Steven Gerrard has rejected any suggestion that he views the Aston Villa job as a stepping stone to the manager’s role at Liverpool, saying he would be happy to see Jürgen Klopp stay in his position for life.
Speaking in his first press conference since leaving Rangers to replace Dean Smith at Villa Park last week, Gerrard made a point of requesting that his new employers should be the focus of conversation. But it was inevitable the subject of Liverpool, a club he previously admitted it would be a “dream” to manage having spent almost three decades there as a player and academy coach, would arise and he sought to distance himself from any idea that his long-term ambitions lie at Anfield.
“Very unfair,” he said of the perception that he sees Villa as a stop on the road. “You’ll never hear me say it’s a stepping stone. I’m really honoured and proud to be in this position, I’m all in and I’ll give this job everything it needs to be a success. I’ll be 100% committed.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong in football with having dreams and aspirations. But Liverpool have a world-class coach that they’re very happy with and if he was to sign a lifetime deal I would be very happy for them and him.”
Gerrard will face Liverpool and Klopp in his fifth match in charge at Villa, who travel to Anfield three weeks on Saturday. He explained the pair live near one another, bumping into each other regularly; their reunion has been keenly anticipated to the extent that he has committed its date to memory.
“He’s a great man and a great coach,” he said. “I think Liverpool are very lucky to have him at the helm and I’m a Liverpool fan so long may that continue. He sent me a message and said he’s looking forward to a big hug on the side on 11 December so it’s something for me to look forward to.”
Brighton’s visit on Saturday will be Gerrard’s first test and he said Villa, 16th after five straight defeats, would bear his imprint from the word go. “We are going to play slightly different to what’s been before,” he said. “I want to put my own stamp on things, my own identity and our philosophy. That will take time so you will see some changes in how we go about that at the weekend. It’s a new start, a fresh start. I have told the players to impress me the best way they can on and off the pitch.”
Villa finished 11th last season and turned heads with a high-octane attacking style that had begun to fade towards the end of Smith’s reign. Gerrard promised an urgent, entertaining approach but admitted the priority was to steer his charges well clear of any relegation threat.
“When the time is right you will see an energetic, exciting Villa team,” he said. “I am very confident of that. That is what I promised to the board, that is what I will promise to the fans.
“We have to realise where we are at the moment. We are on the back of losing five games, we are where we are in the table. This is not going to be about changing things overnight – we cannot change things that quickly unfortunately – but once we have had enough training time, and once the players get used to what is expected, I am very confident we can improve that team.”
Recent weeks have reinforced that the Premier League as a graveyard for managers who oversee stagnation or worse but Gerrard maintained that he was unfazed by the task of clawing Villa into European contention.
“The bigger the size of the challenge, the more excited you should be,” he said. “I was really happy when I walked into the training ground and saw ‘fearless’ up as one of the values of the club. I think, to get to your end goals, it is a major trait we need to have.”
The Villa CEO, Christian Purslow, explained Gerrard had stood out in an interview process that saw 20 initial candidates whittled down.
“The preparation, the calibre of his first interview was outstanding,” he said. “We were blown away with the level of preparation, the thoughtfulness, the clarity around a pretty detailed blueprint Johan [Lange, the Villa sporting director] had given Steven to be ready to talk about. It was an outstanding interview and left us in no doubt that we were on with the right man.”