MICAH RICHARDS: New Aston Villa boss Steven Gerrard is a ‘Special One’ both on and off the pitch


On October 2, I concluded my column about Aston Villa with the following words.

‘They are determined to make sustained progress, so why shouldn’t their ambition be to put pressure on the top four? If I had three wishes, one would be to play a game for Dean Smith in peak physical condition. The club are moving forward. They won’t take their eye off the ball.’

I didn’t for one moment think the next time I wrote about Villa, it would be at the end of a sequence of five consecutive defeats and with Smith being sacked. The sentiment of that paragraph, though, has not changed.

Aston Villa have once again shown their ambition by hiring Steven Gerrard as manager

The Liverpool legend will make Villa's squad and club staff stand to attention to respect him

The Liverpool legend will make Villa’s squad and club staff stand to attention to respect him

Villa haven’t taken their eye off the ball. They have once again shown their ambition.

As much as I have sympathy for Smith — he did a fantastic job to get Villa out of the Championship and his love for his boyhood club was pure — I cannot disguise my excitement about his successor, who I will always call “Sir” Steven Gerrard.

When Villa appointed him last week, every member of the squad will have felt the need to stand to attention: fix your tie, clean your shoes, stand up straight. The main man will be coming around to inspect things and you best not let him down.

There will be a feeling, I’m sure, of how it was at Manchester City when Roberto Mancini took over from Mark Hughes. Straight away you can see these people will not suffer fools and you know you have to get your a*** into gear.

Gerrard arriving at Villa can be compared to Roberto Mancini's (left) arrival at Manchester City

Gerrard arriving at Villa can be compared to Roberto Mancini’s (left) arrival at Manchester City

We’re not talking about someone who retired 20 years ago, whose achievements belong to a different generation. This is Steven Gerrard. I hear people saying he lacks the experience to be a Premier League manager but, believe me, his reputation means he already has a head start.

I was blessed to call Steven a team-mate when I was with England, so I got an insight into what makes him tick. The thing that will never leave me is how he saved me ahead of my first training session by letting me use a pair of his boots.

Stevie was staying in the room opposite me. I had rifled through my bag and realised I only had four left boots. I knocked on his door in a panic and asked him if he had any spare: ‘No problem mate, don’t worry — here you go.’ My first England training session in Steven Gerrard’s boots… wow!

That told me one big thing: Stevie was a superstar but he had that emotional side, an understanding and determination to look after people. There really is no edge to him but I was taken aback by how humble he was — he actually made me feel shy because I didn’t believe I belonged in his company.

As a player Gerrard (left) was a superstar but he had that emotional side to his game as well

As a player Gerrard (left) was a superstar but he had that emotional side to his game as well

Then there was the way he played football. You don’t need me to talk about the goals and passes, I want to tell you about his outstanding technique, the kind that makes the people he works with take a step back.

He never gave the ball away in ‘Rondo’ drills — one-touch passing — always perfectly delivered, always hitting the target. I used to watch him and Wayne Rooney pinging the ball around immaculately and couldn’t believe people could play football that well.

It’s all about little percentages at that level. Steven’s standards never, ever dropped and when you are alongside someone with that approach, it demands you try to reach the level — what an opportunity it was for those who trained under him at Bodymoor Heath this week.

People are entitled to have their doubts but it is important to stress Steven hasn’t just taken his boots off and put a tracksuit on. He has been working and learning for the past four-and-a-half years and his managerial career has been about progression. To start off, there was a spell in charge of Liverpool’s Under-18s. 

Gerrard has been in management for some time, starting off with the Liverpool youth teams

Gerrard has been in management for some time, starting off with the Liverpool youth teams

Some former players wouldn’t be interested in dropping down to work with youth teams but Steven saw the value; he then goes to Glasgow, when Celtic were way superior, but eventually turns Rangers into Champions.

I’m aware of the attention to detail he pays to situations behind the scenes. I’ve heard a story about him ringing an agent to offer a progress report on a particular player. He explained why he was out of the team but promised within two weeks, his opportunities would come.

He was true to his word. The agent in question was taken aback because he had never received such a call before. The story didn’t surprise me as I know he’s the kind of man who wants to empower people and get them better. And Villa will get better under him.

Gerrard then earned his stripes at Rangers by winning their first league title in a decade

Gerrard then earned his stripes at Rangers by winning their first league title in a decade

My belief in the potential of this Villa squad has not changed and when the new signings are all able to play their part, they will rise up the table. They are a club in a hurry to move forward and they have the right person to help them get to where they want to go

What they need now is patience, to ignore the way society wants things now, now, now! There is a special set of managers in the Premier League now — if Steven is given time, I’ve no doubt he will prove himself to be an outstanding addition to that distinguished group.

LISTEN UP… GIVE HARRY A BREAK! 

A word on Harry Maguire’s celebration after he scored against Albania. I see he continues to be criticised for cupping ears after that header and, to be honest, I cannot understand what people want from footballers these days.

He has had to contend with every little bit of his game being dissected, he’s had to contend with criticism from all quarters yet when his header flies in at Wembley and he did what he did, he has to get more criticism?

Harry Maguire deserves respect after being criticised for his celebration against Albania

Harry Maguire deserves respect after being criticised for his celebration against Albania

All his emotions came out in that moment. After a tough couple of weeks, he grasped onto something positive and I could see where he was coming from. 

The only thing that I took from the ear-cupping gesture was that he cares and wants to improve. What’s wrong with that?

MICAH’S MAN OF THE WEEK

Plenty of super goals to enjoy during the international break but none made me jump out of my chair like Michail Antonio’s blast for Jamaica against the United States.

This man is on fire! I remember playing against him when he was at Nottingham Forest, he was strong and quick but I never expected him to progress as he has done. 

Michail Antonio's strike for Jamaica against the USA was the goal of the international break

Michail Antonio’s strike for Jamaica against the USA was the goal of the international break

What an absolutely fantastic story this has been. I love how down to earth he is and how he genuinely enjoys it all.

West Ham’s owners laid on a private jet to get him back quicker for today’s game at Wolves. He deserves it for the work he has invested and his dedication to self-improvement. 

He is one of the top strikers in the division right now and there can be no higher compliment.

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