Scottish team Rangers looked like a side destined to go from strength to strength under Steven Gerrard for at least a couple more years. The squad he had patiently cultivated had turned into a winning machine and in May, he returned glory to a club deprived of it for so long.
But then something happened in Europa league. Having lost to Lyon and Sparta Prague in their first two Europa League group games, Steven Gerrard made a point –
Steven Gerrard said “We have been short in the two Europa League games but at this level, which is improving year in, year out, if we want to keep growing and go to the extra level we need to spend big money in the transfer windows. It is as simple as that,”
Gerrard is understood to have been frustrated by the transfer funds drying up, but the supporter-investors had reached the point this summer where they were no longer willing to plug massive shortfalls every year. It’s why the Villa approach to replace the sacked Dean Smith came at an opportune moment for them and a vulnerable one for Rangers. Gerrard had to weigh up how much further he felt he could take Rangers and how viable it was to sustain the success he achieved last season while the club transitioned to their next phase with a self-sustainable business model.
What are the aspects that Steven Gerrard brings to Aston Villa
Strong Backroom Staff
Assistant Gary McAllister, first-team coach Michael Beale, technical coach Tom Culshaw and head of performance Jordan Milsom are all part of the core staff but there are numerous others, such as doctor Mark Waller and analyst Scott Mason, both brought in from Liverpool, whom he views as integral to his wider group. Beale has a major influence on the coaching side and in implementing the style of play. He has spoken in the past about one day becoming a head coach himself but, having turned down opportunities to do so in England and having an offer from Championship club Cardiff City to take over the Welshmen, it is understood he feels a loyalty to follow Gerrard to Villa Park.
Expectations are low
The brief from Villa’s owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens (NSWE) and CEO Christian Purslow is simple: drag us away from danger and get us competing with the big boys again. If European football cannot be achieved this season — Villa are 16th after 11 games but only seven points shy of sixth place, with the FA Cup, a competition Gerrard won twice as a player, still to come — then there are signs it is possible in the next one.
The squad is talented and has been expensively assembled. Key players are working their way back to full fitness, and there is a guarantee that if a target can be identified at the right price in the looming January transfer window, then Villa will buy again. This is a job that attracted plenty of applications after Dean Smith’s sacking last weekend. Young players are emerging from the academy and showing genuine promise, too. Gerrard will be tasked with getting results from the off but will be excited at the challenge and opportunity to stamp his mark.
Task is smaller than Rangers
When Steven Gerrard arrived at Rangers, he came with a list of things he wanted to be upgraded. Those familiar with him say he brought “Premier League standards” in the way the infrastructure was upgraded, requests that were funded by the board. Gerrard said that the initial remit was to bring back belief and pride to Rangers before even thinking about challenging for titles. What Villa players can expect, perhaps not now but certainly in the winter break this January, is for their fitness to be tested.
Steven Gerrard is determination to succeed in management meant that after retiring following a year at LA Galaxy, he turned down the opportunity to become MK Dons manager in November 2016 as he did not feel ready. Following advice from Jurgen Klopp, he decided to learn away from the cameras and the pressure of three points.
What are the challenges that Steven Gerrard may face at Aston Villa
Club in Free Fall
No major trophy for 25 years. No top-10 Premier League finish for a decade. A quarter of the season gone. Just two points above the relegation zone. A tough fixture list on the horizon. Huge expectations to succeed.
Villa have forgotten how to defend as a team. As predecessor Smith tried to open up the side slightly in a bid to become the aggressors more often in games, there was a noticeable drop off in and around their own penalty box. It is not just the defenders to blame, either. Although Tyrone Mings, Axel Tuanzebe and Matt Targett have not hit the form of previous seasons, they have lacked support in front of them. The wide players are not offering enough protection and the midfield has often been changed around, leaving the full-backs exposed.
It will be a cliched buzzword over the next week or two, and inevitably, Gerrard will be asked about it when he faces the press, but creating an “identity” for his Aston Villa is important. Smith had a vision and a clear way he wanted Villa to play, but his players were never able to fully deliver it on a consistent basis. In the early months of this season, a change of formation was sparked by injuries, players leaving, new ones arriving and a desire to become unpredictable.
Ollie Watkins and summer buy Danny Ings have had impressive moments this season, but as a pair, they have not hit it off. Is there only room for one of the two strikers to start under Gerrard, and if so, who gets the nod? Watkins, a favourite of Smith’s for his high energy and ability to set the tempo for Villa with his pressing, having also signed for him at Brentford, has not been as effective in the early months of this season as in his 2020-21 debut year and has only scored two goals. Ings, a former Liverpool colleague of Gerrard’s although they never played in the same team, has three goals plus two assists but is currently out injured. There must be a way to get them performing well, even if it means slightly adjusting their position. Leon Bailey and Emiliano Buendia can be game-changers but neither has hit the heights yet since their summer arrivals.
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