Stephen Halliday: Steven Gerrard and Liverpool remain linked in long wait for title glory
Steven Gerrard will enjoy some light relief when he pulls his boots back on in the name of a good cause at Ibrox this afternoon.
But amid the bonhomie and banter of the charity kickabout between teams comprised of Rangers Legends and Liverpool Legends, Gerrard’s mind may still occasionally stray to the more serious business in which he is engaged at the top of the Scottish Premiership. As Gerrard was the first to point out after Rangers crushed Hamilton Accies 5-0 to leapfrog champions Celtic in the table last Sunday, eight games into a campaign is no time to be making any serious predictions or presumptions about the outcome of a title race.
But despite the Rangers manager’s understandable keenness to play it down in public, he must privately be sensing a massive opportunity to become a domestic league champion for the first time in his illustrious career. It is an omission from his CV which Gerrard will be reminded of as he reunites with former Liverpool team-mates such as Jerzy Dudek, Jamie Carragher, Patrik Berger and Dirk Kuyt on the pitch at Ibrox this weekend.
They all shared in various stages of the frustration Gerrard encountered in failing to win the English Premier League crown during his 17 seasons as a Liverpool player. He became an Anfield icon and was idolised by their supporters nonetheless, winning a Champions League, a Uefa Cup, two FA Cups and three League Cups. But how many of those still prized winners’ medals would he have been willing to trade for the joy of lifting the Premier League trophy just once? Liverpool were runners-up three times with Gerrard as the beating heart of their side, most notably and agonisingly in 2014 when his unfortunate slip against Chelsea proved the decisive moment in a title race his team appeared destined to win under Brendan Rodgers. As it stands, it now appears likely that this will be the season when Liverpool’s wait for a first league title since 1990 finally comes to an end. Following an imposing and relentless start to the campaign by Jurgen Klopp’s men, they have been firmly installed as odds-on favourites to overthrow Manchester City.
Klopp, of course, caused a stir recently when he publicly anointed Gerrard as his potential successor in the Liverpool hot seat. As flattered as Gerrard was, he knows he must first of all prove himself as a manager of substance at Rangers. To do so, the only currency that counts is silverware.
Gerrard is convinced that his summer recruitment has strengthened both the starting 11 and depth of his squad to a level which makes them better equipped to sustain a title challenge. A two-point lead and superior goal difference to Celtic at the top of the table going into the current international break lends credence to that view.
At the same stage last season, Gerrard’s first in management, Rangers had already lost twice and dropped ten points in the Premiership. They were five points off the top of the table and two behind eventual eight-in-a-row champions Celtic. When Rangers return to action against Hearts at Tynecastle next Sunday, they may find themselves playing catch-up again if Celtic have taken care of business at home to Ross County the previous day. It would be no surprise if the lead changes hands regularly in a season which is shaping up as a throwback to some of the suffocatingly close title races between the Old Firm rivals prior to Rangers’ financial meltdown in 2012.
Celtic remain favourites under serial title winner Neil Lennon – a champion five times as a player and now four as manager with the club. Their victory at Ibrox six weeks ago – the only points Rangers have dropped so far – indicated they still have the crucial edge when it counts.
That first title won’t come easily for Gerrard.