Top of the Class: Gerrard vs Davidson

By This Is Ibrox
 May 21, 2021

Football management is no easy business, there are no quick fixes and few precursors for success. Patience is the ultimate virtue that only manager’s lucky enough to have supportive boardrooms are afforded. Gerrard is a crystal clear example of what can be achieved when expectations are fluid and the men in charge entrusted. There is little that can be told to any aspiring manager to guarantee success but the Confucious “ideals of the gentleman” can assist. That same ideal and the processes that accompanies it have flashed before our eyes in Ibrox throughout the three years Gerrard has been at the helm. "It is a leader's responsibility to develop virtue through education, experience, and hard work." I would dare say that Gerrard ticks all the requirements to consider himself a gentleman in the eyes of the Chinese Philosopher.

Though the criteria for a successful football manager is not "to be a gentleman", the parallels between the two are undeniable, and the wisdom invaluable. Nonetheless, all football managers attempt to fulfil a particular set of criteria, that of the littery of postseason managerial awards, whether PFA, SFWA or SPFL.

Prior to making any evaluation or judgement, it is essential to understand the voter base, past history of each of the three premier managerial awards in Scotland and the identity of this year's recipient. I will start with the youngest of the three awards: The Scottish Premiership Manager of the Season. This award is voted on by the media and is confined to solely the Scottish Premiership Season. The award has been handed out five times, with three of the recipients being title winners, including Gerrard this season. The middle child is the PFA Scotland Manager of the Year, which is voted on by Scotland's professional footballers, with the pickings not limited to any league. The award has been handed out 14 times, with five of those recipients being Scottish Premiership title winners, Gerrard being the fifth. Finally, the most historic of the three is the SFWA Manager of the Year, which is voted on by the SFWA (Scottish Football Writers Association). Again, the vast majority of winners are the managers of the Scottish Premiership Champions, with 65.7% taking the double crown, Gerrard the 23rd to experience that same fate.

Though the awards have already been distributed, with Gerrard taking home the triple crown, I want to briefly see how Gerrard stood up to his main competitor, St Johnstone's Callum Davidson and if his hat trick was deserved.

When discussing the manager whose exploits have been most impressive, you must consider what they inherited or achieved in the previous year. When we look back to the most recently completed season before the 20/21 the 18/19, we can see shifts and changes from both St Johnstone and Rangers. In the 18/19 Season, St Johnstone, under the tutelage of Tommy Wright, managed 52 points and Rangers 78. Fast forward to the final whistle this Sunday, and Rangers finished the season with 102 points, and St Johnstone, 45. Rangers achieved the second-highest jump in points this century with 24 behind Aberdeen's 27 in the early 2000s, whilst St Johnstone regressed, though this only through a strict points basis. Many factors limit the validity of a pure-points comparison, not the least the strength of the chasing pack and circumstances like the covid-induced lack of atmosphere.

Moving beyond points, let's look at some basic underlying stats that can provide a decent summary of the system and performance. It is evident just by the coloured schematic that both teams have improved in certain areas. Davidson's St Johnstone in all around appraisal has undoubtedly improved in more areas than Rangers; however, this is partly due to the low base from which St Johnstone work from. As for Rangers, the areas in which they failed to improve statistically, they still rank towards the top in Scotland, both last season and this.


Beyond underlying stats, we can look at two models that do their best to represent team quality and performance, FiveThirtyEight's SPI and xG differential. The xG differential is simple; it's either the positive or negative-sum that you get when you subtract your xG with your opponents, indicating which team created the best chances. FiveThirtyEight's SPI runs off a formula that includes an assortment of indicators, attempts to rank teams and makes individual match and outright league predictions. The point of the graphs below is not to show which team is better as Rangers have the trophy to show them that, rather who has markedly improved more between the two sides in the past two seasons.


For example, the SPI graph above to the left shows that both teams have visibly improved this season. The extent to which the team has improved more is debatable and complex; however, due to the low base that St Johnstone originated from, the Rangers feats can be more impressive, though you could equally return the argument proclaiming that stabilising a turgid ship is more impressive than refining a battleship. Still, the current Rangers score of 71.4 is a Scottish record high since records began in the 17/18 season.The other graph shows the xG differential, and again it is evident that both teams increased the altitude of their bars from season to season. For both clubs, it seems that the primary alteration is the occurrence of decent-sized positive bars, as the occurrence of negative values remains similar and the occurrence of protruding skyscrapers also remains similar.

When you look at the basic stats, you can make them go either way when it comes to the Davidson vs Gerrard debate. But, ultimately, they show that the two capable managers improved their sides this season and have received the relevant plaudits.

When it comes to the hardware, there are differing levels of discourse regarding Gerrard and Davidson. There is no debate over the merit of Gerrard's SPFL award as that is limited to the league campaign, and only David Martindale over the winter came close to mounting a challenge. However, when it comes to the SFWA and the PFA award's timing is everything. The awards have already been handed out, which means that the Scottish Cup result comes too late to sway voters. If the awards were delayed by just a few weeks, then the debate could have been more appropriate and dealt with realities instead of hypotheses. For example, suppose St Johnstone were to win the Scottish Cup. In that case, it is impossible to deny the merit of Davidson's campaign and that his season is deserving of managerial silverware to accompany the cup trophies. However, the timing of the award, which is a constant coupled with the dominance of Rangers league campaign, set up Gerrard favourably for award season.

If I were to be judge and jury for the awards, I feel that Davidson would be a worthy recipient of the SWFA or PFA award, and a certainty for one if he were to bring the Scottish Cup back to Perth. Anyway, Gerrard secured Rangers the piece of elusive silverware back in March.

Follow @CaskiePatrick on Twitter.

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