Steven Gerrard impressed at his first public outing at Aston Villa
The last time Aston Villa made a sustained assault on the Premier League‘s elite, they were led by a former manager of one of the Old Firm.
Martin O’Neill, who joined Villa in 2006 a year after leaving Celtic, guided Villa to consecutive sixth-place finishes in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and for a long time looked capable of establishing themselves as the best of the rest.
It will take all of Steven Gerrard‘s skill and leadership to turn Villa into the sort of side O’Neill built, but it was clear from his first press conference that he is relishing the challenge.
Steven Gerrard exuded confidence and resolve as he faced the media at Villa Park on Thursday
Liverpool legend Gerrard took over from the sacked Dean Smith as Villa manager last Thursday
Ex-Rangers manager Gerrard vowed to try to deliver champagne football to the Villa fans
Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and club tie and flanked by chief executive Christian Purslow and sporting director Johan Lange, Gerrard exuded confidence and resolve as he faced the media in the sumptuous surroundings of the Villa Park directors’ club.
He dealt impressively with the question of whether he will one day return to Liverpool as manager, saying he would be delighted were Jurgen Klopp to sign a lifetime deal at Anfield and that he would never describe Villa as a ‘stepping stone’.
With bottles of fine wine adorning the wall at his back, Gerrard vowed to try to deliver champagne football to the Villa fans although with his side 16th in the table, the action will be a little more sober at first.
‘Stats don’t lie, said Gerrard. ‘Aston Villa have exciting players in the final third and we have good creation too.
‘But the club is conceding too many goals so we need to be harder to play against and need to improve.
‘Long term, the club wants to be back on the European level. It’s not the right time to put a specific date on that. We need to start winning again.
Gerrard scored more goals against Villa than any other team in his playing career
‘We will become a possession based team but when we can transition into that, time will tell.
‘We will play differently to what’s been before. I’ll put my own stamp on things, my own identity and philosophy.
‘We have a big 48 hours ahead. In a normal world you have 5-6 weeks in pre-season. We don’t have that luxury but we can be prepared for the challenge.’
Though the level in the Premier League is far higher than the competition Gerrard has left behind, it would be ridiculous to disregard the former England captain’s achievements north of the border.
It would be ridiculous to disregard the ex-England captain’s achievements north of the border
Like Manchester United or Liverpool, Barcelona or Real Madrid, anything less than victory represents turmoil at Rangers.
Though Gerrard’s squad was far superior to every other bar Celtic, his team were expected to deliver every week – no excuses. That is some pressure, and it is to Gerrard’s credit that he handled it so impressively in his first job as a manager.
When Gerrard arrived at Ibrox in 2018, Rangers were well short of the standard set by Celtic. At that stage, it seemed unlikely that Gerrard would be able to stop Celtic winning 10 titles in a row – but stop it he did, leading Rangers to their 55th Scottish league title by going through the season undefeated.
He also turned Rangers into a European force again. They reached the last 16 of the Europa League earlier this year, negotiating fixtures against Benfica, Standard Liege and Galatasaray in the process.
Gerrard’s Rangers side went unbeaten on their way to winning the SPL last season
Villa will be a different challenge. Gerrard never suffered five defeats in a row either as a player or as manager, but he has picked up a squad in precisely that situation and faces a tough challenge to avoid defeat No 6, against Graham Potter’s talented Brighton side on Saturday.
After that, Villa travel to resurgent Crystal Palace, before fixtures against Manchester City, Leicester and – as if Gerrard needed reminding – Liverpool at Anfield on December 11.
‘The atmosphere was always fantastic here when I played,’ said Gerrard, who scored 13 times in his career against Villa.
‘I can’t change the past, the goals are there and a lot of wins are here. I apologise to Villa fans for that but now I’m on their side and now it’s my job to make them smile and be happy, it’s vital that there is unity.
‘It’s not about me proving anything on a personal level, it’s about the club.’
If Gerrard can achieve the former, however, then success will surely follow for Villa.