When Steven Gerrard started his senior managerial career, a theoretical trajectory was already designed for him: cut your teeth in Glasgow, earn a Premier League move, and then take the golden road to Anfield glory.
But it looks unlikely that a manager who was sacked by Aston Villa when they were 17th last November – is the man to succeed Jurgen Klopp. For now at least, Gerrard looks set to fight for his managerial stripes in the Championship.
Leicester are planning to giving Gerrard a route back into management after been sacked by Aston Villa last October, while he is also believed to have discussed with Leeds.
Both clubs are at critical junctures as they seek to recover from the wounds inflicted by Premier League relegation, and the likely exodus looks particularly stark for the Foxes. Aston Villa have announced an agreement with free agent Youri Tielemans, while James Maddison and Harvey Barnes are expected to be sold.
The impending question for both clubs is whether Gerrard is the man to attract the required talent, rally the troops, and lead the renaissance.
Before he even began his tenure at Rangers, the Liverpool legend served his time in the Reds’ academy system, impressing Jurgen Klopp and leading the U18s to a third-placed berth in the U18 Premier league.
The experience of working with young players could be a key aspect of any rebuilding job he takes on, convincing the management that he can develop clubs from within and build an ethos beyond the confines of the first-team dressing room.
There’s also little question that his time at Rangers was transformational. This was a club stripped of its dignity and self-assurance before he waltzed up, but he revived the swagger and pomp that defines the very soul of the Ibrox.
In the title-winning 2020/21 league season, Rangers went unbeaten, bagged 102 points, set a British record for fewest goals conceded (13), won every home game, and prevented Celtic from winning a tenth straight Scottish Premier League.
Gerrard’s Rangers played attractive, attacking football while adjusting quickly in transition to defend solidly, and he gave them authenticity in Europe, too.
Such barnstorming success is not heralded in by fluke. The majority of managers hardly have a season in football like that, irrespective of whether they have the resources, so it means he has quality to offer.
It was because of the flair he displayed in Scotland that Aston Villa handed Gerrard a three-and-a-half year contract to replace Dean Smith in November 2021.
His first season at Villa Park was acceptable but underwhelming as he led them from 16th to 14th.
The arrival of a weathered Philippe Coutinho, initially on loan and later permanently, at least provided cosmetic credence to the notion that Gerrard could attract top talent, but the Brazilian was already past his best.
And the same question mark hovered throughout Gerrard’s entire time at Aston Villa: what’s the plan, Steven?
Dithering between formations, an over-reliance on punts into the box, and a large amount of long shots created the impression that Gerrard could not implement a successful playing philosophy.
A run of two wins and six losses in the first 11 games of the 2022-23 Premier League season was enough proof for Villa management to get him fired.
Highs and lows: Steven Gerrard’s managerial record
Win percentage: 64.8%
Trophies: 2020/21 Scottish Premiership
Win percentage: 32.5%
Their lack of style or fight in his last weeks there is perhaps most concerning. They lost 3-0 at Fulham in his terminal game and, when he was gone, they beat Brentford 4-0 three days later.
Leicester and Leeds are clubs which think of themselves in a particular way, and the memories of their halcyon days live vivid in their fans’ outlook.
If Gerrard does not inspire their boards with the belief that he can understand the club, build an identity, and connect with supporters – however intangible those concepts are in reality – then they may decide he is not the right fit.
Meanwhile, Villa’s remarkable resurgence under Unai Emery casts further doubt. Did Gerrard simply benefit from running a two-horse race in Scotland, and why was he unable to unlock the extra gears that Emery has unleashed?
You can ponder, too, whether the highly rated mind of assistant manager Michael Beale was pulling the strings at Rangers and Aston Villa before he left for QPR ahead of the 2022/23 season – right when Villans hit their fatal slump under Gerrard.
Gerrard’s fledgling career in the technical area has given enough signs of potential to warrant another job, but his stint in the Premier League is a cautionary tale.
Reputation as a player never guarantees managerial success – let Gerrard’s peers, Frank Lampard or Gary Neville, tell you that.
It remains to be seen whether Gerrard will come closer to lifting the Champions League as a manager or the Papa Johns Trophy.