Steven Gerrard is still a few months away from facing his first competitive match as a manager, with the Europa League qualifying rounds likely to represent his introduction to the school of hard knocks.
Accordingly, it would be remiss of his former mentor, Brendan Rodgers, not to ramp up the pressure on the rookie as he attempts to build a squad which he believes will be capable of wrenching the Premiership title from Celtic, who have now won it for seven successive seasons.
Mind games are hardly a new development in football, of course, and the Celtic manager may claim that it was not his intention to get inside his new rival’s head. It was difficult, though, to read his comments in any other way as he spoke about the strange new world Gerrard will be entering for the first time.
“This is part of the curve, part of the learning curve,” Rodgers said. “I had coaching experience, had stood on the sideline for 15 years before I became manager, coaching thousands of games, youth games and senior games.
“But when the curtain goes back and that light is shining on you as a manager, there’s not a great deal that prepares for you that.
“When you were a player, if you weren’t playing well, you could go away and prepare, make sure you’re ready in every element.
“But when it’s the team you’re looking after, it’s everyone – and then it’s millions of fans worldwide so it’s a totally different experience, altogether. I can’t sit here and say how Steven or anyone else would be ready for that. It’s obviously a job he thinks he can do but he’ll never know until he’s in there; it’s totally different from playing.”
The hubristic statement from Rangers’ major shareholder Dave King last month, in which he spoke of the need for the new manager to provide “immediate success,” has only added to the stress which Gerrard is bound to feel.
“The chairman was very clear on that; they’re looking to win the league so that’s pretty simple, you know,” Rodgers said. “It’s one where they have their own targets, they have their own goals, they have their own expectations. For us at Celtic, we continue with our own strategy and our own work. And Rangers aren’t our only rivals. You’ve got Hibs who have done great this year, Aberdeen, Hearts …it will be fantastic for the league.”
Rodgers does not believe that the fact his city rivals will be managed by Gerrard will give their meetings an extra edge, even though he effectively ended the Anfield icon’s playing career in England by sanctioning his sale to LA Galaxy in January 2015.
“Not really,” he said. “We obviously worked closely and went through experiences at Liverpool, certainly in the title challenge we had, that will always be with us.
“For me, I’ve never worried so much who has been in the other dugouts. If you look at my career as a coach and manager, normally when I look to my left or right, the guy on the other side has played internationally, been a fantastic player. So I’ve looked at Carlo Ancelotti, Pep Guardiola or whoever – Ronald Koeman – and they’ve had this wonderful playing career.
“My journey was totally different. So it has never really bothered me, who the rival has been. I always treat managers with respect and try to do the best for my own club. And this will be no different.”
Gerrard did not use Rodgers as a sounding board when Rangers approached him but the Irishman says that nothing should be read into that.
“I didn’t speak to him during the process; I just let him be,” he said. “It’s one where if he needed the advice or had any queries … but it’s also a delicate one. Thinking about becoming the Rangers manager, you can’t really call the Celtic manager for advice. If it had been any other club, he might have called.”
Rodgers enjoyed a good working relationship with his club captain as he took Liverpool to the brink of their first title since 1990 in 2013/14 but he does not anticipate spending much time with the Scouser in the foreseeable future.
“I think any coach or manager will tell you that,” he said. “You only have to look at Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson – they’re great friends now but it is difficult to have that when there is a rivalry.”