The current season is Scotland has been anything but normal, given the unexpected disruption it had to witness owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the likes of Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A and the Premier League decided upon resumption, the Scottish FA took the safe route by abandoning the Premiership and handing the trophy to runaway leaders Celtic, while also cancelling the Scottish Cup.
The decision meant that Celtic’s Glasgow rivals, Rangers went yet another campaign without silverware, thus increasing the pressure on young manager Steven Gerrard, who completed his second season at Ibrox.
Rangers are unlike any other club in Scotland, mainly because of the fact that the fans always keep demanding more from their team. Their rivalry with Celtic is also one of the reasons behind such huge expectations.
As was the case with Mark Warburton, the patience of the Rangers board can run out very soon. Although the Gers have been improving slowly and steadily under Gerrard, it doesn’t make him untouchable.
Gerrard had given the fans hope when Rangers managed to cut the gap down at the top of the table to just two with a game in hand at the end of December, following a 2-1 victory over leaders Celtic. The enthusiasm soon faded away as the Gers dropped unnecessary points against the less-fancied teams, allowing Neil Lennon’s side to consolidate their spot the top.
Rangers’ only hope of winning silverware this season is the Europa League. However, not even the most loyal of Gers fan would have hoped to lift the continental trophy after being beaten 3-1 by Bayer Leverkusen in the first leg of their Round of 16 clash.
All possibilities suggest that the Rangers board will stick with Steven Gerrard at least until the end of next season. But will another year without silverware be enough for the Liverpool legend to save his job? So, what has gone wrong for Gerrard at Ibrox and how can he redeem himself?
Heavy investment without acceptable results
Under Steven Gerrard, the Gers have spent more than £20 million on transfer fees, in addition to a few more millions on salaries. Yet, the results have been far from satisfactory.
The club reached a new low when they were knocked out of the Scottish Cup, following a 1-0 quarter-final loss against Heart of Midlothian – a team which were relegated from the Scottish Premiership at the end of the season.
In the league as well, the initial spark which Rangers had shown, even going on to beat Celtic, faded away once they returned from the winter break. While their Glasgow rivals went on to register an eight-game winning run and a ten-game unbeaten streak in the Premiership since returning from their warm-weather training camp in Dubai, the Gers lost three times (one of which was against Hearts), drew twice and won five of their 10 fixtures. This allowed Celtic to build a 13-point lead at the top, thus giving enough reasons to the SFA to hand them the title.
What’s even more striking is the fact that the same Rangers team, whose domestic performances were average, have been in exceptional form in the Europa League.
Steven Gerrard’s lack of faith in youth
Steven Gerrard has failed to put his faith in the youth of the club, despite academy chief Craig Mulholland claiming that the club can have one of the best academies in Europe. However, the former Liverpool star has been sceptical in using the youngsters.
A Scotsman report at the end of May last year revealed that while Hibs and Hearts were the two Scottish sides to field the most number of academy graduates in their starting line-ups, the Gers walked a different path.
Rangers started just two academy graduates at the start of last season, including a 37-year-old Allan McGregor, who is in the middle of his second spell at the club.
Previous instances show that Rangers academy graduates have gone on to make a name for themselves at other clubs. The most recent instance is that of Billy Gilmour, who left the club to join Chelsea’s youth set-up and was promoted to the senior level at the start of last season.
Praise for the youngster came from West Ham boss David Moyes, who in an interview with BBC last month said:
“We need to start getting a Scottish national team that gives us some hope but he’s certainly a really talented looking player. I was laughing because I keep getting told that Chelsea want Declan Rice, so I thought well I might just decide I want Billy Gilmour and see how it goes.”David Moyes
Way forward for Gerrard at Rangers
Moving forward, Steven Gerrard will have to show more maturity in handling a team of Rangers’ stature. What could have been satisfactory at a club such as Aberdeen, isn’t really enough to make the cut at Ibrox. The pressure, in fact, is even more than what it is at a number of Premier League clubs. As a result, the margin of error is minimal.
Gerrard will, therefore, have to build a team which will deliver the goods. He will also have to be tactically aware and make changes to his formation as and when required.
Statistics suggest that Rangers concede most of their goals during the second half of a match. Of the 19 Premiership goals they conceded this season, as many as 10 came between the 46th and the 90th-minute mark, while one was after the 90th. It is one aspect Gerrard will need to work on, ahead of the new season.
The goalscoring aspect also needs some improvement. Compared to the 89 their Glasgow rivals, Celtic managed in the league, the Gers scored just 64, which is significantly low, given the kind of expectation from the team.
Gerrard’s maturity to manage a big team will be seen over the course of time. He has been tipped to take over at Liverpool after the departure of Jurgen Klopp. The German manager himself in an interview last year had said:
“If you ask who should follow me, I’d say Stevie. I help him whenever I can.”Jurgen Klopp
In order to do that, Gerrard will need to win something in Scotland and not just a domestic trophy, but the league title. Celtic will be aiming for their tenth successive Scottish Premiership title next season, and Gerrard won’t get a more opportune moment to prove his mettle than by stopping the Hoops from achieving the feat.