Humor me, for a moment, while I discuss something completely unrelated to football, Liverpool, or Steven Gerrard.
Instead, let me just talk a moment about the musical Newsies.
Don’t ask me or my wife about the quality of the musical Newsies. We love it. Irrationally so.
It was one of our first dates as a not-yet-a-couple. And this week, on the anniversary of us becoming “a couple,” we watched it again. The filmed version of the stage production. Not the 1992 movie with Christian Bale. Please. We have standards.
We watched it again, and we were taken back to those early days of falling in love. We remembered watching it for the first time. We remembered those feelings for each other being inexorably linked to this musical.
Is it objectively a great musical? I can’t say. Are the songs objectively great? Again, I don’t know. But I do know that I still have “Seize the Day” and “King of New York” in my head.
Regardless, no repeated viewings can take us back to that date, in a theater in Broadway, in October 2012. Nostalgia is funny like that. It’s a love for a feeling that you can’t quite recapture.
All of this is to say that there are things we love that are impossible to look at rationally or objectively. This is especially true with things that we first loved when we were younger. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug.
Steven Gerrard was the hero to a whole generation of Liverpool fans. The former captain is rightfully a legend. He was a local lad who came good. He won great things against great odds. Occasionally he was the reason why Liverpool got a trophy over the line. He was a generational player, one of the best midfielders in the world in his prime, and played every minute of his (European) career for his hometown club.
He was the one constant for Liverpool fans: a rare gem of a truly great, world-class player that stuck around through thick and thin. While the likes of Alonso, Mascherano, and Suarez came and went, Gerrard remained, often to the detriment of his own career and ambitions.
You would have to be a little dead inside if there wasn’t a small (or massive) part of you that didn’t want to see Stevie G become a successful Liverpool manager.
It’s a romantic idea: the hometown hero makes a triumphant return to his club, becoming a modern-day Paisley to Jurgen Klopp’s Shankly. Gerrard, guiding Liverpool to a title triumph, lifting the title that long eluded him and the club he loves.
It’s romantic. But unlikely. And probably ill-advised.
In the 6 years that Jurgen Klopp has been at Liverpool, he has transformed the club from one of mid-table mediocrity to one of the biggest and best clubs in the world. He awoke a sleeping giant. By the time Kloppo hangs up his whistle (and what a sad day that will be!), he’ll likely have a few more shiny honors on to his name.
Liverpool should be looking at managers who have a legitimate shout at being among the best in the world. Or alternatively, young, innovative managers who appear to be ready to become the next generation of great managers. Pep Lijnders, for example, very well could fit into that latter category. His experience directly under Jurgen Klopp would also give him a huge advantage in keeping the day-to-day business of being boss at footy going.
But this is not a column to pimp Lijnders’ credentials! Far from it. Indeed, when the day comes, Liverpool need to make sure they are hiring the right person for the right reasons. There is no room for nostalgia or sentimentality.
The next manager needs to be able to work within the structure of the club, especially when it comes to recruiting. He needs to be able to take the squad that Klopp has built and be successful with his own style and tactics. And he needs to be able to hit the ground running. Even one mediocre year, one which sees us fail to qualify for the Champions League, would be devastating under the current financial circumstances in the Premier League.
Liverpool are a big step up for anyone coming from the Scottish Premier League. And Gerrard will have his work cut out for him in order to prove himself at Aston Villa.
What does “success” even look like for Gerrard and Villa? In order to put himself in the conversation, he’d surely need to earn European qualification for Villa, if not Champions League qualification. A decent run to at least the quarterfinals in either Europa League or Champions League, one which continues to maintain a decent position in the league, is probably necessary to at least be in legitimate contention.
Are these big asks for any manager of Aston Villa? Yes. Of course. I’m not even sure Klopp could do that, considering the financial reality of the situation. The point is that he’ll need to do something above and beyond what would be considered a good job at Villa. He’ll need to do something extraordinary, because we need a manager capable of doing the same at Liverpool.
Although Klopp awoke a sleeping giant, Liverpool will still likely be the 4th or 5th wealthiest club in England when he leaves (accounting for the Newcastle takeover and the imminent investing of blood-soaked funds). This means that in order to even secure Champions League football, let alone to win things, the next manager will have to consistently be extraordinary.
He’ll have to be one of the best. And even then, there’s no guarantee of success.
In short, there are a lot of ways things can go wrong for the next manager, and very few ways they can go right. There is very little margin for error, so whoever we choose, we have to give ourselves the best chance of success.
Sometimes the desire to “go back” can be powerful, even all consuming. But in the end you’ll only ever, at best, relive some fond memories. At worst, you’ll end up disappointed that the feelings you had, and the thing that you loved, is gone forever.
Gerrard, the player, is never coming back. His strikes, passes, and the ability to boss the midfield, as unforgettable as they were, are in the past. You can relive it through YouTube, but it’ll never quite be the same as watching him live against Olympiacos, or in Istanbul, or in the FA Cup final.
That doesn’t stop me from watching old videos of Gerrard in his pomp, in the same way that we occasionally pop on the Newsies soundtrack. It’s OK to remember the past fondly, so long as we properly contextualize it and move on with our lives.
Those memories, and the strong nostalgia for those days (which, mind you, weren’t nearly as amazing as these days), won’t come back with Gerrard on the touchline. In fact, it could all go quickly wrong, and leave us with some pretty unpleasant and conflicting feelings about this Liverpool legend.
Of course, I wish Gerrard the best at Villa. If he becomes one of the best in the world, and he’s a good fit for Liverpool, of course I’d want him to manage our club. But if he’s not that? If he’s just an average, or even pretty good manager? Yeah, it’s best that we keep the past in the past.