As many new football managers begin to get to grips with the challenges facing them in their respective roles, there is high interest in two particular individuals. In their playing prime, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard were two of England’s finest; goalscoring central midfielders who performed at the very highest level – the World Cup, European Championships, the Champions League, the Premier League. Two of the finest midfielders of their generation, almost certainly.
In managerial terms however, both men are novices – and the 2018-19 season sees them making their debuts in the dugout (or technical area, if you will). Lampard was appointed manager at Derby County; Gerrard hired at Glasgow Rangers. Two big clubs, in their own right, each with their own demands and challenges. Neither man has any real track record in coaching and management to speak of – though Gerrard had a spell as Liverpool U18s manager prior to arriving at Ibrox – so these are testing assignments for the newcomers. The question is, who’s going to fare better?
Lampard made a great start to life at Derby, when his team beat Reading with a late winning goal on the opening day of the season, but in the immediate matches following that he got a taste of how difficult the Championship can be. Derby were heavily beaten, 4-1, at home by Leeds, before a 2-1 defeat at Millwall that left Lampard under no illusions regarding the size of the task ahead. A 2-0 home victory over Ipswich a few days after helped to redress the balance.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” he told the Independent. “I knew that for a fact, and it will continue not being easy, and that’ll be the fact for every manager in this league this season.”
Against Millwall, Derby were caught out by the fast start made by the hosts. Millwall were positive and strong, and went straight at Lampard’s side, who were 2-0 down and as good as beaten before they even got going. That was a lesson for Lampard and his players; a realisation that they won’t always – or often – be afforded the luxury of settling into a game at their own pace.
Like many new managers, Lampard has a honeymoon period – that stage, at the start of his time in charge, when he’s given time to settle in, to shape his squad, and get his ideas across. He’s seen as a bright, young and ambitious coach although of course, those opinions are based on judgement, not evidence. No-one actually knows what he’s like as a manager. And Derby are not a club merely content with occupying a comfortable place in the Championship league table. A mixed run of results and a midtable finish probably isn’t going to be considered good enough for the Rams, who clearly have intentions of returning to the Premier League.
They’ve fallen short in recent seasons and churned through managers – Lampard is their seventh since Steve McClaren left in May 2015. The club’s previous dealings suggest Lampard may not have a longer shelf life than a season, unless that season is a successful one. That won’t be easy – the Championship is intensely competitive and Derby, according to Betway, are among a large group of clubs tipped to finish in the top six.
At Rangers, meanwhile, Gerrard has a massive task. The Glasgow club has a clearly defined goal – to get back to the very top of the Scottish football summit, and that means toppling city rivals Celtic, who have dominated in recent years. Historically, Rangers have always gone toe-to-toe with Celtic, but were demoted to the third tier of Scottish football in 2012 and have been fighting their way back up again since. You can test your knowledge of Rangers and its history here.
The club has rebuilt and returned to the SPL in 2016. In 2016-17, Rangers finished third, 39 points behind Celtic and Aberdeen. Last season, that gap was 12 points behind Celtic and three behind Aberdeen. At the very least, Gerrard has to push his team much closer to Celtic, and push them harder for the title; leapfrogging Aberdeen and into second place is also surely required.
“I feel as though I have players that want to go out there and give everything,” he told the Sunday Herald. “But I can’t control the expectations of the supporters. Fans are fans and they’re going to get excited. They are supporting a huge football club and are used to seeing success.”
Ultimately, success for Rangers means winning the SPL. Celtic have won the last seven titles straight, so it won’t be easy. For the course of this season, a genuine title challenge from Rangers would certainly give Gerrard some credit in the bank, and if the Gers can score some silverware in one of the cup competitions, he’ll have made a great start.