ASTON VILLA are without a manager, their fans must be wondering who will take over from Steven Gerrard as their club battles to stay clear of the Premier League relegation zone. While Gerrard is now out of work, probably not for too long, Villa start the process all over again. There’s two sides to every managerial story, although all the talk has about what comes next for Gerrard, an inexperienced manager at the highest level.
His dismissal, as inevitable as the demise of Prime Minister Liz Truss, brings to an end the assumption that Gerrard was the Liverpool manager in waiting, the natural heir to the Klopp throne. A great player, a local lad, returning home to begin the next stage of his marriage to Liverpool Football Club. That was the script.
Gerrard was one of the best players of his time, a genuine class act among the mis-named “golden generation” that achieved nothing for England. But great players do not necessarily make decent managers – the list is endless and there’s a number of reasons. Players are managed by people who tell them what to do, there’s something almost militaristic about being a pro. But being the man in the suit changes everything and you become the “gaffer” telling others what to do. Quiet men and deep men struggle to be the bastard in the dugout. Bobby Charlton couldn’t do it, Bobby Moore didn’t make it, countless others never got a look in. Nice guys just don’t survive.
Appointing somebody who spent all of his time with one club is also something of a mistake. The stalwart is well versed in the mechanics of his club, understands the DNA of the club, but in the role of manager, you need a person who has a rounded view of the game, drawn from spending time across the industry. Institutionalised people are loyal and reliable, but when you’re managing different players from all over the world, you need a manager with a global view of football.
It would seem very unlikely that a club like Liverpool, which is owned by American investors, would appoint a coach for old time’s sake. Sentiment just doesn’t come into it, and even if Gerrard has been earmarked for the future, he needs to serve an apprenticeship and bring to the job the experience of managing a top club with some degree of proficiency. Elite level clubs don’t do experiments.
His win rate at Aston Villa was just 32.5% but crucially, it is this season’s stats that count and they are looking dire. His record at Rangers was good and he won the Scottish Premiership with some degree of style, but putting it into perspective, the gap between Celtic and Rangers and the rest of Scottish football is huge and no real comparison with the Premier league can be made – just look at how Liverpool dismantled Rangers in the Champions League.
He didn’t rush into a job, preferring to sensibly transition via a coaching role at Liverpool. From Rangers, a Championship role would have been more suitable and would have formed part of his training. The Premier came too soon, just as it did for his contemporary, Frank Lampard. Yet getting sacked at this stage of his career isn’t the end of the world, but it does pose questions about his ability to become a top manager.
He does need to reflect more on the team rather than making it about himself. It is understandable that he should want to take the blame, but he often sounds like he is conducting an exercise in self-analysis: “I don’t doubt myself because I believe in myself…. I’m a fighter, I will never quit anything… It’s tough, but I’m a man”…. Mud has flown my way before”. It’s clear what Gerrard thinks about himself, but what about his employer and his players?
Gerrard will recover from this blow and he will doubtless be working again soon, but like so many others who have rushed into a top job, he needs to ask himself if moving to Aston Villa was right for someone with no Premier league managerial experience. And maybe Villa should ask themselves if they were a little too easily seduced by Steven Gerrard’s playing career stats.