Steven Gerrard will graduate with top honours this weekend as he completes his managerial apprenticeship – but the Rangers boss is already focusing on his next test.
After three years of rigorous work, Gerrard has finally proven wrong those who said he did not have the experience needed to lead a club the size of Gers after he was plucked from his rookie posting in Liverpool’s youth academy.
Now he has not only got two manager of the year awards – with the SPFL prize the latest in his collection having landed the Scottish Football Writer’s Association gong earlier this week – but he can also point to the Premiership trophy which Rangers will take ownership of following Saturday’s season-closer with Aberdeen to justify his coaching credentials.
It has been a turbulent journey for the 40-year-old but there is no time to sit and ponder on what he has achieved so far.
An even stiffer examination of his abilities in the dugout kicks off again in just 81 days as Rangers face their opening Champions League qualifier.
As a winner of the tournament back in 2005 as a player, this is the arena Gerrard feels he belongs – and the same can be said of the club he manages.
“What I achieved at Liverpool I am proud of, but it was about moving on from that period of my career as a footballer,” he said. “It was about going down a different road in terms of coaching and management.
“I had my apprenticeship at Liverpool, coaching the 18s and 19s, which really set me up and I learned a lot.
“I was around some magnificent people that prepared me for this opportunity.
“I think from the outside, not many people believed I was the right person, I understood people saying I was a rookie and inexperienced and that the job was too big, I get all that.
“But when Rangers came I mentioned the feeling, I had a vision and I saw that opportunity to try and get to this point of becoming a champion and getting Rangers back where they belong.
“Now it is about trying to add to that, trying to improve on that and that is the challenge for us all moving forward.”
Gerrard has answered all of the questions his team has faced this term on league duty. They have passed the test with flying colours and now stand just 90 minutes away from an unbeaten campaign.
But for a brief moment in February last year, it seemed his first job was destined for failure as a Scottish Cup defeat to Hearts left him staring at a second barren season.
He needed time for some “serious thinking” but, to the relief of the Gers support, he decided to stay the course.
“It was a low moment for sure,” he said. “The Hearts game was certainly a low moment from a personal point of view and also for the team.”
But the Covid-19 crisis and lockdown gave Gerrard time to re-energise and reflect and his team have been imperious ever since.
“We’ve almost had the perfect league campaign, there’s no getting away from it,” he said. “To become champions in such a pressured year was a fantastic effort from the boys.
“We’re really excited for tomorrow. I’m excited for the players, I’m excited for the supporters, more than myself.
“But it is a really satisfying place to be in as a manager, knowing that what the players have delivered so far this season.
“There is one more game to go and I’d like us to finish really strong and basically put a season’s worth into tomorrow and hopefully we can break that 100 points and remain unbeaten.
“The players are family men, a lot of them, so they understand what the fans have gone through to support the team from afar and the players want to share tomorrow even though they can’t be in the stadium with the supporters. They want to raise that cup for them because they are the most important people here.”