Steven Gerrard insisted it is “very unfair” to suggest he sees Aston Villa as a stepping stone to managing Liverpool, without denying it is his dream job, but saying he hopes Jurgen Klopp signs a deal for life at Anfield.
Villa described their new manager as the best of 20 candidates they identified, believing he will “reignite” the club and take them on a journey back into Europe, starting against Brighton on Saturday.
Gerrard won Rangers’ 55th league title, but first for a decade, and said he left Ibrox with “a heavy heart” after completing the remit he was set in Glasgow.
Villa chief executive Christian Purslow described the appointment as “a fantastic moment” in the history of the 1982 European champions but while he was managing director of Liverpool when his new manager was captain at Anfield, Gerrard was adamant favouritism played no part.
“The club was the reason I wanted this job,” he said. “I think people think that me and Christian Purslow are best mates and go to the cinema together but I hadn’t seen him in a long time.”
Gerrard argued the chance to return to the Premier League and be nearer his family were reasons for taking the Villa job rather than a path back to Anfield.
“That's very unfair,” he said. “You'll never hear me say this is a stepping stone, I am extremely honoured and proud to be in this position. I will be 100 per cent committed. I don't think it's wrong to have dreams and aspirations.
“Liverpool have a world-class coach that they are very happy with and if he signed a lifetime contract I would be very happy. Everyone around the world knows what Liverpool means to me but my focus and commitment is very much on Aston Villa and I am all in.”
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Gerard Houllier, who appointed the midfielder Liverpool captain at just 23, went on to manage Villa and Gerrard has followed in the footsteps of a late mentor. “I'm sure he is looking down and very proud, he went out of his way to really change me as a person and helped me a lot as a player,” he said.
Villa have lost their last five games, conceding 13 goals, and while Gerrard hopes to turn Villa into an attacking, passing team, his first focus will be on improving the defence.
“Stats don't lie,” he said. “We are the eighth top scorers. That shows we have exciting players and creation has been OK but at the moment we are conceding too many goals, so it is quite clear we need to tighten up. I want to be exciting to watch and entertaining. We will become a possession-based team. When we can transition into that? Time will tell.”
Sporting director Johan Lange said Villa conducted an extensive search after sacking Dean Smith. “We had a list of 20 coaches, and this shortlist was provided to the board, we had conversations with four of them and Gerrard was the outstanding candidate,” he said.
An “absolutely thrilled” Purslow added: “The feeling is one of excitement. Steven’s drive, his determination, his constant pressing himself to be the best he can be: these are personal qualities we think will fit well with our club.
“Managing Aston Villa is one of the most prestigious jobs in football anywhere and for Steven take this position is a fantastic moment in this club’s history. I think Steven’s arrival will reignite the club and push us forward. We have made no secret of the fact that this is one of the tiny number of British clubs that has won the European Cup. That stage, playing in Europe, is something that is an exciting dream for our fans.”