Steven Gerrard faces huge challenge against Brendan Rodgers, Celtic
Those close to Steven Gerrard will tell you that the former Liverpool and England captain is all about the challenge, measuring himself against the highest of standards and ensuring that everybody alongside him dances to the same tune.
For the past year-and-a-half, he has applied that philosophy to coaching Liverpool’s Under-18 team. However, friends of the man charged with restoring Scottish giants Rangers to former glories have told ESPN FC that working with youngsters at Anfield left the 37-year-old frustrated by the lack of opportunities to get his heartbeat racing and expose himself to the pressure and demands of performing at the top level under the most intense pressure.
Gerrard’s hunger for the challenge — that determination to experience competition on a knife-edge once again — is perhaps the primary factor in the decision he has taken to throw himself into the deep end of management at Ibrox.
Not only has Gerrard decided to accept the task of returning Rangers to the summit of Scottish football and, at the same time, trying to end Celtic’s seven-year grip on the title, he has also made the bold move of going head-to-head with Brendan Rodgers, his former boss, in the battle for supremacy in Glasgow.
Reviving Rangers is tough enough on its own, but pitting his wits against a man under whom he played at Liverpool? That will only add spice to a job that Gerrard will take on officially from June 1. It is not quite the sorcerer vs. the apprentice, but he will have to work hard and fast to ensure he does not end up looking like the inexperienced rookie in the battle.
But is it a bold move or a foolish one? Has Gerrard gambled on his managerial career before it has even begun or is his decision to take the job proof he has the credentials to succeed and, ultimately, return to Anfield as manager in the future?
He has taken the same first step into management as Graeme Souness, another European Cup-winning Liverpool captain, who headed north of the border in the mid-1980s to change the face of Scottish football by triggering a long period of dominance at Rangers.
But the club at which Gerrard will arrive is a world away from that which Souness took charge in 1986. Back then, Rangers had gone eight years without a league title, but four of those had been won by Aberdeen (three) and Dundee United (one), so the new manager was not facing the situation that awaits Gerrard.
As their run of league titles suggests, Celtic enjoy huge dominance, which is strengthened by regular Champions League campaigns and a lack of domestic competition. Given that, unless Gerrard gets significant funds to recruit new players, he will struggle to halt the juggernaut across Glasgow.
But perhaps that is part of what appeals about the role. He has the opportunity to impose his personality and standards and show the world that he can succeed in management without the need of a blank cheque book. If Gerrard can make Rangers stronger, he will have outlined his management ability.
It might have been easier to wait for a club in the Championship to come calling, but even the challenge of managing a fallen giant like Leeds United or Nottingham Forest would not expose Gerrard to the white-hot intensity that will come with taking over at Rangers.
If his ambition is to eventually lead Liverpool, he must first prove he has the ability to work at a club with similarly demanding standards. Rangers gives him that chance but he will discover that the demands in Glasgow are perhaps even greater than on Merseyside.
He will not spend hours on the training ground wishing for a bigger challenge or the chance to test himself, because managing Rangers will command his attention at all times. Whether he succeeds or fails, Gerrard cannot be accused of taking an easy route into management.
He has never shied away from a challenge, but this one is bigger than any he has taken on before.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_