Today, Glasgow Rangers ended their near season-long search for a manager by appointing former Liverpool and LA Galaxy player Steven Gerrard on a four-year contract, which will begin at the end of this season.
Gerrard’s only coaching experience to date is as coach of Liverpool’s under-18, where he did a solid job. Gerrard has announced that his assistant will be former Scotland midfielder Gary McAllister and he will also be joined by fellow Liverpool academy coach Michael Beale.
At first glance, this seems like a great move for all concerned. Scottish football gets a big name in football coming to coach in its league; which in turn will boost the profile of the Scottish game and boost TV ratings. Rangers get a whole lot more attention from outside of Scotland and potentially become a more attractive proposition to new signings.
Gerrard gets his first go at football management in the rare position of coming to a massive club, but doing so in almost unheard of circumstances, as nobody necessarily expects him to come and start winning trophies straight away. If he can establish Rangers as the second-best team in the Scottish Premiership ahead of Aberdeen and Hibernian, maybe beat Celtic in a game or two and goes deep in the two cup competitions and takes Rangers further in Europe than the disastrous campaign this season, that’ll be seen as a job well done.
So, this is a no-brainer, right?
Well, no. This is actually a massive risk by both Rangers and Gerrard.
Make no mistake about it, Rangers are a gigantic football club. They have a vast fanbase-they average close to 50,000 fans every game- and facilities that are the envy of most clubs.
But, they are also something of an empty shell of a club. For all of the shiny exterior, they are completely hollow inside. This is a club that is suffering on and off the pitch.
This season Rangers have managed to go out of European football in July after blowing a 1-0 first leg lead to lose 2-0 Progres Nederkorn of Luxembourg, a team that not only had never won a European game before, but had only ever scored one European goal.
That defeat was the beginning of the end for manager Pedro Caixinha, who was pictured trying to appease fans while being stood in a shrub.
When Caixinha was fired in October, Rangers failed to find a replacement and appointed former Reading defender Graham Murty as Caretaker manager. Rangers have stuttered ever since. The job was just too big for Murty, who after two recent humiliations to arch-rivals Celtic, was somewhat unfairly fired. With one game left at the time of writing, Rangers could finish as high as second or as low as fourth.
So not only will Gerrard will take over a team that isn’t pulling up trees, he’ll also be taking over a dysfunctional group of players that are utterly demoralised and even worse, are at each other’s throats.
The 4-0 Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Celtic saw midfielder Andy Halliday swear at a Rangers fan after being substituted, then Greg Docherty and Alfredo Morelos had to be pulled apart from each other in the tunnel after the game. Then, in the dressing room following the game, veteran striker Kenny Miller and club captain Lee Wallace got into such a furious confrontation with Murty they’ve both been suspended by the club and aren’t expected to ever play for Rangers again.
So, Gerrard’s first job will be to restore some order to the chaos that has been the Rangers dressing room and then start to help the team regain their confidence. It seems evident that new signings are needed; though the already announced signing of Scott Arfield from Burnley is a good one. The question is do Rangers have the means to do so?
If you remember, back in 2012, following some financial mismanagement that was so serious it led to criminal charges being laid at former owner Craig Whyte, who was acquitted, Rangers went bankrupt and, depending on your point of view, they either restarted back in the bottom division of Scottish football, or an entirely new team that bears a strong resemblance to Rangers did.
Ever since, Rangers have bounced from financial crisis to financial crisis. They have been losing around £7m per year and are now completely reliant on loans from club directors to keep going. A lot of Rangers fans believe the club is in exactly the same position they were in when they went bankrupt. A few months ago, betting was suspended on Rangers being relegated for financial problems.
While all of this has been happening, Celtic have not only established themselves as the dominant force in Scottish football- they’ve just won their seventh successive title- but are now head and shoulders above the rest financially largely thanks to some smart work in the transfer market, where they’ve managed to buy players cheaply then sell them on for a large profit. The gap between them and the rest is massive.
If Steven Gerrard is serious about wanting a career in football coaching, then he’s taking a serious risk in starting at a club with so many unknowns. I’m sure he wouldn’t have taken the job had he not been given guarantees about the club’s finances; Gerrard turned down the job at MK Dons because he wasn’t convinced by what he saw.
The wrongly held belief in England is that the Scottish Premiership is an ‘easy’ league, and therefore winning it is no great achievement. The average English fan, who will probably know nothing about the current realities of Rangers, will be expecting Gerrard to be winning titles immediately.
If he doesn’t win a title at Rangers, and at this moment that is a very remote possibility, Gerrard will unfairly be tarred with the “couldn’t even win a title in Scotland” brush and that may be the end of his coaching career before it’s really begun.
All coaches have to start somewhere. Rangers have decided that Gerrard’s lack of experience doesn’t matter. Maybe they’re right. Maybe Steven Gerrard will galvanise Rangers and then go on to have a coaching career as glittering as his playing career was.
But, there’s an equal chance that this could blow up in either of their faces. Rangers are taking a chance on a completely unproven coach rather than a coach with a track record of steering a team through some troubled times. Gerrard is taking a risk on a club that has been a basket case for years and one that could stop his career at the first hurdle.
Either way, this appointment is nowhere near the no-brainer that people may think it is.