For 17 years at the heart of Liverpool’s midfield, Steven Gerrard thrived amid the relentless intensity and unforgiving expectations which surround one of the highest profile clubs in world football.
As he wound down his playing career in Los Angeles before returning to Anfield as an academy coach, Gerrard admits he struggled to come to terms with the more serene pattern of his changed circumstances.
It was why he jumped at the chance to take his first step into the maelstrom of management at Rangers where he could once again face the levels of scrutiny and demands from supporters to which he was so accustomed at Anfield.
“It’s very, very similar and I am absolutely loving this,” said Gerrard as he reflected on a first six months in the Ibrox hot seat which have seen him guide his nascent squad to the Scottish Premiership summit.
It’s the first time Rangers have topped the pile in Scotland since 2011 but even the fact they are just one point ahead of champions Celtic, who have a game in hand, has not dampened the enthusiasm and renewed belief of a support who feel Gerrard can deliver the title at his first attempt.
The 38-year-old remains more cautious about that possibility but is relishing a schedule of eight games over the next 25 days, starting at home to Aberdeen tonight and culminating in the Old Firm showdown at Ibrox on 29 December, which will provide a clearer indication of Rangers’ title credentials.
“When I came out from being a player, there was a huge void in my life and this is as close as you can get to being in the mix and feeling the emotions that I missed. “I am loving it, I am loving the challenge and really delighted to be the manager of this club. It is a wonderful club. “I just hope that come the business end of the season we are still in this position, where there is a lot of attention and focus on us and, hopefully, we reward ourselves for all the hard work that we have put in so far and the hard work we will put in between now and the end of the season.
“I possibly needed to come to as big a club as this for my first job in management. I don’t see myself being a manager of numerous clubs throughout my career. It has to be a certain draw, has to give me a certain feeling. “I turned down quite a few jobs before I got this opportunity. I said on day one when I came here that it felt different. That is the reason I am enjoying it so much.
“It’s really nice to be top of the league. It’s fantastic for our supporters, it’s been a long time. But we have to make sure we remain grounded and humble and realise the circumstances. “We understand the situation totally and know there is a lot of football to be played. We have worked extremely hard to get to where we are and have to work even harder if we want to remain there.
“It’s a bit early to be talking about title challenges. There’s an awful lot that can go right or wrong. Celtic will know we are going to be trying to be as competitive as we can, of course they will. “But we have to show respect. They have won the last seven domestic trophies here, they are improving this season, they are playing well.
“Kilmarnock are also doing well and there are other teams in there that we have to think about too. There’s no way in the world anyone is getting carried away here.
“I am thinking about challenging, of course, but what I am saying is that I am not getting carried away or predicting we are going to challenge right now because we are still a long way out. “The hope is that we are still pushing and challenging for as long as we can. The big question for us is ‘can we?’ That’s the big question for us that is going to hang over us for a while.
“If we cope well from now until the end of the month, it’s one we can assess then. But for me it’s important not to get too far ahead and think about where we are going to be at the end of December. “We have Aberdeen first and that’s the main focus for myself and the players. But when we assess it at the end of the month and think we have coped well, then we would take huge belief and confidence from that.”
Rangers are seeking their first win of the season against Aberdeen, having conceded a late equaliser in the 1-1 draw at Pittodrie on the first day of the Premiership season and then losing 1-0 in the League Cup semi-final at Hampden.
“We feel that in our two performances against Aberdeen we probably haven’t got the results we deserved,” added Gerrard.
“In the circumstances, the result was good at Pittodrie as we played extremely well after playing with ten men for most of the game.
“Then in the semi-final, we played well to a certain point but didn’t have the quality in the final third to hurt Aberdeen.
“We’ve played them twice without a recognised centre forward, so this is an opportunity to show how strong we are against a good Aberdeen team. “We won’t be using the words ‘point to prove’ or ‘revenge’ or anything like that but we understand it’s a big game and a game we need to try and win.”