier of the famous old stadium’s main stand, to welcome Gerrard as the club’s new coach two weeks ago. It was an illustration of the excitement felt on the blue side of Glasgow over the appointment of the former England and Liverpool captain. With that excitement comes expectation.
Of course, expectation is heaped on the shoulders of every Rangers manager, such is the stature of the club. They might have fallen on tougher times in recent years, but this is a club that still expects, at the very least, to challenge. Even by this yardstick, though, the pressure dial will be cranked up on Gerrard. That comes with being one of the most recognisable names in the British game.
Realistically or not, Gerrard is charged with restoring Rangers as a force. They talk about ‘going for 55’ at Ibrox, a reference to their record haul of Scottish league titles, a tally which currently stands at 54. Making it to 55 is viewed as the golden carrot motivating everyone at the club to keep going, no matter how far off such an achievement might appear right now.
A second successive third place finish, confirmed by Sunday’s remarkable 5-5 draw with Hibernian, paints the picture of an underachieving team. Rangers boast the second biggest wage bill in the country, by quite some distance, yet that isn’t matched by their performances over the past two seasons.
Resources have been wasted at Rangers in recent years, but most critically time has been wasted. Financial meltdown should have allowed Rangers to build from the ground up. A spell in the lower leagues should have given them time to recalibrate things. Look at the way Juventus made the most of their top flight banishment, establishing the foundations for an era of dominance. The circumstances were entirely different, but Rangers were presented with a similar opportunity. That’s an opportunity that they have so far spurned.
They can’t afford to waste any more time, or money for that matter. Rangers are still counting the cost of a wasteful summer last year, when around £8m was splurged on a host of players who made little or no impact at the club. Carlos Pena, who cost €3m, was sent out on loan after just six months. Striker Eduardo Herrera, who cost €1.7m, has scored just twice for Rangers this season. Bruno Alves, most likely the highest paid player at the club, could be offloaded this summer.
Between Gerrard and director of football, Mark Allan, a fire sale must be orchestrated at Ibrox this summer, with only a handful of players worthy of their place at the club. The problem is there may not be the funds to replace those unworthy of a place at the club. Rangers, as things stand, are dependant on loans and share issues. It’s not yet known how much Gerrard and Allan will be given to spend this summer. “We don't put figures on that because we can’t,” said King.
Meanwhile, Celtic have just registered a record rise in revenue and profit after making it to the Champions League group stages in successive seasons. This is what Rangers are up against. To compete with Celtic they must make the Champions League, and to make the Champions League they must topple Celtic at the top of the Scottish Premiership. It’s difficult to envisage how that dynamic can be flipped.
And so Gerrard might have to coach his team into shape, rather than rely on new signings to change Rangers’ fortunes. One of Brendan Rodgers’ biggest success as Celtic manager has come in the way he has been able to improve the players he inherited at the club. Callum McGregor, James Forrest, Leigh Griffiths, Kieran Tierney, Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong have all found their best form under the Northern Irishman over the past two seasons and Gerrard must find a way to improve the players he will inherit at Rangers in a similar way. He might not have a choice.
Stylistically, Gerrard has already vowed to emulate Jurgen Klopp. “When you look at the style of football that Jurgen Klopp plays, every fan in the world loves watching that,” he explained speaking at a Liverpool supporters’ event in Dubai over the weekend. If Gerrard can bring ‘heavy metal football,’ as Klopp calls it, to Ibrox, he will energise a Rangers support tired of the insipid fare served up by their club in recent years. They might even settle for ‘gentle rock football.’
For both Gerrard and Rangers, this is an almighty risk. The 37-year-old has no senior management experience, only coaching Liverpool’s under 18s side prior to taking charge at Ibrox and so while Rangers might have done their homework on the former midfielder, there’s no way of knowing for sure whether he will make it as a manager.
On the flip side, Rangers is a difficult place for Gerrard to get his start in management. He will be expected to win, and win well, from the very beginning, with Europa League qualifiers coming just days after the end of the World Cup this summer. Caixinha was effectively doomed from the moment he failed to guide Rangers past minnows Progres Niederkorn just two games into the new season. Gerrard will face the same early litmus test. Fail it and there might be no recovering, as was the case with Caixinha.
Rangers fans must be pragmatic about what Gerrard can achieve at the club, at least in the short term. Things are stacked against him and so incremental gains might be the best they can hope for at this time. There’s no way of knowing, at this moment, whether Gerrard will be as good a manager as he was a player, but patience is required. Of all the changes the new man in the job must implement at Ibrox, a refreshed mindset might be the most important. Title number 55 might be a long way in coming, but as long as Rangers fans feel it is coming Gerrard will be embraced.