Firm doubts about Ger­rard’s Ibrox ap­point­ment

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SOCCER - Michael Walker

Board the Glas­gow sub­way to Go­van, exit right on to Co­p­land Road, turn on to Mafek­ing Street, swing left and there it is. Ris­ing up be­fore you with its decades of his­tory, wood-pan­elled cor­ri­dors, pol­ished tro­phy cabi­net: Ibrox, home of Glas­gow Rangers. This is the “in­sti­tu­tion” every­one has men­tioned in the past week.

“Emo­tion­ally charged,” Graeme Souness called it. “Sevco” re­mains many Celtic fans’ pre­ferred term.

Rangers have been play­ing foot­ball on this patch of Cly­de­side since 1887, when a cake and wine ban­quet wel­comed the first vis­i­tors Pre­ston North End.

Glory has also been served up, and as re­cently as a Sun­day morn­ing in mid-March you could sense the an­tic­i­pa­tion that more was on the way.

Celtic were the vis­i­tors to Ibrox that lunchtime. The gap be­tween the teams was six points, but a home win would cut it to three and, de­spite Celtic’s game in hand, the prospect of a ti­tle chal­lenge had the blue faith­ful giddy.

The noise when Josh Win­dass lashed Rangers ahead after just three min­utes was sonic. The Gers were back.

Then Celtic won 3-2, though re­duced to 10 men.

Eight weeks on and the gap be­tween the two clubs is 13 points. Rangers have been beaten twice by Celtic since, 4-0 in the Scot­tish Cup and 5-0 in the league. Over three games Celtic’s ad­van­tage is 12-2. The care­taker man­ager Graeme Murty has been off­loaded, play­ers have scuf­fled among them­selves.

This is the most re­cent and rel­e­vant ev­i­dence of where Rangers are as a team. The Ibrox stands may be packed and the sta­dium can still in­duce awe, but on the pitch, where it mat­ters most, Rangers are light­weight. In the sup­posed two-horse race that is Scot­tish foot­ball, they could fin­ish fourth.

And sud­denly Steven Ger­rard has been con­firmed as the new man­ager.

Burger van

Ger­rard must have more in­for­ma­tion than the rest of us be­cause the Rangers job in 2018 looks about as tempt­ing as a burger van.

Ger­rard’s ap­point­ment is only one of the el­e­ments of a cu­ri­ous sit­u­a­tion. In Eng­land the Rangers dis­cus­sion is framed around Ger­rard’s ca­reer, where the 37-year-old is in terms of his CV. The in­sti­tu­tion – Ibrox – is re­ferred to in pass­ing, but the big­ger story is the Liver­pool hero, not the 145-year-old club.

To use Rangers’ motto, Ger­rard is deemed “ready”.

This opin­ion could be cor­rect but it is guess­work. There is no body of man­age­rial work to as­sess. Ger­rard has been coach­ing Liver­pool’s un­der-18s, and those run­ning Rangers would need to know how he has per­formed in that role, what he has done con­struc­tively, any mis­takes he has made.

It’s called due dili­gence. It has not been a strong fea­ture of Rangers this cen­tury.

In Scot­land, while there is some ex­cite­ment about the ar­rival of Ger­rard at Ibrox, there are doubts too. There this is not about Ger­rard’s CV – it’s about Rangers’ fu­ture. The English view is taken as an in­sult.

In Scot­land the gen­eral con­cern is more about the level of foot­ball nous on the Ibrox board – is this a knee­jerk re­sponse to the lat­est three Celtic vic­to­ries? – and ex­actly how much money it pos­sesses.

Be­cause un­less Rangers are go­ing to en­able Ger­rard via se­ri­ous fund­ing, a la Kenny Dal­glish at Black­burn Rovers, then they are tak­ing a punt on his man­age­rial abil­ity and pulling power.

Those anx­ious about this Rangers gam­ble might also point out that there have been two high-pro­file coach­ing de­vel­op­ments at An­field this week.

It would have re­flected dif­fer­ently on Rangers’ board had Zeljko Bu­vac been the Liver­pool coach they had sought out and in­ter­viewed.

Part of a foot­ball board’s job is to be on the in­side, col­lect­ing knowl­edge and in­for­ma­tion for times of un­cer­tainty. Hence Ar­se­nal sign Arsene Wenger, Southamp­ton re­cruit Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino. Home­work had been done.

Within foot­ball Bu­vac is highly re­spected. Jur­gen Klopp is be­ing self-dep­re­cat­ing when call­ing Bu­vac his “brain”, but he is clearly an in­flu­en­tial fig­ure.

An­other nig­gle in all this could be de­scribed as the Alex Fer­gu­son fac­tor. Given his stand­ing, it con­tin­ues to puz­zle that play­ers from the Fer­gu­son era – Giggs, Nevilles, Ger­rard – do not fol­low his ex­am­ple.

Fer­gu­son started at East Stir­ling, then went to St Mir­ren. Ad­mit­tedly, he did so be­cause he had to fi­nan­cially, but these were pieces of his ed­u­ca­tion. Gary Neville jumped straight into Va­len­cia without speak­ing flu­ent Span­ish.

“I was learn­ing some­thing new about man­age­ment ev­ery day,” Fer­gu­son said. “Although I was mak­ing mis­takes, I was not re­peat­ing them.”

Fer­gu­son knew Rangers, the in­sti­tu­tion, from the in­side as a player. He could tell Ger­rard the Rangers man­ager has no room for mis­takes, the Glas­gow stare is fierce. Sim­i­larly, Rangers have no room for an­other er­ror.

From the streets of Go­van, Ibrox looks im­pres­sive; from Ibrox, Steven Ger­rard looks the same. But these are views from a dis­tance.

In this odd em­brace, both par­ties had rea­son to hes­i­tate.

Alex Fer­gu­son knew Rangers, the in­sti­tu­tion, from the in­side as a player. He could tell Ger­rard the Rangers man­ager has no room for mis­takes, the Glas­gow stare is fierce. Sim­i­larly, Rangers have no room for an­other er­ror

PHO­TO­GRAPH: SCOTT HEPPELL/REUTERS

Steven Ger­rard ar­rives for the Ibrox press con­fer­ence which con­firmed him as the new Rangers man­ager. Un­less Rangers are go­ing to pro­vide se­ri­ous fund­ing, they are tak­ing a punt on his man­age­rial abil­ity and pulling power.

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