Steven Gerrard (file pic). Alamy Stock Photo

Can Steven Gerrard become a great manager?

The Liverpool legend makes his return to Anfield as Aston Villa manager this weekend.

OLE GUNNAR SOLSKJAER, Thierry Henry, Frank Lampard, Roy Keane, Bryan Robson, Gianfranco Zola, Alan Shearer, Paul Scholes, Mark Hughes, Steve Bruce and Tony Adams.

One thing all the above have in common is that they were once-great Premier League players.

They also all went into management.

Not each of the individuals listed above was an unequivocal failure as a coach, and some may yet go on to achieve great things.

Yet it would be fair to say that in each case, their coaching efforts have so far paled in comparison to their time as a player.

The cliché is that great players don’t make for great managers and as with most cliches, it is only partially true.

Zinedine Zidane, Pep Guardiola and Johan Cruyff are a couple of examples of former footballers who at their peak, were world-class, before later going on to enjoy great success as managers.

The question on many people’s lips of late is whether Steven Gerrard is another exception to the general rule.

At the outset, there were plenty of people who would have doubted whether Gerrard was managerial material.

As with many top footballers, his brilliance seemed to derive from instinct more so than any great tactical or positional intelligence.

Gerrard was not the type of midfielder who controlled games — ex-Liverpool teammate Xabi Alonso was much more capable in this regard — yet his power, athleticism and technique were so strong that he seemed to win matches almost single-handedly at times, as he consistently conjured magical match-winning moments.

Consequently, it was tempting to perceive Gerrard as one of the many on-field geniuses ultimately unfit for the entirely different skill of management.

And while it is just as challenging for a big name to make it in management as it is for anyone else, it is surely easier for them to be afforded the opportunity in the first place.

A legendary player is not going to be put at the back of the queue when it comes to doing coaching badges.

An owner is more likely to take a chance on a former superstar than a relative unknown.

Of course, it tends to work both ways — being fast-tracked to the top can make the journey easier, though it also means there is less margin for error.

Instead of spending several years accruing experience in the relative obscurity of a smaller club — as was the case with Jurgen Klopp, to cite one prime example — the level of expectation is considerable straight away.

Gerrard did at least have just over a year in the Liverpool academy before being offered his first big job at Rangers.

Exactly how well the former midfielder performed in Scotland is debatable.

There is no doubt he did a good job, but you still get the sense that the jury remains out on him as a manager as far as English football viewers are concerned.

At the time of his appointment, Rangers were third in the Scottish Premiership and had just been beaten 5-0 by a Brendan Rodgers-managed Celtic side who had secured a seventh successive league title.

The Liverpool legend did enjoy some good fortune thereafter.

Rodgers left halfway through the following season, and Neil Lennon — a manager few would consider being at the same level as his predecessor — took charge.

Celtic still managed to win the league by nine points, ahead of second-placed Rangers and the Hoops prevailed again the following campaign based on average points per game after the season was prematurely halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet last year, Gerrard and his men finally triumphed, and did so in style, finishing 25 points ahead of Celtic and going the entire league season unbeaten, while denying their bitter rivals a 10th successive title in the process.

Considering what he had inherited, it was an impressive achievement from the former England international. He had rejuvenated a struggling team, making some astute signings and smart tactical decisions along the way.

There are caveats, of course. Rangers finished top of what is effectively a two-team league. He also came up against an unusually weak Celtic side who had paid the price for years of mismanagement and problems off the field as much as anything else.

Yet Gerrard undoubtedly left Rangers in a much stronger position than he found them in — they are currently on course for a second title on the trot, as they sit four points above Celtic, while they recently qualified for the Europa League knockout stages.

He deserves enormous credit for this achievement and the early signs are promising at Villa too.

When you consider the money the club have spent — only Arsenal, Man United, Chelsea and Man City paid more in the most recent transfer window (granted, the £100 million sale of Jack Grealish helped them significantly in that regard) — a top-10 finish should be the least of their ambitions.

And with Gerrard winning three of his first four games in charge, the club are on course to achieve that feat, as they sit 10th in the table as it stands.

Yet with winning comes greater expectation.

Villa, given the resources at their disposal, have been described by some as a ‘sleeping giant’.

But it is easy to forget that it is just their third season back in the Premier League.

Dean Smith did an excellent job overall, getting them promoted and overseeing their survival by just a point the following campaign.

Last season was exponentially better as well, as the Birmingham-based side finished 11th.

Nevertheless, a slow start to the current campaign, caused in part by the loss of their talisman Grealish, ended up costing Smith his job.

This decision shows just how ruthless the club’s hierarchy can be. The first real sign of a wobble or backwards step under Smith and they reacted severely.

Given all their former manager achieved, it seems hard to imagine that the treatment afforded to Gerrard will be any better and so his status as a once-great footballer will likely count for little in the eyes of the board.

As a footballer, Gerrard specialised in getting the most out of the limited players around him, and in inspiring victories from seemingly impossible situations.

He will need to repeat this trick fairly regularly as a manager if he is to prove a success at Villa Park and set him up for the Liverpool job that he so obviously desires in the long term, and a victory at Anfield this weekend would go some way towards convincing the sceptics.

Conversely, even if treated harshly, failure could do significant damage to his future job prospects.

Second chances in the Premier League are often hard to come by, as many great players turned managers will attest. 

Upcoming fixtures (matches kick off at 3pm unless stated otherwise)


Brentford v Watford (20.00)


Man City v Wolves (12.30)
Arsenal v Southampton
Chelsea v Leeds
Liverpool v Aston Villa
Norwich v Man United (17.30)


Burnley v West Ham (14.00)
Leicester v Newcastle (14.00)
Crystal Palace v Everton (16.30)

(Tottenham v Brighton, due to kick off at 2pm on Sunday, was postponed due to an outbreak of Covid in the Spurs camp)

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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