Exclusive: Rangers journalists weigh in on key figure in Gerrard's backroom staff who could help Aston Villa soar 🧐
No one should be selling Gerrard short as a manager but his coaching team have played an integral role in Rangers' success both domestically and abroad
Having brought the title back to the Ibrox Stadium following a 10-year hiatus, Steven Gerrard called time on his leadership of Rangers to jump at an opportunity with Aston Villa.
The former Liverpool skipper's tenure at the club could have got off to a particularly rocky start, however, had one man decided against accompanying the Englishman to the West Midlands: Michael Beale.
The ex-No.8’s assessment of his assistant coach, who has travelled with him to the Premier League, certainly indicates just how highly regarded Liverpool’s former head of academy coaching is.
“What I'll never do is try and do someone's job who is better than me at doing that job,” Gerrard spoke on The Robbie Fowler Podcast.
“For example, I'd been working on a coaching team behind the scenes when I'd been manager of Liverpool's U18s and 19s for some time. People wouldn't believe how close I'd been watching certain people to take with me when the opportunity eventually came.
“Now, I haven't had the luxury of retiring early from the game or not having been a player in terms of having that pitch time to really become a coach who's done so for 20 years, like Brendan Rodgers, [Jose] Mourinho or Michael Beale.
“It would take me 15 to 20 years to get as good as Michael Beale as an on-pitch coach, to deliver sessions on a daily basis, so I let Mick be Mick Beale because he's the expert and has the skillset.
“But, what I do is make sure I'm there for every session and make sure I'm in the middle of every session. If I feel I need to step in then I will.”
Whack Jurgen Klopp’s name in place of Gerrard’s and Mainz ahead of Liverpool’s youth teams and the quotes in question wouldn’t look entirely out of place being attributed to the incumbent Reds boss.
That’s not to suggest we’re leaning too heavily on the comparisons between the two coaches, certainly not with analysis clarifying that the former England international is very much his own man as far as coaching is concerned, despite taking partial inspiration from Klopp’s men for his tactical setup with Glasgow Rangers.
[Gerrard watches on as Liverpool’s U19s prepare for a UEFA Youth League game]
Nonetheless, the now Villa boss’ approach to management does undoubtedly mirror Klopp’s own thoughts on the importance of supporting experts - a notion that has been backed up in our own conversations with writers close to his former employers, Rangers.
The Athletic’s very own Jordan Campbell painted a picture of a compulsive winner whose vision has been well-complemented by his hand-picked assortment of backroom staff.
“I think for Gerrard it would have probably been pretty difficult to countenance going to any team without Beale but I think that’s the same for the rest of his coaching staff; I think he sees them as one team,” the Rangers writer exclusively spoke to EOTK Insider. “He was pretty forensic in identifying who he would need to complement himself when he was moving from Liverpool’s academy to Rangers’ in 2018.”
It’s a viewpoint shared by The Herald’s senior Rangers reporter, Chris Jack, who was keen to highlight just how neatly Beale has filled a gap within Gerrard’s managerial toolkit.
“One of Steven’s strengths as a manager is that he knows where his weaknesses are and he has spoken many times about the importance of the people that he surrounded himself with at Rangers,” the journalist told EOTK Insider.
“Steven was clearly the figurehead and the main presence, but Rangers wouldn’t have had the success they had last season without the work of Michael, and the other staff.
“Players that have worked under Michael speak very highly about the quality of his sessions and his delivery and he offered something that Steven couldn’t provide in that regard.”
The coaching combination is one that has clearly paid dividends thus far.
But how well are Steven Gerrard and his team likely to fare in the West Midlands - particularly following a mid-season switch (and an ill-advised one at that in the eyes of some) to the summit of English football?
Whilst on paper the duo of Beale and Gerrard appear to have their work cut out for them in the Premier League, with the Villans close to peering over the edge of the relegation abyss in 16th, a number of commentators were optimistic when discussing the Birmingham-based outfit’s latest managerial appointment.
Certainly, with a solid foundation having already been laid out by the prior head coach, Dean Smith, and an exciting squad boasting the likes of Leon Bailey, Tyrone Mings and Liverpool-linked John McGinn available, it’s an arguably stark contrast to the project Gerrard and co. initially faced at the Ibrox back in 2018.
The transformation that followed in the years Steven Gerrard and his team got to work in Scotland’s western Lowlands indeed proves that they are more than capable of supplying their own springboard for success where necessary.
However, the switch to England has been panned by some on the basis of their prior employment, with there being a failure on the part of some neutrals to hand the Scottish top-flight the respect it deserves.
“I’m probably more optimistic about how Gerrard and his team will fare than some other people,” Campbell said.
“I find some of the responses to the appointment of Gerrard pretty condescending to Scottish football.
“Maybe that’s because I’m Scottish but there’s this belief that, oh they were only coaching against x, y and z in Scotland but that also ignores 54 games in Europe where they’ve beaten Porto (they’ve taken four points off Porto), four points off Feyenoord, they’ve beaten Benfica twice and only collapsed in the last ten minutes of both games, they’ve beaten Galatasaray, the first team to go through four rounds of qualifying in the group stage, beat Braga, got to the Last 16 two years in a row.
“Does that not mean you’re a well-coached team who are capable of competing at a higher level? Because some of those teams are as good if not better than the bottom half of the English Premier League.
“So I think there’s a bit of snobbery towards achievements in Scotland and I think they’ve shown they can create a dominant team in Scotland, which is about possession and breaking teams down and playing fluid football and being creative. I think they’ve shown in Europe that they can adapt.
“Gerrard and Beale don’t just have one way of playing, they have shown that they can adapt and they will do what it takes to win.
“I think Gerrard only ever lost by two goals or more five times I think in his whole time at Rangers – Bayer Leverkusen once, Slavia Prague once, Celtic once, Aberdeen once.
“There were not a lot of times where Rangers were ever out of a game, even when they made the step up to Europe. That’s because of the consistency in the way they played and understanding the team structure and their identity of play. Rangers are a very well-coached side and I think that’ll be the same at Aston Villa.”
[Michael Beale: the contributor to or mastermind behind Rangers’ success?]
Given Beale’s clear talents within the field of coaching, the question remains as to when the prospect of picking up a set of reins for his own managerial role will look too enticing to refuse.
For now, it seems that the 41-year-old is getting more than enough personal satisfaction out of being a part of Steven Gerrard’s backroom staff.
We shouldn’t be quick to rule out the possibility of the Englishman making that professional leap down the line, however.
“Michael has made no secret of his desire to be a manager in his own right one day and he will not be short of offers when he feels the time is appropriate to make that move,” Chris Jack said. “He was always likely to follow Steven to Aston Villa, though, and I think he will be enthused by the challenge of working with Steven and the staff there.”
This followed a similar theme to Jordan Campbell’s thoughts on Michael Beale’s move to England, with the reporter highlighting the mutually beneficial nature of the relationship between Gerrard and his first-team coach: “I think he’s happy with being Gerrard’s assistant because his only first-team experience before Rangers was at São Paulo with Rogério Ceni.
“He’s only got four years’ worth of experience in the first-team, so maybe he sees Villa as the last apprenticeship.
“He can clearly coach first-team players and is comfortable in that environment and capable of doing a good job but maybe working alongside Gerrard does help you with that other side.
“There will be things that Gerrard’s picked up from Beale and things that Beale’s picked up from Gerrard in terms of man management, handling a dressing room and authority, and all those intangible things that Steven Gerrard clearly possesses with that sort of aura.
“I think Beale is happy where he is, otherwise he would have taken one of these opportunities.
“I think one day he’ll go it alone, and some thought he might take over from Gerrard at Rangers but I don’t think that was ever likely at this time but maybe in the future that might be something that happens.”
With Jurgen Klopp set to call his Liverpool career a day in 2024, provided that no further negotiations take place between the ex-Borussia Dortmund boss and the Reds hierarchy over the possibility of an extension, discussions around the future of Gerrard and his coaching staff will inevitably intertwine with those revolving around Klopp’s.
The Reds legend has certainly made it clear that he’d be more than willing to entertain a fairytale reunion with the club that he spent the vast majority of his playing career with - a point he’s previously balanced by insisting that Liverpool fans would not be particularly keen to see the back of Klopp.
But given the experience his assistant coach will be hoping to garner in the West Midlands, will the point of a further switch to a role as ginormous as the Liverpool job - not to mention the prospect of a continued partnership with Steven Gerrard - be enough to keep Beale satisfied with a supporting role?
“We’ll see how it goes at Aston Villa but if they’re successful there and the Liverpool gig does come calling one day then there’ll be a bit of a decision whether they fancy going back to Liverpool,” the Athletic journalist told EOTK Insider.
“Will he take the step there or would he go one more step to Liverpool then go?
“These are all hypothetical things but when the timing’s right for him that’s when he’ll step aside.
“Clearly he's in demand so I don’t think his stock’s going to fall anytime soon.”
Possessing such a fluid relationship on the training ground, with both men filling in for the other’s limitations, it’s difficult to see Aston Villa’s new complement of staff failing to meet the high expectations of its owners.
That’s not to say that the opportunity won’t challenge Beale and co., but there’s a sense that, collectively, Steven Gerrard and his coaching staff have all the tools available to make a success out of their move to the English top-flight.
For Liverpool fans, there will be a temptation to focus exclusively on Steven Gerrard as the sole architect behind any potential change in fortunes.
In a similar fashion to Jurgen Klopp, however, Gerrard won’t want the contributions of his backroom staff to be overlooked.
Certainly, if Aston Villa undergo a transformation of similar proportions to that which took place in Glasgow, one might imagine that it will become increasingly difficult for Beale’s name to stay hidden from the limelight, not to mention from the shortlists of clubs around the UK.
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