Stephen Halliday: Why Steven Gerrard is under more pressure than ever

For some Rangers fans, only stopping Celtic’s ten-in-a-row will be enough
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard’s manner during a Zoom conference revealed a steely focus on the task ahead. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNSRangers manager Steven Gerrard’s manner during a Zoom conference revealed a steely focus on the task ahead. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard’s manner during a Zoom conference revealed a steely focus on the task ahead. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

Perhaps it was just the stilted nature of communication via Zoom which we have reluctantly become accustomed to during lockdown.

But, to this correspondent at least, there seemed to be a striking difference in the tone and demeanour of Steven Gerrard during the virtual press conference he held earlier this week.

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As he has always been in my experience since his arrival in Glasgow two years ago, the Rangers manager was never anything less than courteous throughout the briefing and provided no shortage of interesting observations to satisfy the needs of his inquisitors.

Having been the captain of Liverpool and England for so long, of course, it is no surprise that he is a consummate practitioner in dealing with the demands of the media under any circumstances.

Yet, in his first interaction with the fourth estate ahead of the 2020-21 season, there was a 
cutting edge to Gerrard’s responses which hinted at a realisation of just how critical the coming months are likely to be in defining his managerial career.

While he was willing to answer questions on any topic, there was also a noticeable reluctance to be anything close to expansive in discussing issues which he feels bear no relevance to the challenge facing him in the new campaign.

For example, on the SPFL’s handling of bringing an end to last season and the ongoing court action that the decision has provoked, Gerrard simply said that he remains of the view that the 2019-20 Premiership could have been completed on the pitch but he now wants to look forwards, not backwards.

A perhaps mischievous – but nonetheless journalistically valid – question about whether there is a degree of presumption in talk from the Celtic camp about winning 10-in-a-row next season met with a similar fate. “My focus is solely on Rangers” was the nuts and bolts of Gerrard’s brief response.

For the 40-year-old, that tunnel vision simply has to lead to silverware in the third season of his Ibrox tenure.

For many Rangers supporters, only denying Celtic that record-breaking 10th consecutive league title will be good enough to validate Gerrard’s credentials.

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His businesslike approach during that press conference has been matched by the expeditious manner Rangers have gone about reshaping their squad amid the general uncertainty of lockdown.

Six of his fringe first-team squad players – Wes Foderingham, Jak Alnwick, Jon Flanagan, Andy 
Halliday, Jordan Rossiter and Jason Holt – were released.

The loan signings of Jermain Defoe and Ianis Hagi have both been made permanent, the latter for a fee of £3 million, while Calvin Bassey and Jon McLaughlin have been recruited from Leicester and Sunderland respectively.

Gerrard said Rangers are “ready to strike” in pursuit of further signing targets and he praised the board of directors who have continue to provided him with significant backing regardless of the coronavirus pandemic’s ongoing impact on football’s finances.

It’s a measure of the faith those running Rangers have in Gerrard’s ability to translate the obvious improvements he has made at the club during his first two seasons into the collection of trophies and an end to Celtic’s unprecedented dominance of the Scottish domestic game.

The restoration of Rangers’ credibility on the European stage has been a major feather in Gerrard’s cap but he has reached the point where that is now of secondary importance to reclaiming long-lost Old Firm bragging rights.

He could allow himself time for celebration this week as his beloved Liverpool won their first league title for 30 years. But Gerrard is acutely aware the pressure has never been greater on him to claim the first one of his career.

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