Steven Gerrard has moved 190km closer to Liverpool. Sure, he’s still 160km away from the Merseyside capital, but he’ll enjoy the stop for now as he continues his journey, writes Gary Lemke. Gerrard’s appointment at English Premier League club Aston Villa is absolutely the right thing to do, at the right time in his managerial career. It’s all part of the master plan which is written in large letters. Gerrard will replace Jurgen Klopp as Liverpool manager when the German’s time at the club is done.
There’s never been any secret about Gerrard’s career goals. A Liverpool legend after a senior career spanning 17 years and over 500 matches, he is one of a small band of loyal players who stayed faithful to one Premier League club for an entire career. You can write the names of the others on the back of a matchbox.
When he finally decided it was time to leave Liverpool he made sure it was far away – to Los Angeles, in his case, where he spent nearly two years at LA Galaxy. Then he took his first tentative steps into management.
To say that Gerrard was a success at Scottish club Rangers is an understatement. He joined the Glasgow giants – the city is split in two between the Catholics of Celtic and the Protestants of Rangers – in 2018. In his first season he took the club from third place from the previous two years to second behind Celtic, and followed that with another runner-up berth in 2019-20. Then, in 2020-21, he delivered them to the promised land. After nine straight years of Celtic domination, Rangers were champions again, for the first time since 2010-11.
In the celebrations, the former Liverpool midfield legend and club captain said: ‘It has been well documented that I never won the Premier League as a player and then I went off to LA Galaxy and started doing my coaching badges at Liverpool’s youth team, so a lot of time had passed by without the opportunity to compete.
‘I took this job just over three years ago and it gave me the opportunity again to try to compete and get that winning feeling back from a personal point of view. It was a big relief, obviously, to get that first big trophy in the bag, but just reminiscing and thinking back over my playing career, to feel that winning feeling again and get a winner’s medal over your neck, it was absolutely top class.’
And with that, Gerrard’s job in Glasgow was done.
Clearly, he was in demand. One of the new breed of football manager and still just 41 years old, he now had his first major piece of silverware – you try telling any Glaswegian that a Scottish Premiership trophy doesn’t count. It was inevitable that the lure of the English Premier League would be too strong.
Unless, of course, it came with a bottom-feeder, like Norwich, who dispensed of the services of Daniel Farke in early November. Gerrard was approached, but this football man is a thinker too. Why would he mark his English Premier League arrival at the club rooted to the foot of the table, and who are likely to be relegated next May?
No, he needed to be in the Premier League for the start of the 2022-23 season.
The suitors at Newcastle United, now the richest club in the sport after the injection of Saudi Arabian oil money, came knocking. Clearly, Gerrard could add another couple of ‘noughts’ on to whatever cheque they were offering him. He said no. It was an inspired move, not only because the North-East club are also struggling to beat relegation, which they should once they’ve been bolstered by new signings in the January transfer window.
Then, Dean Smith was sacked at Aston Villa after a run of five successive defeats left them two points off the drop zone in 16th place on the table. Gerrard was approached and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
The obvious question is, why take the Villa job when you could grab the cash on offer at Newcastle, only five points below you? The answer is all related to the journey to become Liverpool manager one day.
Liverpool aren’t a club that opens the cheque book every season like the two Manchester clubs do. Villa sold their talisman, Jack Grealish, for £100-million to City earlier this season but didn’t go about spending all the profits. And, while not exactly frugal, that’s what Gerrard appreciates.
You have to remember that Gerrard, as a player, stayed faithful to one club. He is one of the Premier League greats and in 2005 Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea offered £32-million for him. Initially flattered by the attention, he handed in a transfer request. Literally hours later he withdrew it.
‘I feel like I belong to this city. I always want to be able to go back to Liverpool and take my little kids to the matches and take my family to the matches. I didn’t want to cause upset to them in any way,’ he said years later.
‘I have said it on many occasions, I think when a manager like Mourinho shows you attention – and he’s proved he’s a manager who can win things – it is always going to turn your head. Rightly or wrongly at the time, I believed I made the right decision. Speaking to the right people around me at the time I came to the decision where I wanted to stay at Liverpool.
‘I realised that winning trophies would mean more to me than any other club, not just Chelsea.’
And so the die was cast. Gerrard’s head was never turned again, despite more lucrative offers coming in for him to turn his back on Anfield as a player.
His attitude as a manager in the English Premier League is the same. Klopp is carving his name into Liverpool’s legacy and it would always have been naive to do a Frank Lampard, and that being to move straight into the hotseat as manager at the club where he became a playing legend. Lampard’s gig at Chelsea was his first taste of Premier League management, having cut his teeth at Derby in the Championship.
Gerrard’s route is different, and the right one. Go to Scotland, get Rangers back on top of the pile again – a huge achievement in his first managerial role – and then return to an ‘inoffensive’ club to Liverpool supporters in the Premier League, before replacing Klopp when the time comes.
Therefore, joining Villa was a masterstroke, rather than a gamble. Gerrard would never consider going to either of the Manchester teams as manager, nor Chelsea or Arsenal, and certainly not Everton. Villa can carry on around mid-table and Gerrard can improve the side and learn on the job in the toughest league of all.
There’s now only 160km between the cities of Birmingham and Liverpool.