Rangers manager Steven Gerrard: ‘Some players are holding us back’
Gerrard believes there has been undoubted progression in his 12 months in charge. He also acknowledges, though, that he has not entirely resolved the problems that existed when he took charge. Indeed, with a number of his own signings, it might be said he has created a number of new concerns.
On the former front, today’s encounter at home to Aberdeen provides the opportunity for the Ibrox men to cement second place in the Premiership.
It’s not the position they desire, but it is a placing that eluded them in the previous two seasons following their return to the top flight.
In terms of the latter, the fact a senior team found themselves 4-0 down to an under-23s Liverpool side the other day reaffirmed to Gerrard that, while he can be “proud” of “a lot of players coming to the party”, in his tenure, there are a raft of others he would happily eject from the gathering in a “Fortnite” styleee. In his sights would appear to be the likes of Eros Grezda, Borna Barisic and, possibly, Kyle Lafferty.
Those three players were subbed off at half-time against a young Anfield team he knows well from his time working in that set-up. Gerrard has previously criticised the application of Grezda and Barisic, and saw no improvement in that area against Liverpool, raging that the first half the other day had been “embarrassing”.
A 4-4 draw was salvaged because he brought on young players Josh McPake, Dapo Mebude and Daniel Finlayson – a trio who ended the week being integral performers in the Youth Cup final success over Celtic.
The need to rely on these “babies” to bail out seasoned performers – the starting XI was formed by Wes Foderingham, Matt Polster, Joe Worrall, Gareth McAuley, Andy Halliday, Graeme Dorrans, Lassana Coulibaly, Alfredo Morelos, Grezda, Barisic and Lafferty – is a situation he considers unacceptable and suggests further extensive squad reconstruction is still required to topple Celtic from their perch.
“When you look at the two teams on paper – and you know both of them extremely well – the game should never, ever get to 4-0,” he said of his post-match outburst. “I know the players we picked and the players we were up against. A few of them had a go.
“But some players didn’t seem to recognise the importance of the game. We put them on for many reasons, they’re for top players who haven’t played much of late. Also, we’ve got players like Graham Dorrans coming back from a long-term injury and we want to get sharpness and fitness into him.
“Then at the right time, you want to introduce your kids, to see whether they’re capable of performing with first-team lads against good opposition. It was an important game. But the first half was a complete waste of time.
“There were a number of players who just downed tools. It didn’t sound alarm bells but I learned a lot from individuals. Sometimes it takes a bounce game, when the motivation is different from a game at Ibrox in front of a full house, to learn a lot more about people, good and bad.
“You realise pretty clearly who’s with you. You realise who fancies being part of this and wants to give everything they can, they’re committed to the journey going forward.
“Then you see people who put in a performance which shows signs that they don’t really care. I already knew about them before the game. But sometimes it takes a game like that to confirm that certain people don’t fancy this challenge. They don’t want to come along with me. So it’s pretty easy to work out who you trust and who you want around you. You realise who’s going to give you a better chance of success moving forward.
“Unfortunately, there were a lot of players when I came into the club who were holding Rangers back and slowing it down. And there’s still some around. At the right time, I’ll address that. It was a big problem when I came in, but it’s still there in certain areas.
“I spoke to the players afterwards and let them know what I thought. Only one came back to me and said I was right.
“I’m not here to speak about individual players but I’ve already spoken about Grezda and Barisic a while ago. Have I seen anything in the interim to show me they’ve taken it on board? Well, one’s been injured but have they played in the starting 11? Not much, so that’s the answer to your question.
“You’ve got no chance, especially in this country, if your attitude isn’t bang on. If you’re not mentally strong, you get chewed up and spat out in this league. I’ve seen it with many players coming up here. Not just this year, I saw it with players before I arrived. I knew that this is a league that’s demanding, mentally and physically. If your attitude isn’t right in every single game, you’ll get found out.”