Stuart Watson’s Monday Verdict: Gerrard isn’t Keane – but do we need another circus in Town?
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Liverpool and England legend Steven Gerrard is the latest name to be linked to the Ipswich Town job.
We’ve been here before of course with a certain Roy Keane and it all ended in tears. Could this be different? Can great players be great managers? Is it a calculated risk worth taking? Find out soon in the latest instalment of the Portman Road soap opera. At least there’s some excitement and hope building again in these parts.
The Sun claims Gerrard – captain fantastic for club and country for more than a decade – has been sounded out through third parties. That stacks up. It’s understood the Blues have been subtly sounding out dozens of potential candidates in that way for some time now and that Evans is remaining completely open-minded as to what direction to go down next.
It’s very much a long list at present and no route can be discounted. In/out of work, household names, up-and-coming, Championship experience... the net is being cast far and wide.
Due diligence and deep research is being undertaken. The 16th manager in the club’s 82-year professional history will not be appointed on a whim. This is a huge decision and Evans is acutely aware of that.
Caretaker boss Bryan Klug, whose side lost 2-1 at Nottingham Forest in dramatic fashion on Saturday, has said: “Hopefully we can all help him (Evans) to get the management team that is the right fit for the club.”
Managing director Ian Milne says the search is ‘well underway’ and that Evans will take advice from his ‘professional football friends’. One of Evans’ closest confidants is understood to be Roy Hodgson – a man Gerrard played under for both club and country.
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Gerrard is one of the new breed of potential managers emerging from the mega money Premier League era. He’s been coaching at Liverpool since the start of 2017 and has managed their Under-18s this season.
The likes of him, Frank Lampard and Gary Neville could retire comfortably and enjoy a bit of punditry, but it’s clear that the same incredible hunger, drive and dedication which took them to the very top as players still burns brightly.
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Picking the right jobs to launch their managerial careers will be crucial. Neville has found that to his cost already with Valencia.
They will need the time, space and patience of owner and fans alike to make mistakes and learn along the way. There aren’t many clubs around that tick those boxes. Ipswich do though. All anyone really wants in Suffolk is for an exciting project to get behind following two years of stagnation.
Let’s go back to those earlier questions. Can great players make great managers? There’s more evidence to say no than yes. With Keane there was a sense that he struggled to work with players that could not do what he and his peers used to be able to do on the field. It was all stick and no carrot with him in a regime of fear.
Gerrard seems different. He seems more considered judging by his impressive punditry. There’s light and shade. He seems ready to park his playing achievements to one side, hit the reset button almost and start all over again to truly earn his stripes as a young manager.
He preaches what he practised when telling young players about the value of obsession, sacrifice, desire and commitment. He’s spoken of hard work – ‘fighting, tackling, going where it hurts, letting your lungs burn and really digging deep’ – being just as important as talent. That doesn’t sound like someone who would underestimate the qualities required for relentless second-tier action.
To be clear, no-one is seriously suggesting the McCarthy blueprint should be ripped up entirely. There just needs to be some subtle rewiring. It’s been too heavy on the cautiousness and pragmatism. The fear of losing has always outweighed the pursuit of victory. A positive figurehead, both in playing style and persona, is required.
Gerrard’s reputation as a man who single-handedly dragged teams to success through sheer will-power would earn the instant respect of the dressing room whereas other younger bosses from the lower leagues may be viewed, sub-consciously at least, with initial suspicion.
He would have superb contacts in the game and could attract some top young loanees. Do we really want a load of borrowed Premier League talent though?
You assume his football philosophy would match the brave, bold, all-action approach he took to playing the game. It would certainly capture the imagination and shake supporters out of their current state of apathy.
And yet his very presence would draw the national media spotlight on Suffolk once more. Do the Blues need that circus in town again? Or is a quieter revolution required at this crucial juncture?
These are the big questions facing Mr Evans right now. So while we all scratch the surface when discussing the pros and cons of potential candidates, his investigations must drill a lot deeper.
And when it does eventually come to interview time, it’s also important that Evans sees candidates have done their research on Ipswich Town too. They must have a deep understanding of the bigger picture of where this club is at.
Let’s all hope Town can find a match made in heaven.