THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES

Gerrard On The Move?

[Imagine this next bit in a David Attenborough voice.] It is a curious ritual. A club, looking for a new manager, comes across the perfect candidate. This candidate is already attached, but no matter: they are interested. But they cannot appear too interested. They must signal, but must not too strongly; the club must be keen, but not hasty. This careful, beautiful dance, is how football is made.
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We'll take our BAFTA to go.
Obviously nothing's final yet. But we're at the stage when the people who actually are in the know, rather than just noisily #ITK, are saying things like "done deal" and "Gerrard will", "Aston Villa confident" and "Rangers resigned". Which means that if Steven Gerrard doesn't become Villa manager at some point in the next couple of days, something weird's happened somewhere.
All managerial appointments are gambles, of one kind or another. There are a handful of names in men's football that guarantee success and, surprise, they all work for the superclubs. Everybody else is rolling the dice. And Gerrard, at least from where the Warm-Up's sitting, seems one of the more sensible dice rolls going. However you choose to think about Scottish football, whatever you think the pandemic did to football, an unbeaten league title is pretty good going.
But the gambles run in both directions. Gerrard may not be happy with the transfer budget at Rangers, and may dream of bigger things in bigger leagues, but he has a squad that trusts him and buys into his coaching. He can rely on that precisely nowhere else. Villa seem one of the saner clubs in English football, but then the only reason the job's available is because they just gave club hero and dedicated Villa man Dean Smith a firm handshake and a final thank you.
As with those Roy of the Rovers piledrivers, as with all that running around in midfield, there seems a predestiny to Gerrard as manager: this is a journey that ends up at Anfield. Liverpool fans are presumably in something of a bind here: yes, that would be nice, but only if he's good enough. "Here's a club hero, you like club heroes" is a very silly way to run a football club. Graeme Souness casts a long and terrifying shadow.
And unless everybody's assumptions are wildly incorrect, Gerrard feels much the same way. Instead of hanging around Liverpool's training ground hoping to inherit the thing by sentimental default, he set out on his hero's journey to earn it. Which means that if he does well, he'll be off. Rangers hired him knowing this, and so too will Villa. According to reports.
But in many ways, that's the test. That's the nature of football's increasingly entrenched aristocracy. For every club that isn't a big club, the most reliable indicator of recruitment success — be that players or managers — is something like: does a big club want to copy our homework? All you can do, if they do, is make them pay for it. Then try to do it again.

Rangers Manager Steven Gerrard lifts the trophy during the Scottish Premiership match between Rangers and Aberdeen on May 15, 2021

Image credit: Getty Images

The road leading Gerrard back to Anfield may appear to be paved with narrative and sentiment, and, if he does well at Villa, perhaps those squishy ideas that will take him there and not Stamford Bridge or Old Trafford. But the road that has led him to Villa Park and will lead him away again, if he does well, is paved with cold hard logic and mortared with pound signs.
As a final note, if Villa do hire Gerrard then Rangers will be looking for another name. The reports aren't as firm here, of course, but one name caught the Warm-Up's eye: Frank Lampard. And we can say now that nothing has ever made more sense. Clearly the universe does have a sense of humour, and Lampard and Gerrard will both go on to have interesting and varied managerial careers ... but somehow never in the Premier League at the same time. They just can't manage together.

Arsenal March On

One managerial appointment that seems to be going almost perfectly is Jonas Eidevall's early months in charge of Arsenal. It must be tricky vibe, knowing that your new club would quite happily have kept your predecessor. On the plus side, it means the team is probably pretty good. This isn't a clean-up job.
But weighed against that, you need a good start, lest hearts and minds start to wander back to the good old days. 14 wins from 15? That'll probably do the job. Arsenal's latest victory came last night, a 5-1 thumping of Køge in the Champions League, and if the result wasn't exactly a surprise, the scoreline will have pleased Eidevall and his squad. Against Barcelona a few weeks ago, the Danes looked extremely irritating to break down.
Things are easy when Beth Mead is on your side. She doesn't score the goal below — it's a fine finish from Jordan Nobbs — but she does set it up with perhaps the most convincing stepover of all time. A stepover so good, in fact, that even she didn't see it coming: the conscious mind bamboozled utterly by the mischievous subconscious. The defenders never stood a chance.
As the nights get colder, Arsenal's season is heating up. The next month will be fascinating. November brings potentially tricky away games in the WSL, at Tottenham and Manchester United. And then December begins with a bang: first the postponed 2021 FA Cup final, against Chelsea on December 5, and then the second group game against Barcelona just four days later. Safe to say that after that lot, we'll know a little bit more about how it's all going.

IN OTHER NEWS

Put the ball down. Kick it into the top corner. Not enough free-kicks employ the Julian Dicks method, so congratulations to Alexia Putellas, who is clearly a woman of culture.

RETRO CORNER

RIP to the great Gerald Sinstadt, whose footballing broadcast career stretched from the late 60s to the 2010s. One of the first national broadcasters to call out racism from the stands, his signature gig through the 80s and 90s was the Match of the Day goals round-up. Like this one.

HAT TIP

Get into the mood for international weekend with this interesting interview with England assistant manager Steve Holland. The Athletic's Michael Walker is asking the questions, including "What's with England and penalty shoot-outs?", "What's with Antonio Conte?" and "What's with all these tall players?" (Actual questions may have been better.)
If you watch Arsenal vs Manchester United games in the Ferguson-Wenger era, when the goalkeeper has the ball, he boots it over the halfway line, there’s a fight, then a period of football after the fight — and that was with two of the best managers and coaches ever. If you look now, there’s a challenge for almost every team to get out of its own penalty area, a high-risk strategy … There will always be tactical nuances specific to the generation."

COMING UP

Let's get international! Republic of Ireland take on Portugal, who can go top of Group A with a win. The scrap for top spot in Group B continues, with Sweden and Spain both away from home, against Georgia and Greece respectively. And approximately a million other games.
It'll be me again tomorrow. You lucky so-and-sos.
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