Steven Gerrard: Aston Villa, Rangers and why those in Ibrox might this time be worried

Rangers supporters must take a deep breath every time there is a managerial vacancy in the English Premier League.

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard is the favourite for the Aston Villa job.
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard is the favourite for the Aston Villa job.

Last month it was Newcastle, when they were bought over by Saudi Arabia-backed PIF, injecting millions of pounds into the ailing club. They have selected Eddie Howe as their replacement for Steve Bruce, after being turned down by Villarreal’s Unai Emery. Before that it was Tottenham Hotspur, and in the summer Crystal Palace.

However, this weekend, two more managers in England’s top flight bit the dust. Daniel Farke was sacked by Norwich City on Saturday evening – despite guiding them to a first win of the season – and then, on Sunday lunchtime, Aston Villa axed Dean Smith. The Villains are on a wretched run of form, losing their past five matches, and chief executive Christian Purslow and the club’s board decided to act.

Norwich’s situation should not concern Rangers, but their manager Steven Gerrard is already the warm favourite to succeed Smith in the Midlands. He has been backed heavily by punters – not that this is gospel by any stretch of the imagination – and despite former Roma boss Paulo Fonseca being available and keen to work in Britain, all the attention seems to be on the man keeping the Glasgow outfit top of the cinch Premiership.

Former Roma manager Paulo Fonseca is also on the shortlist.

This time, there feels like there is reason for Rangers fans to be concerned – and perhaps those in the Ibrox boardroom will be too.

Aston Villa is an attractive job for many reasons. They have a large stadium, a passionate fanbase, a state-of-the-art training ground. They are one of England’s more storied clubs, with domestic and European trophies in the cabinet. The term “sleeping giant” is used too much in football, but Villa fall into that category. They are understood to be happy to spend big on a new manager if required. Compensation will not be an issue for whoever they choose.

On paper, they have a good squad. Scotland midfielder John McGinn, strikers Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins, Jamaican speedster Leon Bailey, Argentina internationalists Emi Buendia and Emiliano Martinez, plus England defender Tyrone Mings. That is not a group of players expected to get relegated. The remit in their third season back at England’s top table was to be dining out, not feeding off scraps. They cannot afford to be relegated again, knowing how hard it is to bounce back, and that is why Smith was so quickly dismissed with the form so poor.

Nevertheless, they were not helped by the sale of talisman and poster boy Jack Grealish to Manchester City for £100 million in the summer. This was a blow to the Villa. While they brought in a lot of money – his sell-on fee was triggered – the team was build around him. They have brought in replacements and while most of the cash has been spent, a new manager would be backed. Villa are not a poor club.

CEO Christian Purslow is heading up Aston Villa's recruitment.

Gerrard has done supremely well at Rangers. Europa League last-16 campaigns, an invincible run to the Scottish Premiership crown last year. This has made his stock high. Rangers go into this international break four points clear of Celtic, with a Premier Sports Cup semi-final to look forward to against Hibs. Despite an earlier-than-anticipated exit from this season’s Champions League qualifiers, his work has not gone unnoticed in England.

A desire to manage his one true love, Liverpool, is no secret of Gerrard’s. Whether he can make that jump from Rangers to Anfield directly, or needs to prove himself at another EPL club, only the Reds’ board can say. Jurgen Klopp will not be there forever. And this is the conundrum facing Gerrard who, while extremely content in Glasgow, is astute enough to know that football can quickly turn against you. Celtic are better than last season, and under Ange Postecoglou are capable of dethroning Rangers. Europa League progression, this season, is in the balance. Rangers concede too many goals, are struggling to keep key out-of-contract defender Connor Goldson at the club and on the back of last week’s financial results, may finally be forced to sell some of their assets.

In terms of Gerrard’s career progression, he can’t afford to be at the helm if Rangers start to deteriorate. Not for one minute are we suggesting that Rangers are on the brink of implosion, but this season is unlikely to be the procession that it was in 2020/21. As mentioned before, Celtic have got their act together under Postecoglou. With Hearts’ return to the top flight, Dundee United’s improvement and an already decent Aberdeen and Hibs, the league is far stronger than last time and with it comes more potential landmines.

The 41-year-old has been at Rangers for three years now, which in modern-day management terms is a good amount of time. He has served his apprenticeship. It would only be natural if the former England internationalist was thinking about his next move. He is intelligent enough to swerve the clubs that have more baggage, but Aston Villa – with the exception of an iffy league position, currently 16th in the table – don’t have that. There is so much scope for progression at Villa Park. It is also worth mentioning that Purslow spent 18 months at Liverpool between 2009 and 2011 and is reported to have become reasonably close with Gerrard during his time there.

Dean Smith was axed by Villa over the weekend.

This is why those of a Rangers persuasion will hope that the other candidates, such as Ralph Hassenhuttl, Roberto Martinez, Kasper Hjulmand, Frank Lampard and Fonseca, are more appealing to Purslow and Co. But the reality is that, much like some of their star players, Gerrard is an asset that other clubs will want their hands on, if not now then not far into the future. Aston Villa’s interest will be genuine – and that’s why the next few days will hold some trepidation for Rangers.

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Rangers manager Steven Gerrard. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Not as sure-footed as you'd expect. Beaten too easily by a Hearts attacker on more than one occasion.