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Aston Villa’s appointment of Steven Gerrard was a gamble but they have to hold their nerve



What is the difference? Both have the same number of points this season, and over the course of their short spells in charge even Lampard will admit his side is still a long way from where he wants them to be.

But while Evertonians were relieved Lampard was appointed ahead of Vitor Pereira – and understood the difficulties he faced reconstructing the team – from day one there has always been a sense that there was a solid foundation upon which to build at Villa.

Smith finished 11th in 2020-21, and for a long stretch of that season European qualification looked possible. There was no clamour for him to be sacked from the hardcore Villa fans who saw Smith as one of their own. It felt like the club wanted a change more than their supporters.

Villa lost stardust on the pitch when Jack Grealish joined Manchester City. With Gerrard, they have it on the touchline. With respect to Smith, Gerrard’s appointment elevated Villa’s profile to a global stage.

While Lampard has had an opportunity to manage Chelsea so is not viewed with suspicion by Evertonians as mapping out stages of his career, Gerrard has been fighting the perception that Villa is a stepping stone towards the ultimate goal of becoming Liverpool manager.

Gerrard’s commitment to Villa cannot be doubted

That is unfair. Wherever he goes, he cannot erase memories of his career or his feelings towards the club with which he will be most synonymous. But anyone doubting his commitment to whatever task he is given seriously underestimates him.

What Gerrard is going through now is one of the reasons many top players are put off management. Yes, the rewards are exceptionally good but your reputation is always on the line, your qualities constantly analysed and re-analysed to the point where the characteristics once referenced to praise you become ammunition for critics.

Take the example of Gerrard signing Philippe Coutinho. When the Brazilian joined Villa on loan it was presented as the kind of coup only a manager with Gerrard’s kudos could have inspired.

Now, because Coutinho has not delivered beyond his initial, encouraging promise, his signing is seen negatively, and one which had Gerrard’s fingerprints over it, especially as he is being picked ahead of Emi Buendía. What looked at the time to be a no-brainer deal will be remembered as a waste of the club’s resources unless Coutinho starts producing. It is too soon to completely dismiss that signing as a mistake, but he certainly needs to start justifying his salary.

However, the other major issue of the summer – stripping Tyrone Mings of the captaincy – became much bigger than it needed to be.

How much patience is there at Villa Park?

I suspect Gerrard picked up a valuable lesson in the fall-out to the Mings situation: do not create unnecessary headlines out of the factors you can control because there are enough of them to deal with from those you cannot.

When Gerrard had a fully fit squad and Mings was not in the starting XI, John McGinn would have been captain anyway. There would have been less fuss if he decided to let McGinn retain the armband if and when Mings played his way back into the line-up. Now, on the back of a poor start to the season, the handling of it has become one of the sticks with which to beat the manager.

The question is, how much patience is there at Villa Park? Purslow put his reputation on the line in securing Gerrard and the manager will start feeling the heat when it starts coming from the hierarchy as much as the stands.

Whatever happens, Gerrard will be a better, more knowledgeable and streetwise coach on the day he leaves Villa than he was on the day he joined. That is the enduring irony of modern management. The greatest, elite coaches say they learned more from their failures than successes.

For his sake, Gerrard needs a shift in momentum to ensure it is Villa – not his next club – reaping the rewards of what he is learning during his current difficulties.



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