There is a popular expression currently in use to galvanise Rangers fans around Steven Gerrard’s budding revolution at Ibrox: “Let’s go.”
Its simplicity is matched only by its sheer popularity.
The club have adorned just about every piece of promotional content with the two words and on social media, you’ll struggle to find tweets from fans of the Glasgow club without each being concluded with #letsgo.
It’s all harmless fun. And for a fanbase that had to endure a rather tremulous season under Pedro Caixinha and then caretaker coach Graeme Murty, it proves just about anything would be a welcome respite from the status quo.
However, those two words do give away a lot more about the Rangers fan base than was perhaps first implied.
Indeed, underneath the flag waving, song chanting, warm welcome that Gerrard received upon his unveiling at the famous Glasgow ground is a fanbase simply desperate to get back to winning ways in Scottish football.
And while “Let’s go” may sound exceptionally positive and encouraging right now it may take on a more authoritative or somewhat demanding tone the closer Gerrard and his team get to their first test of the season against Shkupi in the first round of qualifying for the Europa League.
Gerrard needs European success
If there’s any doubt over Gerrard’s need to hit the ground running in European qualifiers long before a league ball has been kicked, we need only look back upon the new manager’s predecessor and how his tenure was marred by an early departure from continental football.
Pedro Caixinha, an exuberant and optimistic man, watched his new side skim past Luxembourg’s Niederkorn in the first leg of his very first competitive game in charge, only for Rangers to lose the second tie 2-0.
Before the Portuguese coach could prove his worth, he was photographed and filmed trying to reason with angry travelling fans about getting knocked out of Europe in early August, while standing in a bush. From then, it proved impossible for the new coach to convince fans or critics of the club that he was the man to lead them forward.
The new manager – and hopefully the club’s press team – will be eager to avoid such a scenario again, safe in the knowledge that despite Gerrard’s far greater appeal and reputation, the newly-crowned coach would still face an almighty, uphill task if he were to fail in bringing Europa League football – i.e the group stages – back to Ibrox.
Not only would failing to qualify for the group stages apply its own, unique black mark to Gerrard’s record as a young coach, but it would also pile on more pressure to Rangers’ domestic run of form.
Fans of the Ibrox side would, quite reasonably, understand if Gerrard’s team continued to sit below Celtic in the Premiership table if signs of improvement were being made elsewhere on the continent. Yet, if there were no European comparisons to be made then the club’s cross-city rivals would offer the only yardstick for fans to judge the progress made under their new manager.
Failing to beat Celtic to the Premiership title is a scenario which all Rangers fans would like to avoid, but doing so while remaining in European competition after Christmas would certainly soften the blow.
European success will also be necessary if Gerrard hopes to keep his board happy. While fans may simply demand cherished nights at Ibrox and famous wins over some of Europe’s best clubs, the club are well aware of the fact that the only feasible way of catching Celtic’s financial might is by succeeding in European competition.
Late last year the club’s chairman, Dave King, said as much at Rangers’ AGM. When asked if or when Rangers would be able to peel away from their reliance on loans from the current board, King stated: “I think it will still be a couple of years, and I say that as the only way we can be self-reliant is to have continued success in Europe. It’s not enough to qualify for Europe and be knocked-out at the early stages.”
Indeed, while King and his board may hesitate to define any particular objectives for Gerrard to the media they have indirectly made it perfectly clear that any man tasked with coaching the first team must qualifying for European football if the club is to move forward.
After a successful playing career at the very highest level, Gerrard won’t gawk at the pressure applied to him when the competitive games start to roll around. But he’ll also be perfectly aware of the job at hand. The new Rangers manager has to pass this first test in Europe.