16th-Place Aston Villa Confirms The Hiring Of Manager Steven Gerrard
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LONDON - Steven Gerrard withstood a period of intense pressure to turn fallen giants Rangers into Scottish champions again and now Aston Villa provides one of the Premier League's all-time great players with a platform to truly prove himself as a manager.
Gerrard, who spent 17 years patrolling Liverpool's midfield and scored 120 Premier League goals in 504 appearances, has been named Villa boss after the Birmingham club sacked Dean Smith on Sunday.
Aston Villa Football Club is delighted to announce the appointment of Steven Gerrard as our new Head Coach.— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) November 11, 2021
The former England midfielder had only one season's coaching experience with Liverpool's youth team when he was appointed by Rangers in June 2018 after the club had sacked a fourth manager in four years. The Glaswegian club had only been promoted back to the Scottish top-flight two years previously following their 2011 demotion to the fourth tier in 2012 due to a financial crisis.
It was a daunting first proper job and many questioned the appointment at a time Rangers' fans were desperate for someone to halt years of domination by local rivals Celtic. Celtic still romped to the title in Gerrard's first two seasons and he faced more scrutiny for failing to win either of the domestic cups, but the coronavirus pandemic gave the team an opportunity to reset and rebuild.
Gerrard's third campaign was a roaring success as they won the title at a canter, finishing 25 points above Celtic and ending the season unbeaten. Equally important was preventing their neighbors from winning 10 titles in a row. Crucial to their success was an imposing defensive record, conceding only 13 goals in 38 games while keeping 26 clean sheets.
Gerrard's emphasis on his team's organization and work ethic would certainly have appealed to Villa, who have the third worst defensive record in the Premier League and conceded 13 goals in their last five games, all of which ended in defeat.
Gerrard's record in Europe has also been impressive, taking Rangers into the last 16 of the Europa League in his first two seasons after hurdling grueling qualifying campaigns.
“Steven has been absolutely steadfast in this slow, continuous improvement,” former Rangers chairman Dave King, who appointed Gerrard, told The Athletic earlier this year. “He’s been very disciplined, patient, thorough and relentless in his ongoing quest to improve the club."
Former reserve team coach Peter Løvenkrands said Gerrard had helped motivate a previously under-performing squad.
"The way he is on the training pitch keeps the players hungry. The players have always been buzzing in training and that just reflects onto the pitch," he told Sky Sports. "You can see gradually over the years that he's been there it's been getting better and better."
Gerrard has also proved to be no pushover. He dropped star forward Alfredo Morelos from the side for returning from Colombia out of shape and last month openly criticized the player's form, saying his goal tally for the campaign was "not enough.”
While Rangers fans will not like the timing of Gerrard's departure, he leaves them in a good place, sitting four points clear of Celtic after 13 games and with a chance of again reaching the Europa League knockouts.
FOLLOWING RODGERS' PATH
By leaving a team top in Scotland for a troubled Premier League side, Gerrard is taking the same path Brendan Rodgers took when he left Celtic in 2019 to take over at Leicester City, later guiding the Foxes to consecutive top-five finishes and winning the FA Cup last season.
Although struggling since the talismanic Jack Grealish left for Manchester City, Villa presents a great opportunity for Gerrard to further build his reputation as a coach with a long-term view to landing his dream job at Liverpool.
The Birmingham club can count on investment from billionaire co-owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens and have spent substantial sums on transfers in the last three years. They also have the eighth-highest average attendance in the league and one of the country's most historic grounds in Villa Park.
"I think Aston Villa as a club would be a great move for Steven Gerrard," said former Liverpool teammate Jamie Carragher.
Former Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp added: "It's an incredible job. Huge club, great potential."
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis)