Double or nothing - The Aston Villa conundrum that could derail Steven Gerrard's Liverpool dream
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At this point, Steven Gerrard is fast becoming the managerial equivalent of Polyfilla. Every time a hole opens up in a Premier League dugout, he seems to be everybody’s first choice to patch it up.
Managing in the top flight has always been a thankless task, akin to that one game on Takeshi’s Castle where contestants have to shimmy across a rickety rope bridge on all fours while a man dressed as a sumo wrestler fires volleyballs at them out of cannon. When it comes to getting knocked off, it’s a matter of when, not if.
But even by their own merciless standards, the fat cats of the Premier League’s boardroom glitterati have been particularly zealous with their axe-swinging of late.
Vacancies have recently opened up at Newcastle United, Tottenham, Norwich City, and now Aston Villa – and Gerrard has been linked with just about every single one.
But while the others have proven to fleeting fancies – tiny clumps of lint tossed about harem scarem in the gossip column spin cycle – the murmurs surrounding Villa’s interest in the Rangers boss are refusing to die down.
Depending on which tabloid oracles you listen to, the 41-year-old may even be leading the race to replace the widely-adored Dean Smith at Villa Park, but whether he should take the proffered gig is a matter of some debate.
It doesn’t take a clairvoyant to see that Gerrard is the likely heir apparent to Jurgen Klopp’s throne at Anfield, the darling son biding his time before riding back onto Merseyside astride a golden liver bird, showered in red confetti and yearning montages of Istanbul.
The thing is though, management is a fickle venture, and all it can take is one catastrophic misstep to sour perceptions and derail lofty ambitions. Factor in the demands of a job as illustrious as the one waiting for him at Liverpool, and the last thing Gerrard can afford is any kind of significant blot on his copybook.
Make no mistake, this Villa job is no cakewalk either. It’s worth emphasising that the latter days of Smith’s tenure were hamstrung by injuries and key absences, but there’s no getting away from the fact that they look considerably less potent for having cashed in on Jack Grealish over the summer. Right now, they are much closer to the bear pit of relegation than they are to the sparkling promise of European football.
By contrast, Gerrard is on to a good thing at Ibrox. A title-winner last season, a title favourite this term, in just a handful of campaigns he has loosened Celtic’s dynastic stranglehold over the Scottish game and started to lay the foundations for one of his own. He is revered in Glasgow, an adopted conqueror whose battling ethos and blunt desire to win was tailor made for the cut and thrust of the Old Firm.
Ultimately though, will that be enough?
Detractors, cynics, and pragmatists alike will tell you that the Scottish Premiership is a pale, withered imitation of its English counterpart these days, and while the passion and commitment is certainly comparable, the quality simply isn’t.
From day one, many have suggested that Gerrard is using the Gers as a stepping stone to assuming his rightful place with his beloved Liverpool, but what if it’s not the only step he has to take?
If he were to go to Villa and prove himself, that would be that. His credentials would be unquestionable, his CV watertight. If, however, he were to go straight from Ibrox to Anfield, the cries of nepotism – albeit from outside voices – would be incessant.
And that’s what this boils down to. Does Gerrard play it safe, scoop up another title or two in Scotland, and hope his legacy is enough to carry him to his dream job? Or does he twist, take on a potentially dicey role in a notoriously punishing league, and prove that he’s more than just a big name flat track bully?
It’s risk vs reward, double or nothing, but if there’s one thing that is absolutely certain, it’s that Steven Gerrard has never, ever shied away from a challenge.