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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Final Whistle: Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard's first steps into management

To many fans, overturning a 3–0 deficit at halftime is considered impossible, but in the 2005 Champions League final, Liverpool's own Steven Gerrard led a historic comeback against a formidable A.C. Milan side. The Reds conceded within 50 seconds of kickoff and went toe-to-toe with Italy's finest club, which featured two of the greatest midfielders of all time: Andrea Pirlo and Ricardo Kaká. On either side of them, you’d find Gennaro Gattuso, who would go on to win the World Cup with Italy the following year, and Dutch legend Clarence Seedorf. Add to that a defense anchored by Paolo Maldini, Nesta, Cafu and Jaap Stam, all flag bearers of the greatest defensive era in modern football. The script seemed set, as A.C. Milan fans roared on. But to Gerrard, a quiet 25-year-old from Whiston, Merseyside, the game was far from over.

17 years on from that historic night in Istanbul and Steven Gerrard finds himself on the touchlines again. This time, not as a Champions League-winning captain but as a manager of Premier League side Aston Villa. After closing the curtains on an illustrious career that saw both heartbreak and glory, Gerrard began his transition to management in 2016. Initially, Gerrard began coaching at Liverpool’s academy, Melwood, where he spent the early days of his own career. After six months of experience, Gerrard took charge of the U18s for the 2017–18 season. In reflection, Gerrard has talked about why he chose to start coaching at the academy level and turned down an offer from League One side MK Dons. Current Liverpool head coach Jürgen Klopp offered him some advice: forget his fame, develop his fundamentals as a coaching prospect and truly treat himself as a student of the game. Klopp, a former player, himself, stressed the importance of tactical experimentation and failure — words that guide Gerrard to this day. 

In his first season, Gerrard worked with the likes of Neco Williams and Curtis Jones, both of whom have since represented Liverpool in the Premier League. Williams has acknowledged Gerrard’s role in his development, as he went on to become one of the youngest players to represent Wales at Euro 2020. In May 2018, Gerrard joined Scottish side Rangers, his first role as a first-team manager. In his three years, Gerrard transformed Rangers into a high pressure attacking unit that was built around a disciplined defensive spine. In his last season at the club in 2021, Gerrard led Rangers to the Scottish Premiership title on the back of a clean sheet record-breaking unbeaten season that saw them score 92 goals and concede just 13. For fans, however, the victory was even sweeter as Rangers stopped fierce rivals Celtic from winning 10 championships in a row. Gerrard was now battle tested and ready for a new challenge.  

In November 2021, Gerrard was appointed as the new Aston Villa manager, as the side looked to move into the top half of the Premier League table. Within three months, Villa has climbed from 16th to 11th, and Gerrard played a key role in completing the loan signing (with an option to buy) of former teammate Phillipe Coutinho from FC Barcelona. Having rescued a point against Manchester United in an electric 2–2 draw, Coutinho seems to have rediscovered his form, building on the Premier League legacy he built at Liverpool. Formation-wise, Gerrard prefers a traditional 4–3–3, with his attacking players cutting through the channels to open space for fullback overlaps. With a young squad and a fearless style of play, the sky is the limit for Gerrard, and he’s only just getting started.