Analysis

It’s Rangers vs Celtic in this season’s first cup final – would victory for Steven Gerrard prove his managerial worth?

Steven Gerrard

​Gerrard’s Rangers are just two points off their rivals in top spot, but a trophy would be a better measure of the ground they’ve made up

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The trophy room at Ibrox is quite the sight. There isn’t just one cabinet filled with silverware, but four. The walls are adorned with shields, plates and other trinkets while pendants from countless historic games hang from the ceiling. It’s one of the first places new Rangers managers are taken, a backdrop for the traditional unveiling photoshoot. From the moment Steven Gerrard walked through the door he surely gained an understanding of the expectations heaped on his shoulders.

Rangers, the self-proclaimed most successful club in the world, define themselves as winners. They hadn’t done much of that prior to Gerrard’s arrival in the summer of two summers, though. In fact, Rangers had become a shadow of their former selves. Celtic were the dominant force north of the border and their closest rivals could do nothing about it.

Nearly a season-and-a-half later and Rangers might well be in a position to do something about it. Their improvement under Gerrard has been significant, with the Ibrox side just two points off the top of the Scottish Premiership and on the brink of qualification for the last 32 of the Europa League after big results home and away against Feyenoord and Porto.

This weekend could see Gerrard and Rangers confirm their improvement in tangible form, with Sunday’s Betfred Cup final pitting the Govan side against Celtic for the first piece of silverware of the Scottish season. No matter the outcome, there will be a symbolism to what unfolds at Hampden Park.

In the face of a fresh challenge, Celtic will want to reaffirm their status at the top of the Scottish game while the sight of Rangers lifting a trophy, ending their rivals’ clean sweep of nine successive domestic honours, would provide a powerful image. It would represent a shifting in the dynamic between the two Glasgow clubs, perhaps giving Rangers the push to go all the way in the title race as well.

One wonders if Liverpool will watch Sunday’s match. Gerrard has long been tipped as a future boss of the Anfield club and with Jurgen Klopp already reported to be plotting his next career move, so far refusing to extend his contract beyond the end of the 2021/22 season, it wouldn’t be surprising if their former captain’s managerial progress in Scotland is being tracked.

Gerrard has already done a lot to validate his hypothetical candidacy for the Liverpool job whenever it comes up again in the future. At Rangers, there is an inherent pressure to win every single game. Gerrard has so far coped admirably, surviving in the toxic media environment that has chewed up and spat out many more experienced managers than him.

Just as was the case when he was a player, European football has also brought the best out of the 39-year-old. Indeed, Rangers have been a real force in the Europa League this season and could even make a run into the latter rounds of the competition such has been the standard of their performances. In 27 European games since taking charge at Ibrox, Gerrard has lost just three. 

Last season, Rangers were frequently fragile in the big moment in the big games. It held back their development, with the Ibrox outfit falling away badly in the second half of the campaign. Despite the collapse from 2-0 up to draw 2-2 against Aberdeen on Wednesday night, there is now a mental strength to Gerrard’s group. As ever, though, trophies carry symbolic importance beyond their tangible worth and victory on Sunday would ratify what Gerrard is doing at Rangers.

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