If Rangers got Steven Gerrard the hero player, they might have a chance

The goalkeepers come from Swindon and Port Vale, defenders from Bristol City and Cardiff. Midfielders herald from the east — Azerbaijan and Norwich — while the star striker was once of Harrogate Railway Athletic, and latterly Accrington Stanley.

Steven Gerrard was considered wise for avoiding lower-league football with Milton Keynes Dons. So why embrace it, in all but name, with Rangers?

He was due to have more talks on Monday, but this isn’t the move north Graeme Souness made on leaving Sampdoria in 1986. Rangers’ current circumstances are far removed, and by more than just time. There is no longer a big two in Scotland. Celtic are No 1 in a field of one.

Steven Gerrard was considered wise for turning down lower-league football with MK Dons

Steven Gerrard was considered wise for turning down lower-league football with MK Dons

Steven Gerrard was considered wise for turning down lower-league football with MK Dons

It was 32 years ago when Souness agreed to become player-manager and, in terms of difference, his job title is the first clue. Souness was always going to have at least one world-class player to call on in his first season, as long as he stayed fit.

Yet there was decent money to spend, so other quality arrivals followed, particularly from England. With no European football on offer to English clubs, the talent drain was reversed.

England internationals Terry Butcher and Chris Woods joined Souness in his initial season, Trevor Steven, Gary Stevens, Trevor Francis and Ray Wilkins came after. Rangers were a big club.

They even paid Sampdoria £300,000 to get Souness out of his contract in Serie A.

By comparison, Rangers’ entire starting line-up, beaten 5-0 by Celtic on Sunday, will not have cost much in excess of £2.5m, which would be unremarkable for a League One club in England. Rangers still take players from the south, but their targets are in the lower divisions or reserve teams. There is much excitement about the impending arrival of Scott Arfield, now he can’t get in at Burnley.

What has not changed in Scotland is expectation. Rangers want Gerrard for the same reason they sought Souness. They think a big-name manager will attract bigger players and help them challenge Celtic.

This isn't the move north Graeme Souness made on leaving Sampdoria for Rangers in 1986

This isn't the move north Graeme Souness made on leaving Sampdoria for Rangers in 1986

This isn’t the move north Graeme Souness made on leaving Sampdoria for Rangers in 1986

When Souness came, Rangers had last won the league nine seasons earlier, 1977-78, muscled out by Celtic and what was called the New Firm, of Aberdeen and Dundee United. Yet Sir Alex Ferguson left for Manchester United a few months into Souness’s first season, and Dundee United had not been in the top two since winning the league in 1983.

By 1989, Rangers had the financial clout to sign Celtic hero Mo Johnston from Nantes. As Leicester found, it is easier to break into an open league where leading teams are taking points from each other. Celtic now have a monopoly on title success in Scotland: seven straight Premiership wins, and five league defeats since December 19, 2015, none of them against Rangers.

It was March 25, 2012, when Rangers last defeated Celtic — this despite 11 meetings in all competitions across the last two seasons. ‘Second in Glasgow is last,’ warned Souness, and the Champions League revenue makes closing that gap far more difficult than it was in his time.

The word is Gerrard will take the job regardless, but he may be frustrated if he has designs on replicating Souness’s model, using his name and contacts to attract star players to an exciting new project.

Rangers were beaten 5-0 by their Old Firm rivals in a league clash at Celtic Park on Sunday

Rangers were beaten 5-0 by their Old Firm rivals in a league clash at Celtic Park on Sunday

Rangers were beaten 5-0 by their Old Firm rivals in a league clash at Celtic Park on Sunday

Rangers have the status, if not the riches, of a big club and there would certainly be options. Joe Hart, for instance, would be an upgrade on Wes Foderingham, formerly of Swindon, Jak Alnwick, from Port Vale or the soon-to-be-signed Allan McGregor. Yet Hart’s wages at Manchester City, where he may return after a chequered loan period at West Ham, are in the region of £140,000 a week. Would he be prepared to drop to, say, £20,000 to play at Rangers?

The same with Daniel Sturridge. Injury problems make signing him a gamble, as West Bromwich discovered, but a weekly wage of £120,000 exacerbates the problem from Rangers’ point of view.

Souness had a unique selling point — European football. What is Gerrard’s USP? The average crowd at Ibrox, a squeak under 50,000, is certainly impressive, but not an entirely appealing prospect if they are restless or disillusioned at another season spent under Celtic’s thumb. Parkhead was not a happy home for John Barnes, by the end.

One understands that a warrior-midfielder like Gerrard will miss the battleground that is first-team football. Liverpool’s Under 18s want to win, too, but are in essence a development project. Trophies are celebrated, but one first-team graduate means more. Gerrard is in the business of turning boys into men to be used by Jurgen Klopp.

If he wins competitions, so much the better, if he does not, there will be no recriminations, as long as there is progress. It is a fine way to learn — Barcelona B didn’t do Pep Guardiola any harm — but it is not the sharp end of management.

But does Gerrard need that just yet? Does he need to branch out so soon? Klopp is one of the finest coaches of the modern age. Wouldn’t Gerrard be better hanging around for a year or two, soaking up information, maybe even moving up the career ladder now Klopp’s assistant, Zeljko Buvac, has departed. Gerrard won’t be the No 2, but he might advance.

Celtic, who secured a seventh consecutive Scottish title on Sunday, are not going anywhere

Celtic, who secured a seventh consecutive Scottish title on Sunday, are not going anywhere

Celtic, who secured a seventh consecutive Scottish title on Sunday, are not going anywhere

This is unlikely to be the last chance he gets to manage Ran-gers, or another suitable club. He has eschewed the lower leagues as unsuitable but at least promotion removes a few of the larger obstacles each season.

Leeds may have fallen short again, but next year they will not have to overcome Wolves or, in all likelihood, promotion specialist Neil Warnock and Cardiff.

Celtic, however, are not going anywhere and right now they could certainly match the limits of Rangers’ investment if they felt their supremacy was threatened. With BATE Borisov already two points clear after five games and going for their 13th consecutive title in Belarus, Celtic are not at the limit of what disproportionate Champions League wealth can achieve.

As a player, it often seemed as if Gerrard could win matches by force of will, but that is not so easy for a manager.

It will take a lot more than desire to overcome Celtic, and the downside could be deeply wounding, just as it was for Barnes, in the wrong place at the wrong time on the other side of town. 

Letting Ayew get away with this is shameful 

In less time than it takes to flog Wembley Stadium to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Football Association decided Jordan Ayew’s blindside assault on Gary Cahill at the weekend left no case to answer. 

Had the governing body been able to take its mind off real estate long enough to achieve rare clarity, this would be Ayew’s last act of the season for Swansea. 

Jordan Ayew and Gary Cahill clashed during Chelsea's victory over Swansea on Saturday

Jordan Ayew and Gary Cahill clashed during Chelsea's victory over Swansea on Saturday

The pair are kept apart by Cesar Azpilicueta during the Premier League match

The pair are kept apart by Cesar Azpilicueta during the Premier League match

Jordan Ayew and Gary Cahill clashed during Chelsea’s victory over Swansea on Saturday

He was sent off for a reckless, knee-high challenge on Jonathan Hogg of Huddersfield on March 10 and received a three-match ban, so a new controversy should have drawn a four-game suspension, keeping him out until after the first game of next season.

It would have been be a heavy price to pay, but no more than the attack on Cahill deserved. A rash challenge can cause serious injury; what Ayew did went far beyond that. It wasn’t an accident, and it wasn’t an old-fashioned barge. The ball had gone when Ayew deliberately changed direction to make contact with the Chelsea defender. 

He did so with a forearm smash to the back of the head, delivered at running pace. Cahill would have had no idea it was coming and made no preparation for it. He was very lucky that Ayew’s aim was off and the blow seemed to make as much contact with his neck. The consequences could have been horrid otherwise.

We know a lot more about head injuries than we used to. We know the potential damage of even intended contact, the mild concussive episodes that can result from simply heading a ball. 

More importantly, we know how random the effects; how some individuals can be more devastatingly harmed than others. Not every footballer from the 1960s suffered as Jeff Astle did.

A lot of players have clashed heads, but only Ryan Mason had to retire as a result. Many cricketers have been hit by the ball, but Phillip Hughes died.

If referee Jon Moss saw it and thought no action was required he might need a year off

If referee Jon Moss saw it and thought no action was required he might need a year off

If referee Jon Moss saw it and thought no action was required he might need a year off

And while plenty of strikers have met a stray elbow, Iain Hume of Barnsley required emergency brain surgery as a result. The FA decided Chris Morgan had no case to answer over that incident in 2008, too. It was a shameful dereliction of duty, as is this. 

Cahill looked confused, then furious, after Ayew struck him, but shrugged it off. Ayew wasn’t to know that, though. No player does, when using his forearm in this way.  He could have caught Cahill in an unfortunate spot, he could have caused unimagined damage. The FA seem not to care about that.

He got away with it, through an accident of timing. The referee Jon Moss, incredibly, misinterpreted the incident which happened late in the game.

A 5.30pm kick-off is not conducive to early Sunday newspaper edition times so there was little hullabaloo the next day – and we know how FA reactions are often governed by media attention. It didn’t fit their criteria for retrospective action, apparently.

Ex-Hull and Tottenham midfielder Ryan Mason was forced to retire as a result of the head injury

Ex-Hull and Tottenham midfielder Ryan Mason was forced to retire as a result of the head injury

Ex-Hull and Tottenham midfielder Ryan Mason was forced to retire as a result of the head injury

So either Moss saw it and thought no action was required – in which case he might need a year off – or they are more interested in process than justice and player safety.

Had Ayew dived, of course, the FA would be all over it. Had he worn a yellow ribbon the letter would already be in the post. 

But a cowardly, violent, high speed forearm smash to the head of a player who wasn’t even looking, doesn’t pique the interest of any individual at the FA. They’ll quote you a price for Wembley, though, these guardians of the game.

Roll up your sleeves, Xhaka, not your socks

Everything that is wrong with the most recent edition of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal was there in the actions of Granit Xhaka around Manchester United’s first goal on Sunday.

He attempted a foolish tackle, which he missed, then did not bother to recover and track Paul Pogba into the penalty area. As Pogba was scoring, Xhaka was pulling up his socks, yards off the play. This is the man wearing the captain’s armband for Arsenal at Old Trafford.

It is not the first time Xhaka has shown no appetite for the work of a central midfielder and, had Wenger remained, it would not be the last. His indulgence of a player who could not lace the boots of Arsenal’s great midfield captains — think of Patrick Vieira, for the same club, in the same stadium — is one of the reasons his teams have become so tame.

As Paul Pogba was scoring on Sunday, Granit Xhaka was pulling up his socks, yards off the play 

As Paul Pogba was scoring on Sunday, Granit Xhaka was pulling up his socks, yards off the play 

As Paul Pogba was scoring on Sunday, Granit Xhaka was pulling up his socks, yards off the play 

Compare Xhaka’s displays to those of Roberto Firmino — not the same position, but in terms of commitment — the recipient of a contract in the region of £150,000 a week from Liverpool. He has scored 27 goals this season, with 16 assists, but it is his work-rate that stands out.

Even in his first season at Liverpool, analysts were astonished by his numbers, his closing down of opponents. Even better than Luis Suarez, they said. And Suarez was as good as they had seen.

Firmino is the epitome of what the best modern football demands. Not just in terms of technique but endeavour and responsibility. Firmino’s selflessness makes his team-mates better — Xhaka lets his colleagues down.

If Wenger does not confront this, his successor surely will.

Coleman axe is short-sighted 

They were relegated on his watch but, even so, Chris Coleman does appear to have been very harshly treated by Sunderland.

He didn’t get to speak to the old owner, Ellis Short, and now new owner Stewart Donald isn’t interested in his thoughts either. Even if he is set on making his own appointment, this is strange. 

Sunderland were relegated under Chris Coleman but he appears to have been harshly treated

Sunderland were relegated under Chris Coleman but he appears to have been harshly treated

Sunderland were relegated under Chris Coleman but he appears to have been harshly treated

Surely a conversation with Coleman, picking his brains on the squad and the options going forward, would have been worthwhile – even if in his heart Donald knew they might be shaking hands on a settlement within the month.

Donald could certainly have made Coleman’s severance package part of the takeover deal – written off by Short to be returned to him if the manager stayed. Instead, Donald will install his man, who will arrive with scant knowledge of the team, its strengths and weaknesses. And where Sunderland are going, he is going to need all the help he can get.

Bernie Ecclestone announced Lewis Hamilton was past it. Hamilton then went out and won the Azerbaijan Grand Prix and again leads the drivers’ championship. 

Has Bernie ever considered it might not be the Mercedes man who’s shot his bolt?

With Forest Green now safe it means there have been 43 clubs promoted since the pyramid system was adopted between the Conference and tier four of the Football League, and not one has been relegated the next season. What a fine idea that was.

Darren Moore (pictured) has done an excellent job as West Brom's caretaker manager 

Darren Moore (pictured) has done an excellent job as West Brom's caretaker manager 

Darren Moore (pictured) has done an excellent job as West Brom’s caretaker manager 

Darren Moore has done an excellent job as West Brom’s caretaker manager. ‘He’s been around the place a long time and knows what works,’ said keeper Ben Foster. ‘He’s steeped in the West Brom tradition.’

And what tradition would that be? The Tennent Caledonian Cup winners 1977 tradition? The Watney Cup finalists 1971 tradition? It is 50 years since West Brom last won a trophy of significance — the 1968 FA Cup and they are going down because the same players Moore has available to him played like drains under Alan Pardew and Tony Pulis.

So either Moore is a genius, or the players let the club and its previous managers down badly. As tends to be the tradition with relegated sides.

 

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