There is a weight that any Rangers manager carries. One that has grown over time. The club as it now exists will never feel like the pre-liquidation Rangers until there is a major hulk of silverware in an Ibrox trophy cabinet that last housed such a cast in 2011.
Steven Gerrard won’t feel like he has succeeded in management, at the helm of Rangers, until he puts an end to the wait the club’s support have endured. It heaps the pressure on him this afternoon as his team take on Hearts in the Betfred Cup semi-final at Hampden.
“The pressure is always there for the players and staff, we know there’s pressure on us to deliver,” said Gerrard, now 18 months into his first frontline coaching role. “That will always be the case for any Rangers staff or players. It’s been the case for many years and I don’t think that will ever go away; it’s part of being at a big club.
“There are two ways of looking at that pressure; you feel it on your shoulders every day and worry about it or you use it as a drive, an inspiration and an opportunity to go and join the people that have built the club. That’s what drives me on every day.
“I look at all the famous names, the top ex-players, the fantastic managers that have gone before and what drives me getting out of bed and coming into this place to work and prepare for what happens on a match day is the chance to join them and add to the wonderful history the club has. And that’s how I want the players to face it. Always live in the moment, worry about what you can control, which is the next game – but in your own time, your downtime, really enjoy and smile, look forward to the chance of adding to it. That’s got to be your drive.”
Rangers cannot truly arrive at the promised land until they usurp Celtic in the league championship. Their followers’ desperation for that to happen this season and prevent their ancient adversaries matching the nine-in-a-row record the two clubs currently share is everything to do with preventing Celtic having a tilt at an unprecedented tenth consecutive championship next season.
A place in either of the domestic knockout finals eluded Gerrard in his first campaign and the former Liverpool captain recognises that booking a place in the Betfred Cup showpiece today before making that decider count could have real significance in pushing his team on for more lofty triumphs. His own illustrious career with Liverpool tells him that, with a breakthrough League Cup win the precursor to a unique treble in the 2000/01 season when the Anfield club also lifted the FA Cup and Uefa Cup.
“It was the catalyst. It was my first taste of a real trophy,” he said. “I’d won many things coming through and at the time you think they are the best trophies and achievements of your life but when you get one for real, a major honour, at that level, the taste and the feeling afterwards certainly drove me on and I’m sure it did many other players in the dressing-room to go on and have a wonderful season.
“The first is always the hardest because of all that expectation and pressure, so I do think getting to this final is very important. And if and when we do then we need to try and go all the way, but first things first we need to do all we can to overturn Hearts.”
Old heads are central to everything Gerrard wants to achieve, in the form of major trophy winners Allan McGregor, pictured inset, Steven Davis and Jermain Defoe. Not just this season, but beyond, with an appearances clause set to be activated in the next two months that triggers another year for the goalkeeper. New deals for Davis and Defoe are also musts, according to the manager.
“Can you imagine how difficult my job would be now if those three were leaving in the summer or they knocked on my door and said they don’t want to play any more?” Gerrard said. “How do you go and find a world-class goalie who is ready, who is going to make big saves in Europe, who is going to make big saves domestically with the budgets that are available? How do you go and find a No 9 who can score at any given time and has 57 caps? And how do you go and find someone who has Steven Davis’s experience, who can run games of football and is a model professional? I think sometimes you’ve got to realise what you’ve got and tickle what you’ve got and look after what you’ve got.”