Steven Gerrard Image Credit: Reuters

‘Steven Gerrard and Rangers will be a disaster’ — how wrong can you be?

Matthew Smith, Sports Editor

I recall an article written back in 2018, imploring Steven Gerrard not to make the move to become Rangers manager. It insisted that Rangers — the embryonic incarnation of the Ibrox club that was liquidated for financial dodginess in 2012 — should not be considering a coach with zero managerial experience, if they wanted to get to the top of Scottish football.

It claimed such a move would cost the club dearly as Gerrard would fail and he and his expensive backroom staff would require a big pay-off as the results failed to materialise.

It cited the last time an untested Liverpool hero came to Glasgow to try his hand as a coach — John Barnes at Celtic — and how it left his managerial prospects in tatters. “If he has any sense, professionally and personally, Gerrard will walk away from this insanity as it is destined to go horribly wrong,” the author insisted, saying he would end up on the coaching scrapheap like Barnes.

Crucially, the piece signed off with the claim that “an appointment like Gerrard at Rangers will only help Celtic edge towards the coveted 10-in-a-row” — referring to Rangers’ Glasgow rivals unrelenting dominance in Scotland as they homed in on a decade’s worth of league titles.

There was just one thing wrong with the article — all of it.

Gerrard and Rangers swept to their first league title in nine long years on Sunday, bringing the Celtic juggernaut down to Earth with such a thud, it was felt way back in 2018 for the author of the article I refer to.

How do I know? I wrote it.

I have such admiration for Gerrard, I am delighted he has proved me wrong — his heroics on the field for Liverpool did not deserve to be tarnished by a failed coaching career. Instead, he added the one thing missing from his glittering playing CV — a league title — and he profoundly proved me wrong in the process.

Rangers are undefeated this season in the league, 20 points ahead of Celtic and Scottish champions by early March, with six games still to play. They have a lot more on their agenda other than just proving me wrong. They are still in contention for the Europa League, and are targeting an ‘Invincibles’ season by going to the end of the campaign undefeated.

While Gerrard plots a fitting end to this season and looks ahead to further glory with Rangers, I’m off to eat some humble pie.

Early years: A young Liverpool fan noticed by Liverpool scouts

Gerrard spent most of his playing career at Liverpool. Image Credit: Reuters

When Gerrard was born in on May 30, 1980, the odds were already stacked against him.

Welcomed into the small village of Whiston, Merseyside (also the home of Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm), eight miles east of Liverpool, Gerrard had a birth defect called ‘clubfoot’: his foot was twisted and rotated at the ankle, facing inwards rather than outwards. After undergoing a series of treatments, Gerrard could finally walk normally.

But, in a few years time, he would realise that his medical woes were far from over.

At the age of five, Gerrard discovered his passion for football, and despite being photographed in an Everton jersey with trophies at a young age — he later said he was forced into the photo op after winning a local competition — Gerrard had been a Liverpool fan ever since they defeated the Toffees during the 1986 FA Cup final.

Gerrard began to play for his hometown team, the Whiston Juniors. In 2014, grainy footage emerged of a reportedly 12-year-old Gerrard playing for his hometown team, sent into the Echo by reader Melvyn Snyder, whose son played with the future footballing icon.

“I kept all the monthly magazines with match reports and about four hours of video,” said Snyder. "I enjoyed watching him grow up. He was a great lad on and off the field. He was head and shoulders above the others at football. He could win a match on his own.

"I remember that his legs were very long. He was like a little gazelle. He was very fast. He left the kids for dead with the goal that he scored in the final. He really wanted to win and he didn't like getting beat. Some of the skills that he had were brilliant. He hit the ball to the side of the player three times and he ran around them. He scored from one of them too. He was streets ahead of them all.

"When he came to Whiston he was getting man-of-the-match awards when playing for the under 10s. He was only eight. He was very quiet off the field. We all went on a day trip and he didn't want to go because he just wanted to go home. He didn't like going away. He was very quiet.

"After the Holland trip we did not see him. Liverpool took him on after that,” Snyder told the Echo.

Indeed, it was at the Whiston Juniors where the mild-mannered Gerrard caught the eye of Liverpool scouts. At the age of nine, he was snatched up to join the club’s youth academy.

Medical woes: A career that nearly ended at the age of 10

Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez. Image Credit: Reuters

But his journey nearly ended before it even began.

One day while kicking a ball around outside near his home, it became stuck in a patch of nettles. When he attempted to dislodge the ball, however, he struck an upturned garden hoe instead, resulting in a horrific injury.

After rushing to the hospital, Gerrard was given a bleak prognosis — he would have to amputate his toe.

Desperate to avoid the worst-case scenario that could end his son’s future as a footballer, his dad phoned Liverpool academy director Steve Heighway, who convinced the doctors to take another course of action.

After intensive care, Gerrard was able to narrowly avoid the dreaded amputation and recover fully, eventually returning to the pitch to chase his dreams once again.

Gerrard rose up the ranks Liverpool’s youth academy from 1989 to 1998. In 1998, he joined the senior team, where he would play for the next 17 years.

Gerrard makes first appearance at Liverpool as lanky teen

Gerrard was a scrawny, nervous 18-year-old when he first came on to the pitch for Liverpool — and he was off to a shaky start. He made his senior team debut on November 29, 1998, against the Blackburn Rovers as a sheepish and last-minute substitute for Vegard Heggem.

“All the subs were applauded when [then manager] Gerard Houllier sent us to warm up," Gerrard told the Guardian. "Well, nearly all. When I ran towards the Kop I could almost hear them saying: "Who's this skinny little [expletive]?’”

His debut was as forgettable as he was, at the time. But looking back, Houllier, who died last year, had fond memories of those fleeting moments.

“He was very emotional when he came on. Can you imagine? A player's dream when you support a club is to play for that club. He was just 18. It was to just show him: 'You are in our plans and we rely on you for the future,’” Houllier told ESPN in 2018.

“It was just to give him his first cap for Liverpool FC. I think he played two or three minutes,” he added.

Gerrard’s first start, during which he was played to the right of the midfield, wasn’t anything to write home about. “I was out of position and out of my depth,” said Gerrard.

But the club had faith in him and gave him chance after chance. Houllier knew that what the young, unsure young man needed was more minutes to build up his self-esteem.

“From his performances in training and his ability, we could see that what he needed was games under his belt,” said Houllier.

Gerrard would eventually find a home for himself as a central midfielder. But one of his biggest problems was his own confidence.

By the 1999-00 season, Gerrard was making more appearances and slowly building up his presence. However, he was plagued by back and groin injuries, the latter requiring four different operations despite his young age. Most of his back pains, meanwhile, were attributed to accelerated growth over a short amount of time.

“I'm pleased I spotted him very quickly. I saw an academy game and asked him to come with the pros immediately. I'm pleased we did that because [Liverpool footballer] Sammy Lee once said: 'You saved his career.' We sorted out his back problems [and] his growing problems gradually,” said Houllier.

Gerrard becomes captain at only 23

Gerrard grew into a leader at Anfield. Image Credit: AFP

It wasn’t until the next season (2000-01) however, that Gerrard began to become a fast favourite amongst fans.

Liverpool unexpectedly won a treble of cups that season, as they secured the FA Cup, the League Cup and Uefa Cup (where he got his name on the scoresheet in the final). Gerrard scored 10 goals in 50 appearances across all competitions.

It seemed he had finally arrived. The following season, Gerrard was made vice-captain.

By 2003, to many viewers’ shock, Gerrard replaced Sami Hyppia as the team’s captain at only 23 years old. Some fans were appalled by the decision, finding Gerrard to be too young and inexperienced. However, Houllier stuck to his decision.

“I think Stevie has certain leadership qualities which I spotted very early in his career,” he said, at the time. "When he was young, all he needed was time to mature. Now he is 23 and he is ready. There has been a maturing in his game and his personality."

Later, he would echo his own sentiments to ESPN. “The one thing about him is that responsibility made him blossom, not shrink. Some people with responsibility shrink — they’re not as good as they used to be. Stevie, in fact, responsibility and leadership made him even better. To me, that's why he was world-class. You have different levels — Premier League level, international level and then you have world-class. Stevie belonged to the category of maybe only 20, 25 players in the world that were world-class,” he said.

‘Miracle of Istanbul’ glory and grim news

Steven Gerrard’s finest hour came in Istanbul in May 2005, when he inspired Liverpool against AC Milan in the Champions League final to win the club’s fifth European Cup. Image Credit: Agency

One of the most defining moments of Gerrard’s career at Liverpool came in 2005, which proved to be a tumultuous year for him.

During the 2005 Uefa Champions League Final, Liverpool were down 3-0 at half-time against Milan. But it was captain Gerrard who led a fierce comeback in the miraculous second half, which left fans bewildered.

Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso levveled the score in a whirlwind 45 minutes, resulting in 3-3 at full-time, and Liverpool took the penalty shootout 3-2 to claim the title.

The exceptionally spectacular comeback became known as the ‘Miracle of Istanbul’, and has gone down as one of the best finals in the history of the championship. Because it was Liverpool’s fifth European Cup, they were awarded the trophy permanently and became one of only five clubs in history to keep the real trophy.

However exciting it may have been, though, it was impossible to ignore talk of Gerrard’s growing displeasure with the club. It seemed like he wanted to cut his contract short, despite two years left to go. The Miracle of Istanbul, however, gave Gerrard temporary pause.

“How can I think of leaving Liverpool after a night like this?” he said. "I am really happy with the club. I will be having talks with the chairman and the manager shortly, but it is looking good.”

Will he stay or will he go?

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard as he walks on the pitch after his final game at Anfield. Image Credit: Reuters

Two months later, however, the chaos around Gerrard’s contractual concerns began again. Liverpool released a statement that the 25-year-old skipper had turned down their reported offer of £100,000 in weekly wages (an upgrade from a reported £60,000 a week he was on).

“Steven has told us he will not accept our offer of an improved and extended contract because he wants to leave,” read the statement.

Gerrard issued his own statement. "This has been the hardest decision I have ever had to make,” he said. "I fully intended to sign a new contract after the Champions League final, but the events of the past five to six weeks have changed all that. I have too much respect for the club and people at it to get involved in a slagging match."

Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry was resigned to the fact that Gerrard would not stay and said that the club was bigger than any one player.

"He wanted success, and presumably felt he would get success elsewhere — it is our job to prove him wrong. I did say to him 'think of Istanbul, think of the fans,’” said Parry at the time. "Now we have to move on. We have done our best, but he has made it clear he wants to go and I think it looks pretty final."

These grim and absolute statements from both sides are what made what came next even more of a roller-coaster for Liverpool fans.

The following day, Gerrard did a complete 180 by signing a new four-year contract with the club. Word was that Gerrard had felt unwanted by the club, due to a delay in finalising a new contract. But Parry felt that it was a misunderstanding.

“There were lots of late-night phone calls and early morning phone calls. I couldn't be more delighted. It is what we wanted all along,” he said. “There were one or two issues with the contract which he took to mean a lack of enthusiasm on our part, which it wasn't. He understands that now. We've had some emotional moments together, cleared everything up and I don't think this will happen again."

Another decade ends in Chelsea heartache

Steven Gerrard had some tough times at Liverpool as the Premier League title eluded them Image Credit: AFP

“When I die, don't bring me to the hospital. Bring me to Anfield. I was born there and will die there.” No other quote can quite encapsulate Gerrard’s love for Liverpool and his regard for it as a home, rather than a club.

In the decade between him almost leaving in 2005 and actually leaving in 2015, plenty happened to build that love, though no love is complete without heartache.

Gerrard knocked off milestone after milestone, surpassing a 100 goals in the English Premier League, becoming Liverpool’s longest-serving captain by 2013 and becoming the club’s first player to score in 15 successive league campaigns.

Despite on-and-off injuries, he continued to be synonymous with the club and its successes. On an international level, he also rose to prominence and became captain of England in 2010.

However, before Gerrard left Liverpool in 2015, he was dealt the most heartbreaking of blows against Chelsea.

It was the 2013-14 EPL season and Liverpool had a chance to end what was, at the time, a 24-year title drought. For Gerrard, it was conceivably his last opportunity to win the league with a team that watching him transform from a bumbling 18-year-old substitute to a world-class football player respected by the game’s biggest ever players.

Liverpool were at the top of the table and three games from the finish line. They were facing Chelsea and their league-winning dreams were hanging in the balance.

Gerrard slipped while receiving a pass and Demba Ba took advantage of the opportunity to score Chelsea’s opening goal. The Blues won the game 2-0 and Liverpool eventually finished in second place, as Manchester City beat them to the title.

Devastated, Gerrard referred to it as the “worst three months of my life”.

“I’ve seen it a few times. I don’t have to watch something like that to go through the pain again and again and again,” he said.

“I’ve been through the pain in the dressing room after and in the weeks and months since. I just stumbled across it. It didn’t hide away. I have TVs in my house and I read papers. There is social media. When something like that happens you have to face up and be man enough to take it on the chin. Accept it happened. You can’t change it.

“I haven’t lost my man at a set-piece. I haven’t missed a penalty. I haven’t made a bad pass or a mistake. That’s why it was cruel. Every single person on the planet slips at some point in their life, whether it is on a set of stairs, on the floor or whatever.

“For me, it happened on the pitch at a really bad moment … That moment happened at a crucial time and I have to face that. And I will do,” he said.

By the time he left Liverpool in 2015, Gerrard surpassed 500 league appearances for Liverpool, becoming one of only three players at the time to ever reach that number at one club.

Brief stint at LA Galaxy and retirement

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Kanye and Kim. Image Credit: Reuters

After a year-and-a-half at LA Galaxy, Gerrard announced his retirement from professional football. He had already retired on the international stage in 2014.

But, for those 18 months, he got the proper Hollywood experience off the pitch, from the scorching hot sun to the celebrity spottings while dining with wife Alex Curran.

“Kim Kardashian and Kanye West were at the next table,” he recalled to The Guardian.

“You should’ve seen Alex. She was carrying on like I would carry on if it was Maradona or Pele sat next to us. Alex was gawping at them for the majority of the meal, but I’m different. I’m a big fan of Kanye West’s music, but I don’t get carried away when I see anyone famous. I’ve seen quite a few knocking about and I know it’s important to leave them alone," he said.

Asked whether he leaned over to greet them, Gerrard responded in the negative, saying he was all too aware of what it feels like.

"Being in the position I’m in at home, I know how important it is to give people privacy.”

On the pitch, it was a complete change of pace from what he was used to. "It’s more relaxed here,” he said.

“The Premier League is aggressive. In England, you feel the pressure rolling down from the terraces. You feel like you have to impress the manager every day, to impress tons of people every time you perform. After 17 years in that pressure cooker, America’s a great change.”

New beginnings: Gerrard signs on as manager for Rangers

Fans hold aloft a live-size cut-out of Steven Gerrard after Rangers won the Scottish Premiership title
Fans hold aloft a live-size cut-out of Steven Gerrard after Rangers won the Scottish Premiership title Image Credit: AFP

Gerrard signed on as a youth coach at Liverpool in 2017, a position he did not take lightly, even though he was “very excited”.

“But at the same time a little bit nervous, a little bit anxious because it’s obviously a brand new role,” said Gerrard.

But by 2018, Gerrard made the move to the Scottish Premiership as manager of the Rangers and had to face his first hurdle: addressing them for the first time. He practicied for weeks what he was going to say.

“It was one of the most nervous talks I’ve ever done. I had a few days and weeks prepare for what I was going to say. But for me, the key thing was to let them know that I’m not standing here addressing you as Steven Gerrard the player," he recalled.

“I’m not gonna think I’m this person because I’ve had a decent football career. This is me, here, to try and help and support you and try to improve you all as a group.To try and use my experience and my knowledge and my team or people and to try and help you.

“We’re there for you, we’ll do everything we can. We’ll sacrifice everything we can for you, individually and collectively, to get you in a better place. Because at the time, Rangers were suffering," he added.

Despite some doubt over his managerial prowess, he was off to a good start with 12 games unbeaten in the league, before a 1-0 loss to rivals Celtic during the Old Firm derby broke his streak.

However, Gerrard managed to turn the tables around by the time the two teams met again at the reverse fixture: Rangers cinched a 1-0 win against Celtic for the first time since 2012.

Plenty of rumours suggested that, with a taste of success, Gerrard would return to the EPL, linking him with Newcastle United and, of course, Liverpool.

Talk of Gerrard succeeding Jurgen Klopp’s reign over the Reds is not new, though it is ongoing — not least of all because Gerrard just won his first league title. On March 7, Rangers defeated St Mirren to win the 2020-21 season. Not only that, but they sit top of the table, 20 points clear of Celtic in second place, after winning back-to-back derbies against their rivals.

What’s next for Gerrard?

Liverpoool coach Jurgen Klopp

Well, he’s certainly not gunning for Klopp’s position, nor is he planning to abandon ship.

“The Liverpool fans don’t want me to be the manager of Liverpool FC. They want Jurgen Klopp. I wish you knew how much we love Jurgen Klopp. Is it a dream for me to one day be Liverpool manager? Yes, it is. But not yet,” said Gerrard.

“We shouldn’t talk about this. We have one of the best managers leading our club at the minute. I love him.

“I’ve got a job here. I don’t think it’s helpful to talk about this and I hope Jurgen stays at Liverpool for many years,” he added.

Meanwhile, Rangers fans — who took to the streets with cardboard cut-outs of Gerrard singing his praises — will also be hoping that Gerrard stays for many years to come. Clearly, he’s not a man to do half the job, and with his contract ongoing until 2024, leaving doesn’t seem an option he would entertain.

After all, he now has a title to defend.

What other footballers (and managers) have said

Steven Gerrard probably edges it as the best I have played against, for his consistency over the years.

- Frank Lampard

If I have to say one [toughest opponent] - and I really enjoyed playing against - I would say Steven Gerrard. He was physically the most difficult opponent to handle. He was the box-to-box player, he could be on his right or left, shooting from the outside of his boot. He was a machine.

- Cesc Fabregas

There are a small number of players in the world that are irreplaceable, and Steven is one of them. Not just irreplaceable as a player but also as a captain, and what he represents for Liverpool.

- Luis Suarez

Gerrard is an excellent player, absolutely world-class. If I was a manager, everywhere I went I would buy Steven Gerrard.

- Pele

I have said many times that [former Liverpool teammate] Stevie is the best player that I have played with – by far. He was a big influence for me as a player; I had one career before I started playing with him and one career after I played with him.

- Fernando Torres

I have said in the past that at his peak he was the best in the world. I think it was the summer of 2004, I was having a conversation with Florentino [Perez] and I told him I wanted [Gerrard] to partner me in midfield for Madrid. I know the club tried twice but he wouldn’t leave Liverpool. Not many players turn down Real Madrid but I think that tells you a lot about the loyalty of the man.

- Zinedine Zidane

I tried to bring him to Chelsea, I tried to bring him to Inter, I tried to bring him to Real Madrid, but he was always a dear enemy.

- Jose Mourinho

He has become the most influential player in England, bar none … He’s got that unbelievable engine, desire, determination. Anyone would take Gerrard.

- Sir Alex Ferguson

Steven Gerrard would be the captain of my World XI dream team. Gerrard is a complete player because he can play in every position and can do everything with a football at any time in a game.

- Francesco Totti

Every time we play against Steven, the coach always says to be careful with that player because he is the player who makes the difference.

- Zlatan Ibrahimovic