Aston Villa knew who they wanted, and did everything to make it happen. Following the departure of Dean Smith from Villa Park, Steven Gerrard has now been confirmed as the club’s new manager, the former Liverpool star arriving to try and oversee a reversal in fortunes.
Despite Gerrard’s title success with Rangers last season, there is still a sense that Villa are diving into the dark somewhat by appointing the 41-year-old. Yes, he is one of the biggest names in football, who will help attract quality players to the club, as well as inspiring the current squad, but there is still a sense that Gerrard is something of novice in management.
He’ll be under immense scrutiny from the get-go at Villa Park, particularly as the team are hovering dangerously close to the relegation zone. If Gerrard doesn’t inspire some good results straight away, the pressure will mount — Villa aren’t exactly in a position to afford him time to implement his methods.
Gerrard proved himself as a good coach by guiding Rangers to a 55th Scottish league title, posting an unbeaten season along the way, but there are caveats. The first is that Celtic, Rangers’ main rivals for the title, completely capitulated last season, allowing their Glasgow neighbours to establish an unassailable lead. The second is that, apart from Celtic, Rangers are streets ahead of every other Scottish club in terms of finances and stature.
Coming to Villa, Gerrard is entering the fray. If performances aren’t up to scratch, Gerrard won’t be able to cruise through on the back of having stronger squads than other teams. This is the biggest challenge he’ll have faced so far, and he’s under immense pressure to get things right from day one. Villa are an ambitious club, and by sacking Smith they’ve already shown that underperformance won’t be tolerated.
There has always been a sense that Gerrard has unfinished business in the Premier League. His slip in 2014 that went a long way towards costing Liverpool the title that season will still be engraved in his memory, and until he lifts the Premier League trophy as a manger, those wounds may never fully heal. Villa might not be in a position to challenge in the English Premier League winner odds anytime soon, but if Gerrard could lead them out of the mire and towards a top-half finish, that would represent a hugely successful start.
In all this, there is an inescapable sense that Gerrard is trying to earn his stripes in a bid to one day manage Liverpool. It’s been widely accepted that Jürgen Klopp has his sights set on leaving Anfield in the summer of 2024, so Gerrard may view this job as a chance to prove his worth to the powers that be at Liverpool.
He’ll want to avoid the fate suffered by Frank Lampard, who was arguably not ready for a Premier League job when he took the reins at Chelsea in 2019. Lampard enjoyed some initial success, but as time went on it became clear that he didn’t have the answers when the going got tough — undoubtedly due to a lack of experience.
Gerrard has a bit more experience in the bank, but Villa are a huge club, and managing in Scotland can’t be compared to the cauldron that is the Premier League. He’ll be under the microscope from minute one, and it will be a major test of his managerial credentials to see if he can cope.