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Give Rangnick the reins: Man Utd's genius appointment can get them back on top

10:00 AM WAT 28/11/2021
Ralf Rangnick
The man widely regarded as the godfather of modern German football will shake things up at Old Trafford and leave his mark in every sense

Manchester United have taken a sensible decision. The imminent appointment of Ralf Rangnick, widely regarded as the godfather of modern German football and an innovator as a coach and director, is exactly what United need to become a cutting-edge club again.

In the years since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013 – and, if we are being honest, a few years before that – Man Utd have behaved like a club from another century. 

The long-time absence of a director of football and poor decision-making in the boardroom led to the club consistently appointing managers past their prime before showing blind loyalty to a novice with none of the requirements for the role.

Perhaps a new era has begun. That would certainly be the case if Rangnick, hired on an interim basis with a view to an as-yet-unclear consultancy position to follow, is trusted by the hierarchy over the next few months. 

United should give Rangnick the reins. There is arguably nobody in the sport who could do it better.

The 63-year-old has a history of revolution. His innovative ideas go beyond the tactical and to player development, psychology, transfer strategy, and vertical integration of how clubs should operate. 

He oversaw Hoffenheim’s dramatic rise from the third tier of German football to a brief Bundesliga title challenge; laid the foundations during two stints at Stuttgart that paved the way for their 2006-07 title; and built the Red Bull empire, taking RB Leipzig into the Champions League as well as running the club (and RB Salzburg) as sporting director.

Everywhere he goes, Rangnick shows a genius for implementing a unique style of football and synchronising it with all other aspects of the club, creating a culture from the medical department to the boardroom that virtually guarantees success. 

Tactically, he invented the modern gegenpressing style that dominates European football, having a direct influence on the likes of Thomas Tuchel and Julien Nagelsmann, both of whom worked for Rangnick, and an indirect influence on Jurgen Klopp.

Rangnick’s philosophy is about a blistering and complex high press, ultra-quick counters, and vertical passing that looks to get the ball into the box within seconds of possession being won. 

It is exciting football played at as high a tempo as possible, often meaning matches are end-to-end and a little chaotic; like Marcelo Bielsa, Rangnick is a fanatic, and consequently his disciples tend to be more obviously successful in a managerial capacity.

But fanaticism does not mean difficult to work with, because however demanding his methods and strict his training - sometimes to the detriment of top-level success - Rangnick is a father figure to many players and an empathic leader. 

That was most likely a key factor in United’s decision to hire him, given the importance they placed on a Solskjaer-like character after the toxicity of the Jose Mourinho era.

Of course, tactically speaking, Rangnick could not be further from Solskjaer. Man Utd have hired a man who will expect perfection, who will coach in fine-tuned detail for when United have the ball and when they do not.

His hard-pressing Germanic football is commonplace in the modern game and will be instantly recognisable to United fans. What makes his appointment so intriguing, especially as he goes toe-to-toe with Klopp and Tuchel, is that Rangnick is the guy who invented it.

It is a big shift from Solskjaer, whose desire to play expansive attacking football was always vague and improvisational. United were often decompressed between the lines and in a random configuration across the pitch, therefore porous defensively and only able to construct attacks one pass at a time. 

You can’t think ahead when there’s no deeper plan, and you can’t play attacking football when there is no organised press. Consequently, Man Utd were at their best when sitting a little deeper and playing either a traditional counter-attacking game or one of sudden creative moments from playmakers in a free role.

As a result, this squad isn’t used to pressing and it lacks central midfielders with guile. These are the biggest issues for Rangnick, although with his world-class coaching there are several players who will be given a new lease of life.

Jadon Sancho is the most obvious beneficiary. The Borussia Dortmund tactical philosophy is wholly inspired by Rangnick and so Sancho’s old coaching – his capacity to press from the front and burst past players in the transition – should get switched back on. Get ready to see the real Sancho at Old Trafford.

Donny van de Beek will also be a favourite. His creativity in tight spaces, his urgency in possession to find the vertical pass and his propensity to make runs beyond the striker is exactly what Rangnick is after. 

Bruno Fernandes should enjoy the extra space between the opposition defensive and midfield lines, once United’s hard-pressing comes together, while Fred could excel as an agile, elastic defensive midfielder looking to dribble through the lines. Pep Guardiola wanted to sign him from Shakhtar Donetsk for these qualities. Rangnick can rediscover them.

Elsewhere, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford are crying out from some direction and both will enjoy breaking quickly under Rangnick.

The only notable problem is Cristiano Ronaldo, whose complete disinterest in pressing puts him wildly at odds with the new interim manager. Rangnick might want to drop Ronaldo, but with reports indicating the forward’s unhappiness was a factor in Solskjaer’s dismissal, there could be an almighty power struggle about to unfold. 

What comes next?

The greatest challenge, in the short term, is finding the time during these difficult winter months to get the tactical ideas across. Man Utd are only six points outside the top four, and Tuchel has shown it is possible to change the culture in just a few weeks, but nevertheless Rangnick has his work cut out.

Whatever happens this season, Rangnick is unlikely to stay on as manager. He has had short stints as coach at RB Leipzig before, stepping down to resume his duties as a director, which suggests he will act in United’s best interests when the time comes.

There is a world in which an excitable United board offers him the job full-time, but in that scenario Rangnick would likely guide them towards a better option.

Mauricio Pochettino remains a distinct possibility, and his tactical outlook is fairly neatly aligned with the Rangnick school of heavy pressing. Whatever happens, and whoever comes in, as long as Rangnick is one of the main decision-makers at Old Trafford, supporters can be confident the right choice will be made.

Rangnick is an excellent director and manager and, once he is officially announced at Man Utd, he will instantly become the smartest footballing brain at the club. If they listen to him, United will finally get back on track.