Monday, January 17, 2022

Ralf Rangnick steps into the unknown at Manchester United with English dream finally realised


You would have to stretch back to 1979 to trace the origins of working in English football being seeded in Ralf Rangnick’s mind. The German had signed up at University of Sussex and turned out for non-League Southwick, during a period where consuming the sport live became part of life.

Rangnick was a regular at the Goldstone Ground to watch Brighton and formed an affinity to Arsenal when he went to Highbury, even if being in the Clock End terrified him.

There were visits to Upton Park and White Hart Lane too, with the 63-year-old still able to recite details from those experiences that extend far beyond the match itself; the chants, the weather, his emotions, the swaying, the sense of escapism.

And so Rangnick’s phone hasn’t stopped pinging since Manchester United tapped him up to be interim manager ahead of a consultancy role to ‘endlich!’ – at last – realise a dream that felt like pure fantasy for decades.

The last few years had eroded that far-fetched element, with Germany having the dominant influence on the European game, both in terms of style and managers.

But despite helping shape and being held in high regard by his country’s premier managers like Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel and Julian Nagelsmann, Rangnick was a non-entity in the UK.

He was background noise and considered a suit – an antagonist one at that – rather than a transformative figure like the aforementioned trio.

Only Dan Ashworth seemed to seriously note his worth, proposing Rangnick manage West Bromwich Albion in 2012 before selecting him as a candidate to replace Roy Hodgson in the England dugout, with Sam Allardyce narrowly winning more board votes.

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Rangnick’s build at Hoffenheim, RB Leipzig and Salzburg spoke for itself, but in 2018 he was advised to go on a media offensive in order to offer a vista into his methodology and present a truer picture of his persona in England.

It was smart and soon offers started to swirl: Everton twice made a play but he was not convinced over the control he’d have, before rebuffing a caretaker proposal from Chelsea.

It began to feel like the opportunity Rangnick wanted most would never roll in, especially since top-flight executives would knock on his door for wisdom but never follow it up with a more solid agreement.

Ralf Rangnick with Jurgen Klopp in 2005


“We used to joke that he was working for English football already,” a colleague from Leipzig says. “Premier League clubs visited many times to listen to his ideas and see what they could take back. Sometimes they just took our players!

“He always believed in sharing information, but I think it went against him. Why take him when you can take his ideas?”

Rangnick is really working in English football now and one of those teams that went tapping into his knowledge was United: their football director John Murtough spending half a day at the expansive Cottaweg facilities to receive an education on successful recruitment, analytics, academy and medical structures.

Taking Rangnick’s blueprint evidently wasn’t enough: who better than the man himself to implement a modern, sustainable and smart spine for football operations?

United have stumbled around like a drunk for an age, but they now have a cure for their nostalgia hangover via one of the sharpest minds in the game.

Several people close to Rangnick insist he is not walking into Old Trafford with his eyes closed and hasn’t snatched at this shot on account of his desperation to work in England. Once source revealed that the “godfather of gegenpressing” has been intensely studying United since 2014 and can recount every misstep they have made since then.

He has also detailed at length what he would have done differently post-Ferguson in conversations with friends and has shared some of those snippets in the media, focusing surgically on recruitment errors.

For all the studying and for all his information, Rangnick will still be stepping into unfamiliar territory. He has never experienced anything near United’s scale, expectations, pressures and competing interests. A dressing room with multiple superstars crowned with one of the greatest players ever strikes a complete contrast to his squad ideals.

Rangnick has never before needed to transform a collection of expensive individuals into a coherent unit. This has to happen fast, with limited training time under overwhelming strain.

The reshaping of Hoffenheim, Salzburg and Leipzig were totally his projects that functioned with full backing, little fuss or attention.

His authority and expertise were never in question and Rangnick was allowed, as one colleague put it, “build clubs in the dark” so far removed from a global glare.

United will be a gigantic departure from all of that, where he’ll also be reporting to people in Murtough and Darren Fletcher that essentially need to be schooled by him.

Some in the Red Bull football empire believe Everton would have been a more appropriate project for Rangnick given their complete waste of Marcel Brands.

They insist though that if he is truly listened to and trusted by United, we’ll witness another art of reconstruction.

Rangnick is confident he knows what to expect and how to ensure the realisation of a dream doesn’t devolve into a nightmare. The only certainty is, as ever with United, it will be unmissable viewing.


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