Steven Gerrard has spent nearly his entire career at the sharp end of football, from World Cups to Champions League finals. He is revered in households from Guatemala to Guangzhou.
He has now been anointed Sir Stevie G of Govan. More than 7,000 welcomed him inside Ibrox. They started congregating outside the stadium within minutes of confirmation Rangers had got their man. Police were required to assist the situation. A roadblock was swiftly put in place.
Unlike six days ago, when Glasgow’s finest were called in to deal with disillusioned fans storming the Rangers’ player of the year dinner, this threat to public order was provoked by an outbreak of mass hysteria – or was it amnesia?
It’s amazing what a marquee signing can do. Chairman Dave King has delivered a panacea from Merseyside at just the right time. What Biggest Ever League Defeat by Celtic? No, don’t remember that. Talk about opium for the masses. Less than a fortnight ago banners proclaiming such messages as “We Deserve Better” were being unfurled by the Union Bears fans’ group in dismay at the level of fight displayed in the Scottish Cup semi-final defeat by Celtic. Judging from the reaction yesterday, this certainly qualified as better.
Obscured slightly by the delirium was confirmation of the return of Gary McAllister, Gerrard’s No 2, to Scottish football. This alone might otherwise have been considered major news but was relegated to something of a footnote.
Gerrard was the shiny, 114-times capped, Champions League-winning object that drew the crowds to Ibrox. He is why a succession of English managers, from Pep Guardiola to Jurgen Klopp, were asked to turn their thoughts to Scottish football yesterday.
King revealed he was racking his brains on the flight over from South Africa as to whether a higher profile figure had ever featured in Scottish football. “Has there been a bigger signing?” he asked out loud yesterday.
Don’t tell Paul Gascoigne, but he said he couldn’t think of one. King pointed out that there are Gerrard fans all over the world, in places such as China, Japan and Indonesia. Whether they will automatically now become Rangers fans is debatable. But the interest is undeniable. “They will all be watching keenly,” King assured us. He will know as many are watching in the hope, even expectation, such an ambitious and exciting project fails.
Rangers’ capture of Graeme Souness always seems an iconic moment that stands alone in Scottish football’s annals for its significance and interest conjured. It led to a succession of eye-opening signings, such as the then England skipper Terry Butcher. Yet they were very different times. Souness was feared and admired across many lands. Whether he had the worldwide appeal of Gerrard, however, is debatable.
It is surreal to imagine Gerrard stepping out at Hamilton Accies, McDiarmid Park and Dens Park, where crowds might not even exceed the numbers who gathered to welcome yesterday.
This is the strange world of contrasts into which he has wandered. Gerrard will go from high-octane afternoons at Ibrox to grounds that don’t always have four sides. He understands there is one constant, which he said he had lived with his entire career: the need to secure three points. He was asked for a message to the fans? “Let’s go,” he said.
He seems prepared for the goldfish bowl environment having lived this life so long in Liverpool before gaining some relief from the intensity in LA.
Now he is back in the mean streets. He is a football man and this, it was underlined to him yesterday, is a football place. They packed the old enclosure in front of the Bill Struth stand. The police advised the club to let the fans into the ground before another gatecrashing incident took place.
Gerrard wore a traditional Rangers bar scarf around his neck, perhaps careful to have chosen one with no unsuitable battle cries stitched into the fabric. No doubt there will be a need to address such issues before long. It’s another reason why Gerrard can be such a force for good in Scottish football. Like Brendan Rodgers, he can count on a receptive audience. He will be heard.
The 37-year-old very deliberately left his musings on Celtic, and what it might reasonably take to present a realistic challenge, for another occasion. As he pointed out, there will be plenty of time for that when his pre-game press conference obligations begin. He won’t be at Rangers’ game against Kilmarnock this afternoon, leaving the temporary managerial team of Jimmy Nicholl and Jonatan Johansson to get on with it.
Yesterday was about getting his feet under the table. He didn’t make a misstep. Some English-based reporters were in situ in the hope of covering the Liverpool angle. “Once you’ve lifted many trophies here, you will be hoping to return to Anfield, won’t you Steve?” was the gist.
Gerrard didn’t react with the disdain one might have expected. He was polite throughout. “Who knows what might happen in the future?” he said. Rangers, however, were his “only priority” right now. Of up to eight managerial offers since he returned from the States, it was the Ibrox opportunity that left him with a special feeling inside.
From the fields of Anfield Road to the grand surroundings of the Ibrox Blue Room, the opulent drawing room where he was unveiled yesterday. Gerrard will certainly recognise a club laden with history while being always relied upon to take itself very seriously indeed.
A mural of former Rangers managerial greats, including Souness, Walter Smith and Jock Wallace, adorns one wall. Gerrard name-checked Souness and Smith and confirmed he would seek their counsel. The grandfather clock in the corner behind the table where he was sitting had stopped – as if challenging Gerrard to get things ticking again.
He revealed he had yet to speak with Rodgers, a former ally turned foe. You can imagine a text pinging into his inbox from the Celtic manager sometime soon, if it hasn’t done so already: Welcome to the madhouse, Stevie.