With Dean Smith’s sacking after a string of disappointing results, Aston Villa are in search of a new manager for the first time in three years, with Rangers manager Steven Gerrard touted as favourite to be next in the Villa Park hotseat. The Liverpool legend, who took charge in Glasgow in the summer of 2018, oversaw a massive change at Rangers, one which saw them capture their first league title in ten years — writing his name in Ibrox folklore.
Smith was relived of his duties when an away loss to Southampton saw his side plummet into the relegation zone, and whilst there is a capable squad out there on paper for the Midlands outfit, the loss of talisman Jack Grealish and a side so obviously in transition will take a lot of work to get back to the midtable status they earnt last season. But if anyone is capable of building a winning mentality at the club, Gerrard is surely the man.
His first season in charge of Rangers was always going to be difficult, with minimal coaching experience – a brief stint as Liverpool under 19s manager – Gerrard’s credibility came from his reputation as a player. One of the best midfielders of the Premier League era, the Liverpool man amassed a sizeable trophy cabinet, whilst earning 114 England caps, although the league title always eluded him. Leaving Liverpool in 2015, he spent a short time in Los Angeles before retiring and heading into management. The Rangers side he inherited lacked quality, and faced against a relentless Celtic side spearheaded by Gerrard’s final Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers, the task was always to build a long-term project.
Finishing second in his first season was an accomplishment, but they were still too many points adrift of their Glasgow rivals, who were regular favourites in the football betting. Fortunately, the departure of Rodgers to Leicester City towards the end of that season proved pivotal and you only need to look at what the Northern Irishman’s accomplished at the King Power to see that managers can make the trip down south and succeed. It would take another year for Gerrard to assemble the side he wanted, bringing in Ryan Kent and Connor Goldson — crucial players in the long run for Rangers as they embarked on a Europa League campaign that was decimated by the coronavirus pandemic and a very talented Bayer Leverkusen side which featured the likes of Kai Havertz and Leon Bailey.
Last season is what really cast Gerrard into the managerial spotlight, bringing a 55th league title to Ibrox, winning the league unbeaten and amassing 102 points. While victory would have tasted all the sweeter were fans present to enjoy the celebrations with the side, it is testament to the togetherness and continuity of the squad the Scouser assembled that they joined the fans outside the ground as socially distanced as possible on the day the title was secured.
While that great run of league wins ended this season, Rangers are still top of the league at the time of writing and if Gerrard does depart for Villa Park, he is more than qualified to make the step up. It is pretty obvious that Anfield is his final destination but the Midlands seems like a sensible stepping stone to earn gradual experience en route back to Merseyside. You only need to look at Frank Lampard’s Chelsea reunion to know that things can turn sour if you don’t employ the right manager at the right time. The coming weeks will prove interesting revelations as we determine Gerrard’s fate, with Rangers fan’s hopes hanging perilously in the balance.