IT is a matter of when, not if. The timing of Steven Gerrard's decision should not cause Rangers angst, however.

Gerrard will - whether it be in weeks, months or years - leave Ibrox and return to the Premier League. His final destination will be Anfield, but the details of his journey there remain undefined.

It won't, as expected, be St James' Park. The position that Gerrard was touted for has now been filled by the man he could have been vying with this season after Eddie Howe - the former frontrunner to become Celtic manager - was named as Steve Bruce's successor by the Saudis that call the shots.

That particular move never looked like a proper fit. Gerrard didn't seem right for Newcastle, and Newcastle didn't seem right for Gerrard.

Aston Villa, on the face of it, could be a different proposition, however, and it is no surprise to see Gerrard's name once again feature prominently now that another managerial search is underway in the Premier League.

If you subscribe to the theory that Gerrard won't go straight from Ibrox to Anfield and needs to take another job in between leaving Rangers and succeeding Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, then the Villa link makes for intriguing debate.

The 41-year-old would have nothing to gain by taking over at a club that can only achieve by limiting their failures in England's highest echelon. Villa can, at least, aspire to bigger and better, although rediscovering past glories will surely be beyond them.

Club loyalties would rule out a handful of clubs at the top of the table and of those that are realistically left, or that could become available anytime soon, Villa seems about as good as Gerrard could get right now.

There are, of course, two key aspects to that hypothetical. The first is whether Villa would want to go for Gerrard, and the second is whether Gerrard would want to go to Villa.

Both aspects are ultimately outwith Rangers' control. The Ibrox board are still involved in the process, though, and must have plans in place for all eventualities in the here and now or in the distant future.

The end of this campaign will bring Gerrard's time in Glasgow to four years. If he has achieved two league titles by then, and added some cup silverware to his CV, then his tenure will undoubtedly go down as a successful one.

Gerrard will remain contracted to Rangers for another three seasons and there is, of course, the symmetry in his situation with that of Klopp, whose Anfield deal expires at the same time.

The end of this term feels like a crossroads for Gerrard, though. It could even be one that leads to a parting of ways at a moment where both sides of the relationship have done well out of the arrangement and can say farewell on amicable terms.

Regardless of who is in the dugout come next August, Rangers face a summer of critical decisions in terms of their squad and there is a sense that a cycle is coming to a natural conclusion.

Given the players who are out of contract, those who will be entering the final year of their deals and those who have to be sold to balance the books, Rangers must be gearing up for a defining period of wheeling and dealing.

If Gerrard can lead his side to the title and into the Champions League, that cash bounty would make the rebuild easier and another season, at least, at Ibrox all the more appealing for a man that could then target sustained domestic glories.

If Rangers have to overhaul a squad on the back of just one season as champions and with purse strings tightened, the attraction undoubtedly diminishes, especially for a manager who needs to rack up the achievements to land his dream job.

It will ultimately be for Gerrard to determine when he calls time on Rangers and returns to England. If that was to happen now, he would leave with more than a sense of unfinished business at Ibrox, though.

Losing their manager at this stage of the season could be costly for Rangers, both in terms of their Premiership ambitions and subsequently what that would mean on and off the park in the future.

And that is why the Light Blues board, and sporting director Ross Wilson in particular, must have plans in place for all scenarios that could unfold during a hugely significant time for Rangers.

When Dave King masterminded the move to bring Gerrard to Glasgow three-and-a-half years ago, and tasked Mark Allen with turning his dream into a reality, he knew that his hunch about his Anfield idol had to be correct.

Whenever Gerrard departs Rangers, he will leave them in a far superior state than he found a club that was in desperate need of a figurehead of his statute and standards. After the failures of Mark Warburton, Graeme Murty and Pedro Caixinha, King got a key call right.

That pressure will now rest on the shoulders of Wilson, chairman Douglas Park and his board and Rangers should have options for the short, medium and long term and a list of managers they could turn to in any situation.

Given the volatile nature of football, succession planning can be a notoriously difficult venture but key characteristics - in terms of coaching experience, playing style and silverware record - are easily definable.

It is a matter of what Rangers want as well as who they want but the Ibrox hierarchy will hope they don't need to look at that list of names for some time yet as Gerrard finds himself at the centre of another round of questions surrounding his future.

Right now, Gerrard is the only one who can answer them. He knows what the plans and permutations are and it is he who will determine how long he remains at Ibrox.

Rangers are helpless in that regard but their destiny remains in their own hands with or without Gerrard. If they fail to prepare, they must be prepared to fail.