‘I’m not keen on Cruyff turns’ - Why Steven Gerrard wants Rangers defenders to be ‘old-fashioned’

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard supervises as captain James Tavernier takes part in a training session yesterday. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard supervises as captain James Tavernier takes part in a training session yesterday. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
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When it comes to old school, the Scottish Cup assignment for Steven Gerrard’s Rangers in Cowdenbeath this evening is of the ancient variety.

A trip to Central Park can feel like a step back in time, with the ground also a home to stock car racing. It is tyred, as well as tired.

For all the glitz and glamour that surrounded the former Liverpool and England captain throughout his playing career, this experience of football in the raw is sure to hold a certain appeal to him.

That is because he considers grit and gumption to be basic tenets of the game. Certainly such basics will be required by his side in their bid to book a quarter-final tie away to Kilmarnock against snarling, heel-snapping League 2 opponents.

With no Connor Goldson through injury, the restored Nikola Katic will again partner Joe Worrall in central defence. From his pivots in among the divots, Gerrard will demand bustle and hustle.

“I like defenders to defend the goal and the club for their life,” he said. “I was the type of player who always preferred 
a Jamie Carragher or John Terry-like defender.

“I’m not really keen on the frills, Cruyff turns and showboating of a defender. I don’t really care how it looks – I want defenders to go out and put their body on the line.

“Certain managers have certain styles. Some are obsessed with building from the back and overplaying at the back. I’m not. Of course I like to play attractive football and we’re at a club where fans demand exciting football. 
“But priority for me in a defender is to defend and do everything you can to keep clean sheets and the majority of time we’ve had that type.”

The sort of up-and-down, body-on-the-line stoppers of the bygone era have become unfashionable with even centre-backs now expected to be playmakers.

Gerrard accepts there is a chance that such archaic types will become extinct as football continues to evolve in the age of internet instant gratification.

“There could be a danger but I think it’s down to managers and their styles and philosophies,” Gerrard said. “Some managers demand that every time you get the ball – no matter what pressure is on you – you play out from the back.

“If you’ve got the best players in the world at Barcelona or you’re Pep Guardiola then I understand – you can absolutely kill teams with the ball. But we’re not there yet and we have to play to our strengths and our strength is that we have honest lads who will do all they can to keep clean sheets and I think they proved that at the weekend [in the 3-0 at Livingston].

“The way social media has gone a lot of the icons are your Neymars, Ronaldos and Messis and everyone wants to emulate those kinds of players. When I grew up I wanted to emulate a Steve McMahon or a Bryan Robson for England. It’s down to who you aspire to and a lot of the superstars younger guys aspire to are number 10s or Mbappes of the game.

“I didn’t have the skillset to emulate them but it is a concern because I love the art of defending. 
“There is nothing better than seeing a commanding centre-half performance and I’m a manager prepared to praise that mentality rather than someone who does six lollipops and stays in the same place without beating a man.”

Cowdenbeath will certainly eschew any aesthetics. “They are going to be super excited to play Rangers ina cup-tie and have a chance to try to knock us out. 
“That’s a big carrot for them. For us it’s about standards and attitudes and mentality and we can’t drop them.”