Evaluating Steven Gerrard the Manager
Updated: May 13
May 4th, 2020 marked the two-year anniversary of Rangers hiring legendary Liverpool player, Steven Gerrard. Since he's taken over he's averaged 2.16 pts/game in the Scottish League (60% win pct) and has led Rangers to the last 16 of the Europa League.
To examine his two years with Rangers, we spoke with BBC Sport Scotland journalist, Stefan Bienkowski.
Stefan Bienkowski: "I'd struggle to think of anything that he could have done better. I think the overall effect of Steven Gerrard's time at Rangers is that he's managed to really galvanize a fan base that was desperate to find a manager that they can believe in, and he's continued to improve a squad that is desperate to ultimately challenge Celtic for a Scottish Premiership title."
"The real kind of worry or concern for a Rangers manager in this day and age is that they have this hugely passionate support who obviously demand that they can get back on level pegging with Celtic as quick as possible and financially at this point in time, that's just simply not possible."
"I think the most likely comparison to Steven Gerrard is Jurgen Klopp. Gerrard, the coaching he did do before he arrived at Rangers is obviously he worked within Liverpool's structure as a coach instructor for the youth teams and he undoubtedly arrived at Ibrox with the intention of implementing a style of football and a style of tactics that would one day, perhaps, allow him to implement that at Liverpool.
"Again, it was very similar to maybe what you see at Liverpool. He obviously doesn't have the kind of players to do it to the same extent as your Sadio Mane's and Firmino's for example, but it was undoubtedly a 4-3-3 system with inverted wingers, a strong number 9 up front, and very attacking full-backs."
"It's a tactic and a style of football that Gerrard has stuck with through thick and thin. In my opinion, that's because he's determined to kind of prove that it works at Rangers and then hopefully take on to a higher level in his coaching career."
Good Tactician But Can Be Stubborn
Going into Scotland's winter break this season Rangers were behind Celtic by just 2 points with a game in hand. Now, following 3 losses in 10 games after the break, they sit 13 points behind Celtic.
"They stuck with the same formation and system that got them there. But the issue is that at this kind of part season you begin to pick up injuries. Rangers were getting further in the Europa League, it was having a greater strain on the players and where perhaps a more experienced manager would look to another formation or tactic or look to other players, Gerrard kind of stuck with the same tactics."
"I said he kind of stuck to that 4-3-3 through thick and thin... well, this is definitely the kind of thin periods of the season where things weren't working and there were real kind of moans and groans from Rangers fans that he wasn't shaking things up enough."
Yet in big games, especially in Europe, Gerrard gets his tactics right according to Bienkowski. He's recorded big wins over Porto and Braga. "He does get his tactics absolutely spot on. For all that I've maybe said about Gerrard in terms of inexperience perhaps in terms of maybe man-management, he does strike me as a very tactically astute coach who can analyze teams and perhaps analyze better teams and figure out a way for his Rangers team to not only frustrate them, but pick up big wins."
He also adds that Gerrard's experience as a player has helped in these European ties. "I have absolutely no doubt that Gerrard's experience as a player has been instrumental in helping Rangers players adapt to the Europa League because a lot of the players who have really starred for Rangers in the Europa League this season haven't really had a huge amount of experience playing in European competition for the most part."
"He won't hide away from berating a player."
"[Alfredo] Morelos is probably the example we just used there but he's made examples of players in the past. I think that's probably an echo of maybe his kind of coaching style on the training ground as well. He's obviously a man who has unrivaled kind of determination to get to the very top of football as a coach, as he did as a player and you do kind of get a sense that sometimes he struggles to appreciate or struggles to keep his frustration in check when players let him down."
"I think to be a player at Rangers is probably a matter in which you're completely overawed by the fact that you have this legend coaching you day-in and day-out and you're probably ecstatic at the thought of learning something from them. I have no doubt a huge number of the key players who joined Rangers in the last the seasons did so entirely with the intention of simply working under Gerrard but I think the flip side of that coin is that you have a manager who can be very intimidating and very imposing."
"I think he can also be very short in terms of his expectations on players. We have seen him drop players quite unceremoniously. If they have one bad game, he has talked about players after matches and to make examples of them. I don't think that's because he's a horrible person or because he likes berating people, I think that's just a side effect of him and the kind of personality that he clearly has and what clearly got him to the top of the game. That's something that's still kind of burns inside him as a manager as well."
"I think he's actually quite good at developing players. Maybe the issue comes from the fact that he's perhaps not very good at developing young players or giving young players a huge amount of time to develop. That's maybe because he's a victim of his circumstances."
"To be the Rangers manager right now means that you have to win games every single week. To win games every single week that means you usually have to pick the older, more experienced players to win those games. So that's why a Jermaine Defoe at the age of 36 or 37 is so key to Rangers this season rather than perhaps a younger striker."
"A number of players have improved drastically under Steven Gerrard from a Scottish point of view. I think the most obvious one's maybe Ryan Jack, who has kind of really turned into this kind of box to box player, in a kind of very similar style to Gerrard actually. Not by any means do I think he's as good as Gerrard was in his heyday, but he's really knocking on the door for the Scotland National Team after arriving from Aberdeen. Glen Kamara was another one as well, who was kind of sitting on the bench at Dundee and has become a crucial player in midfield as well."
"But from an English point of view, I'd probably say Joe Aribo's maybe one of the players who seems to have kind of risen to those expectations that Gerrard clearly puts on his players. He's proven to be a very useful player in a number of positions for Gerrard. Obviously, Alfredo Morelos seems to really have nailed his flag to Gerrard's mast and he continues to improve as well."
Question Marks Big Clubs (Like Liverpool) May Have
"I think Gerrard's given a really good example of himself as a young coach at Rangers."
"If you're talking about a really big club like Liverpool, I think the question marks they'd maybe have is, 'does he have another two or three formations that he knows back to front in his back pocket that he would be able to kinda implement'? I think also, there's probably obviously a degree of, not immaturity, but like I've kind of pointed out, there's a lack of an experience in a manner in which he conducts himself in the media. The way he can almost quite publicly, berate players."
"The thing about Gerrard at Rangers is that his word is final because he has such a big name and if he does come out and criticize a player or drop a player, no one's going to question that. If he's at Liverpool and he does that with Salah or Van Dijk or something, then you do wonder whether that would fly as much."
Although I think he's been a fantastic tactician at Rangers with that one formation he does stick with, I think he has to add a few more strings to his bow.
"If a top club were looking at him they might think, 'can this guy solve all our problems?' and I think as well, he's still got a bit of learning to do in terms of the way he conducts himself as a manager in the public."