Steven Gerrard will toast absent friends who have played their part in Rangers' journey to the Premiership title
But wherever and whenever Rangers clinch the Premiership crown, Steven Gerrard will raise a glass to absent friends.
Among those the Rangers manager will toast when the Ibrox club celebrate their 55th league title are the supporters who have been unable to fill the grounds this season as his players have relentlessly pursued the prize which is now within touching distance.
Gerrard will also be thinking of former Rangers chairman Dave King, the man who recruited him for his maiden managerial post three years ago, and several of the players who came and went as he rebuilt his squad.
All the King’s men
“There have been many good people who have been part of this journey who are not here at the moment and won’t be when we get this over the line,” reflected Gerrard. “That doesn’t mean they haven’t played a big role.
“For example, the likes of Jon Flanagan, Andy Halliday, Daniel Candeias who, for different reasons, the best thing for their careers was to move on when they did.
“But they played a major role in this process. Other staff members as well have left - physios, some from the medical department, (former director of football) Mark Allen. They played a major role.
“There are a lot of people who deserve to be in a good place at the moment and dreaming of this success.
“Dave King did an incredible job and he is someone who I have got a close relationship with. I am sure he is a very happy man at the moment, even though he has stepped aside. When we do get this over the line, he has played a major part and a major role in that, along with many other people.
“It’s fantastic to see the fans back smiling and in a good place. The fans have been through a lot at this football club and if anyone deserves to be in a good place at the moment and really excited and dreaming, it’s our support. They have stuck by the club through thick and thin and we really understand where they are at the moment and we want to go and achieve something really special for them, first and foremost.”
Bridging the gap
When Gerrard joined Rangers in the summer of 2018, they had just finished third in the Premiership. They lost 10 of their 38 games that season and were a distant 12 points adrift of a dominant Celtic side.
It has taken Gerrard time to effect the desired transformation at Ibrox but his team, still unbeaten after 31 league games this season, are now just four points away from the club’s first title in a decade.
That equation could come to fruition by Sunday afternoon if, on the back of a Rangers victory over St Mirren at Ibrox on Saturday, outgoing champions Celtic drop any points against Dundee United at Tannadice.
“In terms of our progress, it is clear to see,” said Gerrard. “At the time when we walked into the job, it was out there how monumental a job this was. The gap that was there was clear, the disappointment in Europe.
“Having said that, a lot of people before me worked ever so hard and put some important pieces in place. Previous managers, previous players, people around the club who worked tirelessly to try and improve things and progress things from that period.
“But it was clear as day that a lot needed to change on and off the pitch when we walked in. That is what we have done over the three years and hopefully we are getting the results for the hard work that has been done, not just by myself but by an awful lot of people.
“Walking in on the first day, it was clear what needed to be done, what needed to be changed. We knew it was going to take time, it was going to be a process.
“It was important to respect what had gone before and respect the history and tradition and the demand for success. But what was important was what was going to happen moving forward.
“Recruitment is one side of it, knowing who you’re going to bring in, knowing what you’ve already got, trying to make sure there are good matches and good people in your dressing room.
“The leadership group within that has been outstanding in terms of really helping us get messages across and setting standards around the place at the training ground and at the stadium. It’s a combination of factors.
“It’s quite easy to identify when you come into a place like this who’s going to help you, who’s going to be a good type around the place and who is going to help push in the right direction. The ones that aren’t, you have to get them out as quick as you can.
“It was about taking each day as it came and doing everything we could as quickly as we could to try and improve things. The first thing was to get the supporters back to connect the club, connect all the different areas of the club and have everyone on the same page in terms of believing that things could improve and one day our day would come. We are hoping that day is now just round the corner.
“It doesn’t really matter how it comes. We want to be champions as quick as we can. We’re on the verge of that. We want to go and grab it, in an ideal way. We want to win this, it's not about another club or what any other team does, it’s about us. It’s about us achieving 55, that’s the only focus here and that’s all that’s important.”
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