McAuley: Gerrard’s innate ambition will drive Rangers towards glory

Hugh McAuley first saw a glint of determination in Steven Gerrard’s eye when he was only eight years old – and he feels the Rangers manager is just as ambitious three decades later.

McAuley, now 66, was a key figure in Gerrard’s rise to the top after spotting his potential while working at Liverpool’s centre of excellence.

Together with Anfield academy chief Steve Highway, he helped shape the skinny youngster into a man who would eventually captain both club and country while becoming one of the best midfielders the English game has ever produced.

Gerrard’s playing career is now finished but it is no surprise to McAuley that the 38-year-old has taken the plunge into the deep end of coaching by opting to make Ibrox the first stop of his managerial career.

The task of re-establishing the Light Blues as a competitive force both in Scotland and abroad may be bigger than anything the Champions League winner has faced before.

But McAuley is convinced the burning desire that made his former pupil such a force on the pitch will ensure he succeeds in the dugout.

The former Plymouth and Charlton winger told Press Association Sport: “I’ve known Steven since he was eight years of age. As soon as I saw him play for the first time at that age you could see that winning mentality shine through.

“There was a competitive outlook every time he played, every time he trained. That is Steven Gerrard’s nature and his character.

“Those assets made him the player he was and all those experiences playing in fantastic teams, working under some great managers and playing against some of the best players in the world have been taken on board.

“He’s made a fantastic start at Rangers and he’s starting to put into place now all his ideas and things he has learned down the years into what he wants from a football club.

“I think he’s made an excellent start at Rangers, I really do.

“He’s passionate about his football, he’s got a fantastic winning mentality and in the Rangers games I’ve seen so far this year, that has certainly shone through.

“The thing about Steven is that he will never be satisfied. He’s always looking for progress. He always wanted to get more out of himself as a player and he will be just like that with his team now that he is a manager.

“That comes back to the environment he was brought up in and how he is as a person.”

However, Gerrard looks destined to finish his first campaign in Glasgow empty-handed.

He will take his side to Celtic for Sunday’s Old Firm clash trailing Neil Lennon’s team by 10 points, while their bid for both domestic cups was ended by defeats to Aberdeen.

But McAuley, who still keeps in touch with the Rangers boss by text after most games, has been impressed by the achievements his star protege has racked up in his rookie campaign, including leading Rangers back to the Europa League group stages and masterminding December’s derby win over the Hoops.

And while this season may not end with the trophy Gerrard craves, he is confident the former Liverpool man has succeeded in laying the foundations at Ibrox that should provide a platform for future success.

“Patience is the word,” he said. “Steven is putting everything in place for Rangers to do well.

“He wants to win silverware because that’s the way he is. Even if it’s a game of five-a-side, he wants to win and his attitude will be the same now that he’s focused on coaching and management.

“His first year has gone fantastically well in terms of setting the club up to move on. The brand of football he’s got them playing is first class.

“He will already have a plan set for for the club for the next 18 months, that’s for sure.

“The playing staff are getting stronger. He’s brought in some excellent players on loan. I know Ryan Kent well and he’s done fantastically too.

“Steven is setting his stall out in this initial year so that hopefully Rangers can move on step by step. He’s put the building blocks in place for the future.

“Steven can see things are moving forward at the moment. He will want more and more as he gets towards the end of the season and next season he’ll want more again.

“That’s the human being we’re talking about. Steven will never be satisfied until he can make the club as good as it possibly can be.”