‘Unthinkable impact’ – What they’re saying about Steven Gerrard at Rangers
Steven Gerrard is now 12 games unbeaten as Rangers manager after leading them to the group stage of the Europa League on Thursday – and everyone is mightily impressed.
This is the first time Rangers have made the group stage of a European competition since the 2010-11 Champions League, while in the Scottish Premiership they have won one and drawn two of their first three games going into the first Old Firm derby of the season.
Here’s what Gerrard’s players, opposition managers and the pundits have been saying about his remarkable start to life in management.
What has been abundantly clear from the first day of pre-season at Rangers is that, above all else, Gerrard demands hard work from his players.
Josh Windass told Rangers TV: “It’s the toughest first day I’ve ever had back in football. The coaching staff are pushing us every single day to get a lot fitter.
“The training sessions, even the lighter sessions, are a lot harder than the usual sessions we’ve done (before).
Daniel Candeias added: “This is the hardest pre-season I have ever had, it is the first I have had where you just run and don’t touch the ball. It is good for the physical resistance for the season coming up. I am so tired!
🇪🇸✈️ The Gers are off to Spain! Steven Gerrard and his squad headed off to their pre-season training camp this morning.
— Rangers Football Club (@RangersFC) June 17, 2018
Off to a good start
Rangers beat Bury 6-0 in their first friendly of the summer, in front of 40,000 fans at Ibrox, and though it was too early to pick up on any tactical innovations, the impact of Gerrard was already clear to see,
“I loved it, absolutely loved it,” Scott Arfield said. “I can only imagine what it was like to be a Bury player in front of 40,000-odd.
“It was a night to implement what we want to do. It was far from perfect and there are things we will dissect but what a start for people to be excited and get on the rollercoaster.”
Chances for youngsters
Glenn Middleton, 18, set up two goals as a substitute in the win over Bury before making his senior debut in Gerrard’s first competitive game in charge, a 2-0 win over FK Shkupi, in which he again impressed stepping off the bench.
“If I’m honest, it was a surprise to get in the team so soon,” Middleton said. “It’s a big boost for anyone. It means a lot to be shown the faith and the chances he has given me so far.
“The gaffer has stressed it’s just about taking it day by day. “That’s the message to everyone and me, just do what I can every day to show what I’m capable of.”
— Scottish Sun Sport (@scotsunsport) July 13, 2018
Jon Flanagan played alongside Gerrard at Liverpool and described it as a “no-brainer” to join his old team-mate at Ibrox. Not that he has received any preferential treatment from his fellow Scouser.
“He’s the gaffer now. He’s not Steven to me anymore. He’s the manager and I’m the player now. It’s not as it was as when we were both players.
“He’s come in, he’s done really well. All the lads here are really enjoying it and I think he’s done a good job so far.”
The new Walter Smith?
By the time Rangers played their first league game of the season, they had already gone four games beaten in Europe and also beaten Wigan 3-0 in another friendly.
They were held to a 1-1 draw at Aberdeen in their Premiership opener, but Ally McCoist was trying not to, he was already getting giddy about his former club’s chances under the new man.
“In terms of the start to the season, it was excellent,” McCoist told talkSPORT. “Rangers had fantastic support up there and for 80 minutes Rangers were definitely the far better side.
“I’ve got to say he’s handled himself very well so far and, without getting carried away, I think there’s a real feeling of optimism among the Rangers support.
“And that’s a feeling that probably hasn’t been there for a good number of years, probably since Walter (Smith) left and the club went into its troubles.”
Or the new Souness?
Rangers followed up the opening-day draw with a 2-0 win over St Mirren in their first league game of the season at Ibrox, and the club’s former midfielder Ian Durant compared the impact Gerrard has made to that of Graeme Souness when he took over as manager in 1986.
“Steven Gerrard has got people smiling again,” Durant said. “There’s a feelgood factor about the place which hasn’t been there for a long time. Everything about the club is on the up at the moment.
“It’s like when I was there and Graeme Souness came in. Rangers have had a similar lift with Gerrard, compared to where the club had been before.
“You can tell by the way fans are turning up for games now. You see the way Gerrard talks – everything is positive and long may that continue.
“They seem to get the ball forward quickly and they have pace in the team and good legs in the middle of the park.
“They have solidity in the middle of the park and he has also brought good defenders in.
Either side of that St Mirren game, Rangers came through arguably their toughest test yet, beating Maribor over two legs in the Europa League.
The Gers beat the Slovenian side, who were in the Champions League last season, 3-1 at home before a 0-0 draw away.
Speaking before the return leg, Alex McLeish told the BBC: “Steven Gerrard has come in and given Rangers a new lease of life.
“If you compare it to last season then you have to say it’s immense strides Rangers have taken under Steven.
“Gary McAllister is a very close friend and these guys have the belief, knowledge and gravitas to be at a club like Rangers. I think they inspire other players.
“Players that maybe didn’t do quite so well and will now probably play to a higher level than they thought they were capable of.
“That’s the type of experience that Steven Gerrard and Gary McAllister bring to Rangers.”
Rangers won 3-1 at Kilmarnock in their first League Cup game, with Alfredo Morelos scoring a hat-trick.
The Colombian was the club’s joint top scorer last season, but Steven Thompson told Sportsound he was impressed by the way Gerrard was handling him.
“Morelos has his faults, but he is a player just now playing full of confidence. And that confidence has been given to him by his manager.
“You can’t help but be impressed by the impact Gerrard has had. His man-management of these players is very impressive.”
A great teacher
Alfredo Morelos has been rewarded for his good start to the season with his first ever call-up to the Colombia squad, and the striker was quick to praise the part his manager has played in it happening.
“Steven Gerrard has been a brilliant manager for me,” Morelos said. “I’m learning a lot from him and he’s been a great teacher for me.
“I am happy to have him as a manager because he’s helped me a lot and that’s contributed to this call-up.”
Scottish journalist Mark Guidi has been speaking to those who’ve seen Gerrard in close quarters since taking over at Rangers and has been mightily impressed by everything he’s seen and heard so far, in particular the way he has improved certain players.
“I think Gerrard is going to be a special manager for Rangers,” Guidi said.
“I’ve been looking into how he’s been operating, what he’s been doing, and the feedback has been great.
“I’ll make a statement, I think Steven Gerrard is going to be pretty special for Rangers.”
On tonight's @ClydeSSB with @Thompsons_Sols and on the back of Kyle Lafferty returning to Ibrox, Mark Guidi said that even though it is still early, he thinks Steven Gerrard has the potential to become a 'special' manager for @RangersFC. pic.twitter.com/xf5NAXpSfp
— Superscoreboard (@ClydeSSB) August 22, 2018
Speaking before the first leg of their Europa League tie, Sergei Tomarov admitted Rangers were a much tougher proposition under Gerrard than they had been previously.
“Gerrard has made them harder to beat and very good in defence – they don’t concede many goals at all now,” Tomarov said.
“He’s definitely made Rangers more organised and harder to beat.
“They have good players and the ones he has signed have improved them hugely. The Rangers side has completely changed.”
In the ascendency
Speaking about the impact Gerrard has made on Sky Sports’ Debate show, Dennis Wise and Ian Wright both said that, although it’s early days, the gap to Celtic is closing more quickly than anyone might have imagined.
“He looks like he’s been in the job for a long time, and it looks like it suits him,” Wise said. “I think he’s going to be a really, really good manager.
“You feel like Rangers are in the ascendency,” Wright added.
“You have to look at his players and squad, and they are still a bit behind Celtic, but I think from a momentum and confidence point of view, they’ll be looking forward to the Old Firm derby.”
Brendan Rodgers has yet to lose an Old Firm derby as Celtic boss, winning nine and drawing two of his 11 games against Rangers so far, but he is expecting his toughest test yet this weekend.
“There is no doubt Steven has made a difference to them and made a change to them, a positive change.
“No matter the form, they are always tough games so our notion after Thursday will be to focus on that and be ready for it.”
Gerrard’s finest hour so far came in Russia on Thursday when Rangers survived the sendings-off of Morelos in the 38th minute and then Flanagan in the 66th minute to hold on for a 1-1 draw against FC Ufa and progress to the Europa League group stage courtesy of their 1-0 win at Ibrox.
“If Steven Gerrard pulls this off it will be a tactical masterclass,” former Rangers striker Billy Dodds said on BBC Sportsound after the second sending-off.
Afterwards, he added: “People were asking the question of Steven Gerrard and whether he was tactically good enough. He’s answered a huge question. Rangers rode their luck at times, but it was a brilliant performance.”
Also speaking after that game, Chris Sutton told BT Sport: “It’s a massive achievement. The impact Steven Gerrard has made has been unthinkable really.
“Not just knocking Ufa out. Osijek are a strong Croatian team, Maribor were in the Champions League group stages last season – what he’s done is phenomenal in such a short space of time.”