Steven Gerrard will take his place in the dugout at Anfield for the first time on Saturday. It will be one of the most significant matches of his managerial career. For now, he will take up a position opposite the man currently occupying the role that will always be his managerial destiny.
It will be strange to see Gerrard wearing a lion rather than a liver bird on his jacket as he looks to continue his impressive start with Aston Villa.
While he may not admit it, Liverpool away would have been the first fixture Gerrard would have hoped for following his move from Scottish giants Rangers. Nevertheless, he will be keen to keep his emotions in check when he returns to his former club.
A Saturday media circus
On Saturday afternoon, the attention will be on Gerrard and nobody else. Photographers will clamber for that first glimpse as he emerges from the tunnel, and there will be cameras focused on him for the entire duration of the match.
All emotions and expressions displayed will be captured, discussed and dissected. The media circus will be out in full force. Gerrard will be greeted like any other Anfield great when he returns to the club on Saturday afternoon. It will be his first taste of standing on the sidelines of the pitch he graced with such distinction for almost two decades.
There is no doubt he will return as Liverpool manager some day, but he will want to earn his place on managerial merit. He played over 700 competitive games for the club and captained them to UEFA Champions League glory in 2005. So Gerrard will be an automatic choice for the shortlist when Jurgen Klopp decides to end his time with the club.
Having delivered Champions League success himself in 2019, Klopp has earned the right to decide when he wants to leave, and he will be supported warmly till that time comes.
Klopp and Gerrard never worked together at Liverpool, with the midfielder departing for LA Galaxy before the German replaced Brendan Rogers in 2015. It was a difficult departure for Gerrard. He desperately wanted to put right the wrongs of their failed Premier League title challenge the year before. But the opportunity to make amends was clearly slipping further from his grasp.
Steven Gerrard and a love that belongs to Liverpool
Of course, there was not always a smooth relationship between Gerrard and Liverpool. However, the overriding respect between the two quickly put to bed any animosity over reported discussions that he would swap Anfield for Stamford Bridge following that glorious night in Istanbul.
Gerrard's heart will always belong to Liverpool in the same way Francesco Totti only wished to celebrate success with AS Roma. Gerrard took his first steps in coaching with the Liverpool academy, taking charge of the U19 team in the UEFA Youth League in 2017.
However, Rangers came calling the following year. The opportunity to take on his first senior managerial role with a club of that size was too tempting to turn down.
He may have left Liverpool for the second time, but they would pay closer attention to his progress this time than ever before. Taking charge of almost 200 games, Gerrard delivered the Scottish Premier League title in an undefeated season in 2020-21.
Denying arch-rivals Celtic a record tenth consecutive title in the process, Gerrard could not have done any more to endear himself to Rangers fans. However, few understood or appreciated his switch to Premier League outfit Aston Villa just a few months into the current campaign.
Supported in this latest stage of his career by another former Liverpool favourite in Gary McAllister, Gerrard has shown maturity and intelligence in his development as a manager.
There is a humility in his approach through an appreciation that his playing career will not save him if results don't go his way. While his pedigree might have helped him get to this level, that alone won't keep him there.
Timing is everything
Already a veteran of almost 200 games as a manager, Gerrard is building towards his eventual Liverpool return in the right way. However, the timing of his appointment will be a crucial aspect of this inevitable decision.
When he is approached to lead his beloved club, it will be almost impossible to refuse. However, it is his career and not the club that will be on the line when he does say yes.
Frank Lampard is as much a Chelsea legend as Gerrard is to Liverpool. Both enjoyed playing careers at the very top during the same era. Their inability to perform effectively together in England's midfield remains a popular topic of tactical discourse today. However, competing against each other for their respective clubs brought the best out of them.
Like Gerrard, Lampard also ended his playing career in the United States. Moving into management with Championship side Derby County, Lampard showed his coaching credentials, as he guided The Rams to the playoffs in 2019, where they were beaten by Aston Villa. Ironically, that Villa victory would provide the platform for Gerrard to make his mark in the Premier League two years later.
Lampard impressed during his brief time at Derby County. In the summer of 2019, he was appointed as manager of Chelsea, but faced the sack in January 2021. He may never have another chance to lead his club. His return to Stamford Bridge provided a steep and beneficial learning curve. However, having had and losing his ultimate job might affect his desire for whatever post he takes up next.
Meanwhile, Xavi recently returned as manager to Barcelona, a very different club to the one he left in 2015.
The midfield genius was always destined to take charge at the Camp Nou in the future. However, he has taken over at a difficult time on and off the field, with only two years of coaching experience in Qatar with Al Sadd behind him.
This may be Xavi's only chance to manage Barcelona, but has it come too soon, like it did with Lampard?
A question of when, not if
This is the question Gerrard will need to ask himself when Liverpool eventually come calling. Deep down, he will be quite content to see Klopp remain in position for another couple of years. However, he will also realise that he must continue to improve and impress while Klopp is in position.
Any failures in the meantime would tarnish his reputation, but that is a risk he must take. It will be an emotional weekend for Gerrard. But he has already shown enough maturity to be able to put the occasion to one side and focus on the challenge ahead.
There will be embraces and reunions from the time he arrives till the time he departs. And he will remember standing on the touchline in this game more than any other when he reflects on his managerial career to date.
On a technical level, Gerrard has already developed his own style and philosophy as a manager that will define his teams. It is an identity that will continue to evolve in conjunction with his career path.
However, what separates him from other potential Liverpool candidates is that he also understands the club and what it means to the city, an intangible that cannot be bought.
Gerrard was shaped by Liverpool. So it is only right that one day he will be invited to return and shape the club in an image that reflects himself while also staying true to the values that have defined great Liverpool teams of the past.
Gerrard will understand what is right for Liverpool when the opportunity arises. However, he must also understand that he must be ready, as the opportunity may not arise again.
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Saturday afternoon will offer an intriguing glimpse into the future. It will show just how close or far Gerrard is from returning to the club that will forever define his football career.