While he recognises the prowess of the former Liverpool and England midfielder who will turn up at Tynecastle this afternoon looking to engineer a victory for the Ibrox side as they pile the pressure on league leaders Celtic, when it comes to idols, he is quick to name check Diego Maradona and ex Parkhead league and cup winner Andreas Thom, who was a record signing for the Glasgow side when he joined them from Bayer Leverkusen in 1995.
“The first World Cup where I really remember watching the games was 1986, in Mexico, and Maradona was the best player. It doesn’t matter that [West Germany] lost in the final, the best player was Maradona.”
The fact that his home nation, East Germany, had missed out on those finals cleared the stage for the Argentina playmaker to hog the limelight, with Stendel’s other favourite not in attendance.
“The other player [I admired], who I think played in Scotland, was Andreas Thom. He played for Celtic, I think, but I was born in East Germany and he was my idol in East Germany. He was maybe our best striker so he was an idol for me in my own country.
“He is also a coach with Hertha Berlin and some years ago we played against them in a cup final and we won!”
But he confessed that he would love a player with Gerrard’s ability at the heart of his midfield as he tries to elicit the kind of performances needed to guide the capital side off the foot of the Premiership table.
“I like a player in his position who can push teams and work hard and also score goals from midfield. I think he was a special player and he is on his way to being a special coach.
“I cannot say I was a ‘fan’ but we were both professional footballers, although he was a different level than I, and I have watched some of his games in the past, especially some of the Champions League games and England games. He is a legend with Liverpool and in England.
“But this is a competition between two teams, two managers and this is my first game against Rangers and I expect that we have a chance. The favourites are not us, that is Rangers but I say to my players, ‘why can’t we win? I think we have a chance to win but we need to believe that we can do it and play to our plan and take our chances.”
The last two league outings have ended in draws for the Gorgie side and with a Scottish Cup win sandwiched in between, there have been goals and clean sheets to celebrate. The midweek stalemate in Dingwall against Ross County allowed them to make up some ground on the teams above them, reducing the deficit to four points, while two more signings, strengthening their frontline and their defensive options has lifted the mood and heightened expectations that they can ultimately escape their relegation berth.
Liam Boyce, who signed up for three and a half years, arrives from Burton Albion with a proven pedigree in Scottish football, having topped the country’s scoring charts during a prolific spell with Ross County, who were themselves at the wrong end of the table at that time.
Toby Sibbick, who is on loan from Barnsley until the end of the season, can operate in the heart of defence, at right-back or in the middle of the park and, like Boyce, could feature today, especially with Michael Smith and Aaron Hickey still injury doubts. Having worked with Stendel before, the English youngster also understands the style of play preferred by the German.
Stendel has made no secret of his desire for the high press, high energy style of play he favoured at Barnsley, admitting that while he enjoys studying the work of men like Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, he is fairly set on his own agenda.
“They are two of the best coaches in the world at the moment. It was a good experience to see games from both teams live.
“It’s good when you get other influences for your own ideas. But my experience in the last 12 or 13 years when I have been coaching teams tells me it is very important you have your own way and your own ideas.
“It’s not so special, but it’s your ideas, and it’s important when you are training players and speaking with players… that you are really convinced in your own ideas. This, for me, is the main thing.
“Sometimes I look at games from the best coaches in the world and maybe I can take some little things for my game. I have said to the players I want to improve every player in every training session and every game.
“I don’t know so much about Steven Gerrard as a coach. I can see he is doing a good job at Rangers and they have a good chance of winning the title this year after a long time. But that might be difficult when they are not going to win against us!”