Gerrard’s path to Liverpool job hits bump after Villa firing

It seemed the natural and seemingly logical next step in Steven Gerrard’s managerial journey, not that he would ever express it publicly himself.

After a successful 3 ½ years in a pressure-cooker environment at Scottish giant Rangers, he would — many presumed — spend a few seasons coaching Aston Villa to build enough Premier League experience to be the fitting replacement for Jurgen Klopp at his beloved Liverpool.

There’s been a bump in the road.

Gerrard’s first senior coaching job in English soccer quickly turned sour, leading to him being fired by Villa late Thursday in a quite abrupt — even cruel — way.

A 41-word, two-sentence statement, with a pithy quote attributed to a “club spokesman,” marked the end for Gerrard just a couple of hours after Villa’s 3-0 loss at Fulham. Speaking to media during those two hours, he had vowed to fight on with Villa in 17th place.

It leaves Gerrard and his managerial reputation in a tough spot. After all, how do you judge someone who leads Rangers to its first Scottish league title in 10 years then doesn’t last a year at Villa?

Villa never established an identity or clear playing style under Gerrard so, in that sense, it’s difficult for other clubs to know what they’ll be taking on if they plunge for him in the coming months.

His status as one of the great English players of his generation, dovetailed with his coaching success at Rangers, will ensure job offers come. But can he get his managerial journey back on track quickly enough to put himself in position to be Klopp’s heir at Liverpool?

In April, Klopp extended his contract by a further two years, until 2026. So Gerrard still has time to press his case for the job at Liverpool, where he played 710 games from 1998-2015, many as captain.

Klopp said Friday he had had “a little exchange” with Gerrard but expected him to “be back, 100%.”

“Now I hope actually he takes a bit of time as well for himself,” Klopp said, “because since he finished his career, he is pretty much working all the time. So maybe use it now for himself to recharge.”

Jamie Carragher, Gerrard’s close friend and former Liverpool teammate, said Gerrard “knew the situation” he was in at Villa when they spoke a few days ago.

“I’m really not sure whether Stevie would go back in (to management) or wait 12 months,” Carragher told Sky Sports.

“It will be really interesting … whether he is the type of guy who wants to be managing for the next 20 years or if he’ll pick certain jobs that really appeal to him. That’s what he’s done in the first few jobs he’s picked.”

Wherever Gerrard ends up next, he might want to avoid the same issues he ran into at Villa.

COUTINHO GAMBLE

Gerrard’s headline signing was Philippe Coutinho, the Brazil playmaker he knew well from their time together playing for Liverpool.

For Coutinho, it was a big drop in status — his last two clubs were Barcelona and Bayern Munich (on loan), after all. For Gerrard, it was a big gamble, fitting in someone many view as a luxury player and who seemed no longer cut out for the fast-paced style of the Premier League.

Coutinho had his moments but so far has never quite fitted in at Villa. It was hard to nail down a specific position for Coutinho, too, especially with Villa having already signed in the offseason of 2021 a player with similar characteristics and playing style in Emi Buendia.

Coutinho didn’t contribute a goal or an assist this season. Ironically, for what proved Gerrard’s last game at Villa, Coutinho was dropped to the bench and never made it on as a substitute.

BORING APPROACH

By the end of his time at Villa, Gerrard had turned the team into one of the most boring to watch in the Premier League.

It wasn’t down to misfortune that Villa scored only seven goals in 11 league games this season. It was the way Gerrard set the team up, failing to make the most of the attacking players he had in Coutinho, Buendia, Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins.

He never seemed to know his best lineup, constantly changing his front three in particular.

His decision to go back to basics and concentrate on making Villa hard to beat after its slow start to the season didn’t go down well with Villa fans, who weren’t impressed even if they pulled out the odd win — like the tedious 1-0 at home to Southampton last month.

That was Villa’s only victory in its last eight games, and one of just two in the league this season — the other being an unconvincing 2-1 against Everton.

With fans singing “Steven Gerrard, get out of our club” toward the end of the Fulham game, his departure was inevitable.

INTERIM MANAGER

Villa said Friday that Gerrard was fired because he failed to achieve the club’s objective of “continuous improvement.” His backroom staff, including former Liverpool and Scotland midfielder Gary McAllister, have all left the club and first-team coach Aaron Danks will take charge of the team for the Premier League match against Brentford on Sunday.

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

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