So the maiden season of Steven Gerrard’s managerial career is officially over and he begins preparations for the second one in earnest.
A four-year deal was originally signed to secure Gerrard for a pretty significant spell, with many arguing that it was a risky appointment – many pleaded for patience over his chances of success, but if one argument stood out from the majority of fans both for or against, it was the notion of giving him a ‘free pass’ over his first season and not judging till next.
Of course, this ‘free pass’ is a bit rhetorical – such a thing doesn’t really exist at Ibrox nor really should it. We’re a colossal football institution, a piece of the fabric of life here in Scotland and letting someone ‘learn on the ropes’ without being truly accountable isn’t truly the way it works.
Many did judge Gerrard for that season, and they had every right to. It wasn’t a failure, nor was it a success – it appeared mostly a missed opportunity with some notable highs but some significant errors too.
But, and here is the nub – next season is the one that seems to have been widely agreed as Gerrard’s true Judgement Day. While the manager made progress with this club this season (two wins over Celtic, a second place finish with the gap being reduced to 9 points and an amazing European run are substantial improvement) compared with recent ones, nevertheless a serious push at challenging Celtic only briefly flirted with existence following that table-topping win over then-leaders Hearts.
The win over Celtic in December flattered to deceive more than anything, and the subsequent results killed any sustained challenge.
But we can be willing to give him this – next season, the one where Celtic want to secure 9IAR (tainted though it may be) is the one where Steven Gerrard quite simply has to mount a real threat to Parkhead hopes of doing so.
8IAR is already far from ideal, but 9IAR is one away from the record-breaking 10. And while stopping Celtic next season isn’t critical, it’s not far off. And Gerrard is now under real pressure to make it happen.
He learned a lot this season, a lot about himself, and even though we’ve been critical of some of his decisions, we have mostly admired his media performances. He’s spoken far better than most of his recent predecessors.
But talk is cheap and while winning the league next season isn’t as critical as the following season, it’s very, very important.
Steven Gerrard’s Rangers are under their first true pressure to deliver an SPL title. We go into next season trying to stop 9IAR, rather than the concessions that we don’t have enough cash or enough good players. The summer’s work must be sufficient that winning the league becomes a realistic goal rather than a fantasy.
Because fail to do so, and the following season is last chance saloon to stop unwanted history being made in Scottish football – and that is a big, big ask if there’s been two failures already under this manager.
Next season is a biggie. And we need our club to deliver on it.