Steven Gerrard’s Liverpool return with Aston Villa is start of audition to replace Jurgen Klopp.

Steven Gerrard’s Liverpool return with Aston Villa is start of audition to replace Jurgen Klopp.

Steven Gerrard’s post-playing career will be defined by whether or not he returns to Liverpool, regardless of what he achieves as Aston Villa manager. The theme of a returning hero is a popular one in football, and no one is greater than Gerrard when it comes to returning to the club where he spent 15 years, but there is a nostalgia trap that will always threaten to catch him out.

Gerrard returns to Anfield on Saturday for the first time since his farewell game for the club in May 2015, having already made his mark as a manager by leading Rangers to the Scottish Premiership championship last season. Many legendary players enter management with lofty expectations based on their achievements on the field, but few are able to live up to the hype; Gerrard, on the other hand, has already proven his worth as a winning coach, which is why Villa hired him last month to replace Dean Smith, who was fired.

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Many will see this weekend as a warm-up for the day Gerrard takes over the home dugout and lives out the fairy tale of being a local child who grew up to become perhaps the club’s greatest player before going on to recreate his achievements as manager. It’s happened before at Liverpool: Kenny Dalglish, Gerrard’s main contender for the title of finest player at Anfield, transitioned from player to manager and led the club to three league championships and two FA Cups in his first season in charge. Why can’t Gerrard accomplish what Dalglish did?

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Gerrard has done a better job than others in terms of preparing for a successful managerial career. He led Liverpool’s under-18 squad for 18 months while learning the ropes as part of Jurgen Klopp’s coaching setup, then went to Rangers while finishing his UEFA Pro-Licence, which is required to manage at the highest level.

And his three years at Ibrox taught him how to manage at the highest level, at a massive club that needs success, which he achieved by preventing Celtic from winning their 10th Scottish championship in a row. So Gerrard has made the move up to the Premier League with Villa after gaining a sound coaching foundation.

But what happens next might be the most important question of his life. Klopp’s contract at Liverpool expires at the conclusion of the 2023-24 season, and considering that he said in August 2020 that he would “take a year off and see whether I miss football,” the possibility of a managerial vacancy in two and a half years seems genuine. If Gerrard does well at Villa, the pressure to choose him as Klopp’s successor will become inescapable.

Mark Ogden, senior writer for ESPN FC, has all the latest news and reactions.

Few players have gone on to become managers at the club where they became superstars as players. Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane won three Champions League titles, while Barcelona’s Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola became legends. Despite winning the club’s first European Cup, Cruyff was fired at Camp Nou.

Alan Shearer and Kevin Keegan (Newcastle United), Glenn Hoddle (Tottenham Hotspur), and Frank Lampard (Chelsea) were all viewed in the same regard as Gerrard, but failed to achieve success as managers at their former clubs, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United being the most recent example.

Even Dalglish, in his second tenure as Liverpool manager, was fired when things went bad, so the emotion that may motivate the hiring has long since vanished by the time the axe had to fall.

Gerrard, on the other hand, may be an outlier. If he succeeds at Villa and emerges as the clear choice to follow Klopp, he may end up becoming Liverpool’s Zidane or Guardiola rather than Solskjaer or Shearer. One thing is certain: whether he likes it or not, rumours about him leading Liverpool will continue.

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