Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard was sacked at Aston Villa in October 2022. His next coaching position should be carefully considered.
For Steven Gerrard, a perfect world was less than 15 minutes away a year ago. Now he faces a difficult decision.
A year ago, on the last day of the Premier League season, his Aston Villa led 2-0 against Manchester City and was on the verge of helping Liverpool to the PL title.
It was almost too good to be true. The Liverpool legend could now help his Reds to triumph as a coach that he never had as a player. At the time, he seemed the logical successor to Jürgen Klopp.
But while the headings were already being prescribed, Villa broke apart and suddenly conceded three goals in five minutes. After the 3-2 defeat, they had to watch with their own eyes as City soared to the Premier League title again.
You could say that nothing has been the same since then. Not for Liverpool, whose plight was made worse by defeat in the 2022 Champions League final the following weekend.
And certainly not for Gerrard, whose tenure at Villa ended five months after the City game. Now he wonders when and from whom he will get another opportunity to prove himself as a coach – and to show that he has what it takes to become Klopp’s successor at Liverpool one day.
Steven Gerrard: An unexpected twist
Gerrard was in the UK broadcaster’s television studio this week bt sports for the semifinals of the Champions League between Manchester City and Real Madrid. He enjoys his work and is a passionate, articulate and empathetic professional. But he would prefer to be back on the training ground, back in the coach’s office.
“I have the bug,” he said in an interview with old Manchester United foe Gary Neville last year. That hasn’t changed despite his experience at Villa, where he stayed just 11 months and won just 13 games.
Up until then, Gerrard’s coaching career had been fairly smooth. He learned from Liverpool’s Under-18s and brought Curtis Jones and Neco Williams to the pros.
Then he went to Glasgow Rangers in Scotland – and celebrated great success. In 2021 he won his first championship in ten years without losing a game.
His decision to leave Ibrox for Villa a few weeks into the following season has not been taken lightly. That inevitably earned him criticism from Rangers fans.
Steven Gerrard: Promising at Aston Villa
Gerrard’s reasons for taking the job at Villa were obvious. Even though the club was struggling at the time, the club’s size, history and potential were still clear to see. The lure of coaching in the Premier League was just too great for a young manager to ignore.
At Villa he had managing director Christian Purslow whom he knew from Liverpool. On the transfer market he had a decent budget and a good mix of young and experienced players.
The beginnings were still good: With his coaching team brought from Glasgow, he won three of the first four games. His first three defeats came against top sides Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool – so far, so acceptable.
When playing against his old love Liverpool, his tactics also impressed Jürgen Klopp.
Gerrard had immediately made Villa more stable at the back and difficult to beat. The team was well adjusted, aggressive and strong and gave Liverpool one of the toughest games of the season.
It was an upward trend for Villa from there – when they beat Leeds 3-0 in March last 2022, they were ninth in the table and had a chance to attack international places. Everything looked rosy.
Steven Gerrard: The Twilight
However, this hope was not to be confirmed any further. Because after only two wins from the last eleven games of the season, Villa was stranded in 14th place. They also started the following season badly: On the first weekend they had to admit defeat to promoted Bournemouth 2-0 and only won one of the first six league games.
Villa were rarely bad, and managed to eke Manchester City to a draw at Vila Park, but lacked penetrating power in attack.
Gerrard’s exit came after a 3-0 defeat at Fulham that saw Douglas Luiz sent off and Gerrard was whistled at by his own supporters after opting to replace striker Danny Ings with midfielder Leander Dendoncker. Villa was at that point in 17th place in the table.
“It’s unfortunate that it didn’t work out in the end,” he said. “But thank you for the way you welcomed me to your club and continued to push the team forward through difficult times. Aston Villa are a club with a special history and I was dying to build on those memorable successes but unfortunately it has not work.”
Bad decisions, no luck and Coutinho
With hindsight, it’s easy to say what went wrong with Villa for Gerrard. He may later regret his public criticism of Tyrone Mings, from whom he ousted the club’s captaincy last summer. Meanwhile, he failed to give Danny Ings, Ollie Watkins, Philippe Coutinho, Leon Bailey, Jacob Ramsey and Emi Buendia the right tips to help them score.
But he was also very unlucky. Diego Carlos (taken from Sevilla for €32m) was out after just two games with a torn Achilles tendon and could have been a wonderful replacement for Mings. In the end, Gerrard was also not available for the French Boubacar Kamara (free transfer from Olympique Marseille) and Lucas Digne.
Gerrard paid dearly for not being able to elicit consistent performances from Coutinho. The signing of the Brazilian, who was first loaned from Barcelona and then signed permanently, was seen as a major coup for Villa at the time.
Aston Villa: The Unai Emery Effect
It should be noted that Gerrard’s departure in the Villa dressing room was hardly met with glee. He was popular with the players – apart from Mings perhaps – and his coaching staff in the dressing room were also popular and respected.
Many have claimed the departure of Michael Beale, who joined QPR last summer and is now Rangers manager, was a key factor in Gerrard’s sacking.
But the successes under his successor Unai Emery speak for themselves. The Spaniard led the team from Birmingham in eighth place and has the chance to qualify for Europe at the end of the season.
He’s already had more wins than Gerrard, in 15 fewer games. And with practically the same squad. He took Watkins, Mings, Buendia, Ramsey and McGinn to a new level and sparked a euphoria in Villa Park.
That’s not surprising. After all, the Spaniard is a highly experienced coach, a serial winner at Sevilla and a Champions League semi-finalist with Villarreal last season. He was also previously at Arsenal and PSG. His side may not be able to repeat the form of the past few weeks but the work Emery has done so far in the Midlands is nothing short of strong.
What now for Steven Gerrard?
So the big question for Gerrard is: what’s next? It will soon be seven months since his sacking at Villa and in that time no fewer than eight Premier League clubs have changed managers, some more than once.
Of those eight clubs, only Leeds are said to have considered Gerrard as a potential candidate – although in fairness one should not have expected that from Everton or Chelsea – and of course that raises question marks. Winning in Scotland is good, but losing in the Premier League is worse. Gerrard has been primarily linked with the Belgium and Poland national teams, as well as Turkish club Trabzonspor since October. Perhaps it’s wise that he didn’t take up any of those offers.
Normally, Villa will not be Gerrard’s last chance in the Premier League. This is illustrated by the case of his former colleague in the national team, Frank Lampard. Maybe he could also replace one of the old horses like Roy Hodgson, Sam Allardyce or Dean Smith.
He deserves another chance because he’s shown that he can organize a team defensively, that he can recruit players – and that given time, he can build a dangerous, possession-oriented team. His ability to switch between different playing styles at Rangers, attacking in the league and organizing and counter-attacking in Europe was very impressive.
He will have learned a lot from the bad times. He knows he didn’t do everything right at Villa, either on or off the pitch. The Englishman now knows what it feels like to become a victim of football’s relentless shortness of breath.
It remains to be seen whether he will ultimately get his dream job. In Liverpool he has long been traded as a natural successor to Klopp. Not least from Klopp himself, but he’ll have to do everything right at his next job if he wants that offer on the table one day.