While last season domestically was not the title-pushing Rangers challenge we’d all optimistically hoped for from Steven Gerrard’s first season in management, there was certainly a standout about a notable impact the new boss had made.
From 2017’s farce in Luxembourg with Pedro, Rangers not only went all the way through the qualifiers to achieve a group place in the Europa League under Stevie, but they held their heads high too and even managed a win at that level v Austria’s Rapid not to mention a credible draw in Spain.
This season it’s been even better – another incredible journey through the qualifiers, overcoming top sides like Legia on the way (who the hell even ARE ‘UFA’) and now not only holding our heads high in the group but topping it, having overcome European giants like Porto and Feyenoord.
In short – Steven Gerrard has the absolute Midas’ touch at European football and given just how impressive Rangers have been at this level since his arrival, we couldn’t even begin to guess what his Rangers side could do in this year’s competition.
Everyone underestimated this team, and now it sits at the summit of its group on joint points with Young Boys having been astonishingly unlucky to lose in Switzerland for good measure, and there’s that inescapable truth that somehow Rangers under this manager in Europe seem to be able to compete with just about anyone.
True, the Champions League is a whole other ball game, but to go from getting horsed by Process Unicorn to beating the Portos and Feyenoords of this world in the UEL is quite the turnaround – Rangers’ potential in this competition is almost unimaginable.
It reminds us very much of Paul Le Guen – he was garbage in the league, but he knew how to manage on the continent and PLG’s Rangers did very respectably in the UEFA Cup back in those days. It did far better than its league position suggested.
But Gerrard’s Rangers, joint top with Celtic in the SPL, are also doing it on the continent – arguably they’re playing even better against the big guns of European football than they are back home, and they’re doing the domestic business pretty damn well as it is.
We don’t know what the gold dust Steven Gerrard has for European competition actually is – as a player he won both the UEL and UCL, of course, so he knows what it took as a player, but a manager is a different ball game.
And somehow whatever Gerrard had in his playing days he’s sprinkling onto his new charges as a boss.
The last 32 isn’t just a pipe dream now, Rangers really should get there.