AAt the end of a week in the city where the Commonwealth Games were signed with a showstopper from a closing ceremony, Aston Villa host Everton on Saturday lunchtime in hopes of overcoming something of a false start. Steven Gerrard has had a lot to cook up since a listless display at Bournemouth paved the way for a Matchday 1 defeat and his players return to Villa Park hoping to taste victory for the first time since April. Going back to the start of the spring, Villa have won two of their last 12 games and Gerrard knows the intense gaze on him isn’t going anywhere fast.
Indeed, it only intensified after its decision to omit Tyrone Mings from its starting line-up at Vitality Stadium, freshly stripped of the Villa captaincy defender. It was a bold call that was always going to raise the number of eyeballs on Gerrard, who is by the way with the spotlight that comes with the territory. Gerrard is sure his reputation as a legendary player – he was inducted into the Premier League Hall of Fame last year – will not be tarnished no matter how he fares here in the dugout. “If I continue and achieve a lot as a manager,” Gerrard says raising his right hand to the ceiling, “or if I don’t achieve anything in the future, nothing will change in terms of stats and my performance as a player. It’s done. It’s here. It’s the same game. It’s a completely different journey. I don’t want to be judged as a player anymore.
Gerrard hasn’t given too much thought to whether his stellar playing career means he’s seen differently under scrutiny, but he’s adamant about one thing: “What I would say is I definitely think that I have that extra determination to prove to people that I can be successful from a managerial standpoint.In some people’s minds and opinions, they think you’re being given certain jobs and offers on the back of a playing career – and I think that plays a role, of course it does, your leadership skills – but I made it very clear that I wanted to start over from the beginning. Liverpool academy for 18 months to try to learn and grow, to see if I thought it was for me. I thought a lot before deciding to take a big opportunity at Rangers. I would like to think that I did my apprenticeship – was it long enough in the opinion of ge ns, I don’t know. I certainly turned down a lot of opportunities.
One of them was joining Villa in 2016 as Steve Bruce’s assistant, a role that was eventually filled by Colin Calderwood. At the time – during which he was also interviewed by Milton Keynes Dons about the vacant managerial post there – Gerrard did not feel qualified enough.
It was always going to be a long week, but Villa at least eased the sweltering heat by training earlier in the day. As for Mings, he is fit for selection after training hard on Thursday and Friday after a CT scan earlier in the week showed damage to his adductor muscles. “Tyrone has been training very well over the past few days,” said Gerrard. “I’ve had three or four different conversations with him this week, checking on his condition, making sure we’ve had the scan done and [found out] the result of the analysis.
Gerrard needs a significant improvement in his squad. Diego Carlos – who takes pre-training English lessons, arrives at Bodymoor Heath an hour before most of his team-mates – and Boubacar Kamara struggled to get their bearings on their debut, while others were at their best lukewarm on an afternoon of blue sky by the sea where they took off with two set pieces. Gerrard must decide whether to call up Douglas Luiz, Emi Buendía and Ollie Watkins, with fans demanding that Buendía replace Philippe Coutinho, who was anonymous in the defeat to Bournemouth. Perhaps the biggest call is at the heart of the defense, where Mings and Calum Chambers are options if Gerrard chooses to rearrange things.
On the touchline, he will bump into Frank Lampard, a longtime former England team-mate with whom he says he “always got on well, contrary to rumors and rivalries”. On the pitch, meanwhile, former Liverpool academic Conor Coady is set to make his debut in the Everton defence. Gerrard is also expecting batting from the traveling supporters.
“It’s incumbent on us to start the game well, especially after last week’s disappointment,” he said. “If we get this game I think the mood will be in my favour. When you go to Goodison it’s a bit different. I expect a savory welcome from the Everton supporters. It makes integral part.