There was almost a sense of the protective sibling about Steven Gerrard as he sat alongside fellow Liverpudlian Jordan Rossiter in the club’s training ground media room the other day.
The midfielder may have arrived at Rangers two years before his manager, but Gerrard gives the impression of Rossiter being his player through having tracked his progress as a product of the Liverpool academy.
The 21-year-old’s career since then has been one of talent unfulfilled as a consequence of recurring calf and hamstring injuries that have resulted in him making only 14 appearances across two-and-a-half years at the Ibrox club.
Gerrard talked on Friday of “moving on” from focusing in on “the really tough time” that “the kid” has endured, but, as manager, he is the man that can move on the narrative more than anyone. Building up his fitness and conditioning to allow for the rigours of professional football, playing him in games such as Motherwell’s visit to Ibrox, will allow for a belief that there could be more to Rossiter’s Rangers story that cruel fate. A start and substitute appearance in recent weeks provides hope.
The Ibrox faithful certainly think, like Gerrard, that can be the case. Their forums wax lyrical about what a Rossiter in rude health could add to their team set-up from the fleeting glimpses they have had of him since Mark Warburton hailed his signing in the summer of 2016. The likeable midfielder is almost embarrassed by the cachet he has among a club support that have hardly seen him play.
“Since I’ve been here the fans have been brilliant. I can’t speak highly enough of them,” he said. “They have given me so much support , although I don’t know if I deserve it after two years of injury.
“Every one of them have given me support and I have never had a bad word said to me. I just want to repay them as well as the club. This is one of the best clubs in the world. This is where I want to be playing my football. The fans are a big part of it and one of the main reasons I came up here in the first place.”
He must want to lay his hands on the mightiest oak when offering up such positivity, but Rossiter truly believes he may now be in a position to deliver on the backing he has received. Which is unstinting from Gerrard.
“Physically and mentally I’m in the best place I’ve been for a good few years,” he said. “I just need to keep staying fit and available for selection and, if my chance does come, it’s up to me to take it. I’ve lost two years of my career basically and I need to get that back. Playing a lot of football when you are young is important for your career and development, and I’ve missed that out. The gaffer or the sport scientists need to rein me in from time to time but I just need to trust them, trust the process, and hopefully it will get better.”
Gerrard made the decision not to name Rossiter in his squad for the Europa League in order that the player could incrementally build up his fitness without the disruption that comes from the Thursday-Sunday scheduling the club’s European commitments necessitate.
“I’m here to support him,” said Gerrard. “He’s my player, he’s a good player, whose had a really tough time. But I think it’s important that we don’t keep talking about that tough time.
“We are hoping that’s behind him now. He’s repeating training sessions, he’s been available. I made it very clear to him that in terms of the European run that – and maybe I’m wrong – it was important we protected him from that.
“With where his body is right now, he doesn’t want to be travelling Thursday night, be involved, and then get ready for Sunday. Week to week, getting full training in, getting his body conditioned, that’s his first challenge. And then I have no doubts he will show everybody what he’s capable of.
“I think he is a player who can do a bit of everything very well. He’s very fit – in terms of endurance – so he hits big numbers and covers a lot of grass. He’s nearly as good at tackling as me. He can pass the ball short and long, he’s honest, I trust him. He’s up for it; he’s my style of player who’ll empty it for you.
“So, he’s just got to be patient and let it happen and it’ll come. There’s a lot of football to be played from now till the end of the season. He’ll get a lot more appearances this season if he’s looked after himself than he got over the previous two seasons. That’ll be a good platform for him to move forward, in my opinion.
“He’ll disagree because he wants to play every game. That’s the way he is, I know the kid. That’s where we are.”