From the moment he first walked through the front door at Ibrox in June, Steven Gerrard says he became acutely aware of the anguish caused at Rangers during the most turbulent period of the club’s history.
“For sure, you could sense it right away,” reflects the man now on a mission to rehabilitate Rangers as a trophy-winning force in Scottish football. “You could sense it just from having conversations with the players who had been around here for a while, from the staff and people who had been around the club for while.
“As soon as I arrived in Glasgow, you could see it in the faces of Rangers fans. I don’t know if desperation is the right word, but you could see a lot of pain. They are craving good times.”
Having made a solidly impressive start to his tenure as manager, Gerrard’s first opportunity to secure Rangers’ first piece of major silverware since 2011 is provided by the League Cup where they face Aberdeen in an intriguing semi-final at Hampden today.
While wary of looking any further than the immediate task at hand, Gerrard admits to viewing the tournament as the chance to kick-start a new age of success for Rangers.
“We would hope it would be the catalyst for a different era,” he added. “The club has been fragile in recent years and, from what I’ve heard and have seen from afar, it has been very up and down.
“When you start something fresh you try to build momentum and togetherness. You try to start a journey. You hope that journey takes you to places you want to get to, places where the fans want to get to, and where the club has belonged many years ago. That’s our job.
“We are on the right way so far, but nothing would be better than winning a semi-final and getting the chance to play in a final. I don’t want to talk about silverware just yet. It is still early.
“But, hopefully if we get through this tough test at the weekend we can start thinking big. I’m here for the Rangers fans. I don’t want to sound cheesy by saying that, but I’ve come to Rangers to win for Rangers.
“I totally respect the club and understand the club. Every decision I make, and every time I walk through the training ground or the stadium, it is for Rangers and for the fans to get good times back here.
“Seven years is too long without a trophy for Rangers but the circumstances are what they are and were before my time. For a set of supporters like this and a club of this size, it has been too long.”
Gerrard’s early success in guiding Rangers through four qualifying rounds of the Europa League, where they now top their section at the halfway point of the group stage, has significantly enhanced his approval rating among the club’s support.
But while he would love to extend their participation in Europe into the second half of the season, he is in no doubt that claiming a piece of domestic silverware is the priority.
“Winning a trophy is more important – all day long,” he said. “People only remember teams who win trophies.
“I prioritise game by game and we want to do as well as we can in every competition. That’s the reason we wanted such a big squad, to cope with the demand. I don’t think many people expected us to have the run in Europe we’ve had but now that we are in the group stage, we want to get as far as we can.”
While Aberdeen had a free midweek, Rangers were involved in a high intensity 0-0 draw against Spartak Moscow on Thursday night. Gerrard is dismissive of that having any significance today when he must also cope without both of his main strikers, Alfredo Morelos and Kyle Lafferty, who miss out through suspension and ineligibility respectively.
“We haven’t had much time to focus on the semi-final as we have had to prepare for Hamilton last Sunday and then Spartak. The respect is there for Aberdeen but I still feel we have enough to get the job done.
“We will not use Thursday as an excuse win, lose or draw. We never used it at Pittodrie earlier in the season when we played for 80 minutes with ten men and drew 1-1. We won’t use excuses round here.
“We put in a hell of a performance when Alfredo was sent off that day. I don’t think you would have known we were down to ten men which is a big compliment to my team.
“That must give them belief and confidence. I said after the game we performed at a better level than Aberdeen. That opinion doesn’t change, but that is not being disrespectful.”
Gerrard is relishing his role in a ‘Super Sunday’ as the Rangers-Aberdeen tie at Hampden follows the Celtic-Hearts clash at Murrayfield. He hopes Scottish football can emerge with its wider reputation enhanced after the initial negative publicity over the scheduling of the semi-finals.
“Look, we’re all human and make mistakes,” he said. “The important thing when you do is to hold your hand up and try to make up for it.
“We’ve got there in the end with two great games, four good teams and two fantastic stadiums.
“For the sponsors, for TV, for all the neutrals – what a day of football. It’s a great showcase for the game in Scotland and I’m delighted we are part of it.”