The message from Steven Gerrard to his Rangers players tonight will be clear and concise. As he tries to plot a route to the last 32 of the Europa League, the former Liverpool and England captain insists it’s the only way he knows how to communicate.
Gerrard’s first foray into management has already earned the approval of many experienced observers. Archie Knox, who was assistant manager during Walter Smith’s first spell in charge of the Ibrox club, suggested this week that Gerrard’s “old school” approach is helping him get the best out of his players.
That prompted a grin when it was relayed to the 38-year-old ahead of tonight’s Group G meeting with Spartak Moscow, which could see the ten-match unbeaten European record for a single season, set by Smith’s team in 1992-93, eclipsed.
For while Gerrard is happy to embrace all the modern methods of sports science and technical analysis as he seeks to restore Rangers to the status they enjoyed under Smith, he agrees he will never try to present himself as a coaching visionary or football philosopher.
“I have listened to certain people throughout my career and they just talked bollocks,” said Gerrard. “They did. They are about, they are in the game, the game is littered with a lot of them these days. I don’t. I don’t complicate it. I just say the same things to players that Walter Smith probably said or Graeme Souness did. I bet if you could compare three team talks from us, there wouldn’t be many differences.
“Football doesn’t change. It’s exactly the same as it was 100 years ago or whenever. I’m telling these players now what I got told at Liverpool in 1999 by Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez. It doesn’t change – winning teams have the same principles, the same tempo, desire, commitment, it’s all the same.
“Some coaches try to overcomplicate things, they’ve got the gift of the gab and the silver tongue, but I haven’t. I just tell you how it is, I tell my team how it is and what’s expected at this club. We will go into these tests and give it a go. I’m not going to stand here and try to change the game of football, it’s being going on long before I was created.
“I’m not saying sports science and stuff like that is not important, because it is, but the eyes don’t lie more often than not.”
Gerrard’s approach has certainly drawn the desired response from the squad he assembled in the summer, most notably in their Europa League campaign. They aim to strengthen their promising position at the top of Group G tonight with victory over a Spartak Moscow in a state of some turmoil.
Italian coach Massimo Carrera was sacked after a 3-2 defeat at home to Arsenal Tula on Sunday left Spartak languishing in seventh place in the Russian Premier League. Carrera’s assistant Raul Riancho, a 58-year-old Spaniard, is in temporary charge for the trip to Ibrox.
This is the second consecutive Europa League match where Rangers have faced opponents who have just dismissed their manager, Rapid Vienna having done the same before their 3-1 defeat at Ibrox three weeks ago.
“It’s slightly different to the situation with Rapid as Spartak have promoted from within,” said Gerrard. “The last time, it was an entirely new manager for Rapid so we were expecting a different philosophy and an entirely different way of playing. When you promote from within you normally wouldn’t make such drastic changes but it’s still very difficult to predict how they will approach it.
“At the end of the day it’s nothing we can control, we have to look at ourselves as we always do.
“Spartak are sitting seventh in their league but I think it’s a false position. That said, if that’s where you are in the league, then because of the size and stature of a club like Spartak you know you are going to be under pressure.
“A club like Spartak, with so much Champions League experience, expect to be competing at the top of the league.
“But in terms of us, it doesn’t change anything. We are at home, we have a game-plan, and whether they have changed the manager or not, it doesn’t impact on what we want to do.”
Gerrard, who believes the suspension of Brazilian striker Luiz Adriano is a boost for Rangers, will again be without the injured Scott Arfield but has both Ryan Jack and Kyle Lafferty available.
He is hoping both his players and the Rangers support can replicate their respective contributions to the raucous victory over Rapid Vienna.
“I was happy with every aspect of our last performance against Rapid,” he said. “That’s the type of performance I am looking for. We managed to get in front and we scored late on.
“We did so much work in the first half, matching their aggression and grinding them down. We then got our rewards late on. Of course, the atmosphere was excellent.
“All the talk afterwards was it was like the atmosphere of old. I don’t think Ibrox had been like that for a long time. I’d love nothing more than to see that atmosphere again on Thursday night, it’s a big lift for the players.
“It drives the team on. I felt it as a player myself, I know how much it pushes you on. But we have to ignite it all with our performance.”