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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Inside the interview: How Steven Gerrard blew Aston Villa away in five-hour meeting

“Prepared” is one of the Aston Villa slogans and once Steven Gerrard sat down with the club hierarchy, it soon became inevitable he would be the new head coach.

Five hours of intense, highly-detailed talks ended with Gerrard emerging as the No 1 candidate to succeed Dean Smith, ensuring that his sleepless night before the interview was all worthwhile.

Detailing the strengths and weaknesses of every first-team player, he outlined the philosophy behind his possession-based style of play and how he would introduce it into training sessions.

Gerrard also made a comprehensive Powerpoint presentation at the top-secret meeting in London, in front of Villa’s chief executive Christian Purslow and sporting director Johan Lange.

At times, it was not easy. Purslow and Lange both bombarded Gerrard with questions, demanding to know the methodology behind ideas, and how he could transfer his style into the Premier League against certain teams.

‘We were blown away with the level of preparation’

Yet the 41-year-old never missed a beat, and the wheels were firmly in motion before his appointment last Thursday.

“It was an outstanding interview and left us in no doubt that we were on with the right man,” said Purslow.

“From my perspective, we were blown away with the level of preparation, the thoughtfulness, and the clarity around a pretty detailed blueprint.”

Villa’s appointment of Gerrard was completed four days after the dismissal of Smith, and ended a swift but exhaustive process.

After Smith’s sacking was confirmed on Sunday, Villa were inundated with applications.

Utilising data and analytics, Lange worked from an initial list of 20 coaches which were presented to the board, before whittling the short-list down to a final four.

Villa were intent on appointing a manager currently in work: they believed it would be easier for a manager already in the ‘zone’ of daily training sessions and match preparation to make an instant impression.

Frank Lampard, the former Chelsea manager, is understood to have had informal talks with Villa but Gerrard was always high up in their thoughts.

‘Interview handled with extreme professionalism’

They made their move by contacting Gerrard’s long-standing representative, Struan Marshall, on Tuesday before the crucial interview the following day.

After Gerrard’s meeting with Purslow and Lange, he then held talks with Villa’s owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens.

Purslow said: “These are extremely serious business people and their interviews were equally successful with Steven.

“That is a high-pressure, high-stress situation to find yourself in whoever you are and Steven handled it with extreme professionalism.”

Compensation of around £4.5 million was thrashed out with Rangers, for Gerrard and his backroom staff which consists of coaches Michael Beale and Gary McAllister, technical coach Tom Culshaw, head of performance Jordan Milsom and analytics chief Scott Mason.

Mood in training lifted since Gerrard’s arrival

After only a few training sessions, the mood around Villa’s Bodymoor Heath training base is vibrant. Sessions have been short and sharp, with standards high.

Gerrard has already held a series of meetings with players over what he expects, and how he plans to implement his style of play.

On Thursday afternoon, it was the first time he had worked with the whole squad after all of the international players returned.

With players also returning from injury, including Danny Ings, Douglas Luiz, Morgan Sanson and Trezeguet, there is optimism that Villa will quickly climb the table, after five defeats in a row.

Looking further ahead, there are also hopes that Gerrard can help propel Ollie Watkins and Ezri Konsa into Gareth Southgate’s England squad for next year’s World Cup.

Gerrard is also excited about the young prospects coming through the club’s academy, including Carney Chukwuemeka, Jaden Philogene-Bidace and Aaron Ramsey, the younger brother of midfielder Jacob.

But, for now, it is all about Saturday’s debut against Brighton. Villa expect a full house and the feel-good factor around the club, which owes a lot to Gerrard’s predecessor Smith, is underlined by a waiting list of over 20,000 for season tickets.

Purslow believes the “sky is the limit” for Villa under Gerrard, and if the next few years resemble his job interview, there will be no stone unturned in the pursuit of progress.

Gerrard denies Villa a ‘stepping stone’ to Liverpool job

By John Percy

Gerrard has not even taken his first game but is already dismissing the theory that managing Aston Villa is a “stepping stone” towards a return to Liverpool.

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