Gerrard’s First season at Rangers Has Been a Success. Just
May 10, 2019
Nobody really knew what to expect of Steven Gerrard as Rangers manager. If they are completely candid, Rangers themselves would surely admit that their appointment of the former England and Liverpool captain was somewhat made with a blindfold on. A calculated gamble. Almost a full year later, though, and it’s still difficult to judge Gerrard as Rangers boss.
If Gerrard’s first season in senior management can be judged on how many boxes have been ticked, he has succeeded, but only just. The first target set for him was to lead Rangers into the group stages of the Europa League and he did that, earning some impressive results along the way.
But while some at the time saw Rangers’ Europa League qualification as a precursor to bigger and better things, it was, in retrospect, the highlight of their season. It was where the Ibrox side found their best performances, coming within just one game of making the competition’s last 32.
Indeed, Rangers have struggled for consistency domestically, particularly through the second half of the season. At the turn of the year, the Ibrox outfit were actually level with rivals and defending champions Celtic at the top of the Scottish Premiership having beaten the Hoops in a league Old Firm derby for the first time in six years. After the winter break, though, they crumbled.
Rangers managed to recover the situation somewhat by securing second place with a series of impressive wins over the past couple wins, ticking another box for the season. But if Gerrard was expected to close the gap on Celtic at the top of the Scottish game, he’ll have a hard time arguing that he has succeeded.
Last season, the Govan side finished 12 points behind Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic. The season before the gulf stood at a massive 39 points. By that measure, Gerrard’s Rangers might well finish the 2018/19 season having closed the gap somewhat, with Celtic nine points ahead of their rivals as things stand.
But when Rangers fans talk about closing the gap, as has become a colloquial term in Scottish football, are they truly satisfied by incremental gains? In a competitive sense, what is the difference between a nine-point gap and a 12-point gap? Celtic still cantered to an eighth successive league title, clinching the championship with two games to spare. In effect, the title was in the bag from about March. Does that count as closing the gap?
Gerrard’s other big failure came in the cup competitions, where he was expected to at least make a challenge. Instead, Rangers only made to the semi finals of the League Cup and the quarter finals of the Scottish Cup, suffering elimination at the hands of Aberdeen both times. That won’t be tolerated next season.
There is widespread disagreement over the success or failure of Gerrard’s first year in charge at Rangers. Some believe, with good reason, that he has improved the Ibrox side, as demonstrated by their ease in securing second place and the manner which which they marched into the Europa League group stages.
However, the flip side of the argument looks at the strife Celtic have gone through this season, losing their manager just three months before the end of the campaign. Even before that, the Hoops had struggled for momentum. It was months before they managed to establish themselves at the top of the table, with Hearts and Kilmarnock both enjoying spells at the summit. And yet despite all this, Rangers failed to truly trouble their rivals.
For the time being, Rangers remain committed to Gerrard and the project he is leading. Another transfer window should see the squad strengthened once again, although Gerrard’s method of publicly digging out players he wishes to move on has raised concerns. Is that really the best way to foster a strong dressing room atmosphere?
More will be expected of Gerrard next season. There was so much for him to untangle upon taking over at Ibrox that he was always likely to be given a certain leeway in his first year in charge. But that leeway will eventually expire. If the same deficiencies are evident this time next year, Gerrard will face the same scrutiny many of his players have faced from the Rangers boss.
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Author: Graham Ruthven
Graham Ruthven is a football writer and broadcaster based in Glasgow, Scotland. He was written for the New York Times, the Guardian, Eurosport, Bleacher Report, Four Four Two, The Scotsman and others. He is also a football shirt aficionado and still maintains to this day that Dennis Bergkamp didn’t mean it