Steven Gerrard used Rangers as a stepping stone and will aim to do the same with Villa. And that’s absolutely fine.
It might not quite feel like it for Rangers right now, but Steven Gerrard’s move to Aston Villa really could be a rare situation in football where everybody wins.
Without wanting to stray too far into the choppy but above all teeth-grindingly dull waters of which club is ‘bigger’ (with Rangers we can’t even fall back on them being a ‘historical’ club because even that is… problematic) what can be said with some certainty is that the Premier League is a bigger deal than the Scottish Premiership.
Rangers have been a stepping stone for Gerrard to reach the Premier League with Villa. It’s likely that Gerrard – in fact it would be absurd if he does not – considers Villa to be a stepping stone to Liverpool should all go to plan.
And really, that’s absolutely fine.
While Rangers fans continue to take Thursday’s news with a certain topically appropriate sombre and quiet dignity…
Naw man I am actually screaming here pic.twitter.com/TZz1P910l6
— S ⅃ . (@04Ess11) November 11, 2021
…they should in truth reflect not on Gerrard’s (to their eyes) inexplicable departure but instead on how his time in Glasgow has been mutually beneficial.
Rangers have only been a stepping stone to Villa because Gerrard’s spell at Rangers was a success. Those who sniff at winning a ‘two-team league’ should consider that it was a one-team league before Gerrard’s Rangers put a stop to that.
Gerrard indisputably leaves Rangers in a stronger place than he left them and it’s now up to them to ensure the next appointment continues that progress. This is the game. This has always been the game.
Now it continues at Villa. Same game, just with the stakes raised. And at this precise moment, Villa fans should be hoping and praying that Gerrard’s next job is the Liverpool one. Because that almost certainly means Villa will be in a better place than they are now, just as Rangers are compared to when Gerrard took over.
There are parallels here with Brendan Rodgers, whose (admittedly now slightly stuttering) success with Leicester sees him linked with the Manchester United job.
That would not be happening had he failed at Leicester. And he wouldn’t have got the Leicester job had he failed at Celtic.
Really this is a roundabout way of saying that this feels like a situation where everybody wins. Even the team that most conspicuously doesn’t win, Rangers, know that this is all only happening because they have won.
Gerrard could never prove himself an elite manager in Scotland. He had to move eventually. And those – Rangers fans and others – who feel he should simply have waited for the Liverpool job are deluded. First, who knows when that job might become available – there is little evidence for it being any time soon – and second, surely – surely – Liverpool cannot possibly have spent the last few years surveying the scene around them in the Premier League and concluding that the best approach would be to install an unproven, callow manager in the hotseat largely because he’s a club legend.
Villa feels like a great fit for Gerrard, and vice versa. As soon as the links emerged it simply made sense. There is, of course, no guarantee of success. That’s the whole point. That’s why Gerrard is unproven. That’s why he wasn’t going to get a bigger job in England than this one.
Villa doesn’t feel like a trap of a job. It is a big club, regardless of how you personally measure that size against any other club, and there is plenty to work with in terms of the squad Gerrard will inherit.
They are also underperforming massively. This is also in Gerrard’s favour. It’s hard to see how this Villa squad could currently be doing any worse after a five-match losing streak. By inheriting a talented squad in an absolute mess, Gerrard has the best of both worlds with both a high ceiling for improvement and an acceptance that it will take some time to turn the ship around.
For Villa, it’s a little bit more of a punt. While it’s easy to see what would constitute success for Gerrard from this appointment, Villa are taking a bit more of a step into the unknown. But they do so with a manager whose name carries plenty of weight in English football and whose work in Scotland does point to something more than a legendary player being afforded an easy route into management. It does look like Gerrard really could have something very special as a manager.
And if that proves to be the case and his time at Villa turns out to be shorter than they might have ideally liked, then never mind: they are still getting a win.
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