It has been a whirlwind week at Manchester United. Last Saturday’s stunning capitulation away to Watford saw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sacked as manager in an emotional exit for the Old Trafford legend.
Now, Ralf Rangnick is on the brink of taking over until the end of the season before moving into an advisory role with a manager taking over on a longer-term basis.
So what exactly does this mean for United? How have supporters taken the news about the direction of their club? United fan and writer Scott Patterson, of the Republik of Mancunia website, gives an insight into the mood of the fanbase
Manchester United look set to name Ralf Rangnick as their interim manager for the remainder of the season but fans should start getting used to seeing his face around the place, as he has reportedly negotiated a longer term deal with the club as part of the move.
Set to leave his current role as Head of Sports and Development at Russian club Lokomotiv Moscow, the German manager is keen to continue sharing his expertise once his coaching stint comes to an end.
Having started talks at the beginning of the week, and rejecting United’s initial offer, Rangnick believes he has a lot to offer the club and has ensured that his role in helping us get back to where we should be won’t end when this current season does.
Ralf Rangnick is on the brink of taking over as Man United boss for the rest of the season
The appointment suggests long-term thinking from the United board, of which Richard Arnold (left) and Ed Woodward (right) are a part of
United had been keen to stick with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, despite the woeful performances and results against hated rivals Liverpool and Manchester City, but the thrashing at the hands of Watford made his position untenable.
The seeming lack of forward planning was a worry but at last it looks as though the board is mapping out a future when it comes to overseeing the technical and structural advancements of the team. John Murtough and Darren Fletcher presumably deserve some credit for this.
Rangnick had been a name mentioned early on among the fanbase, with his experience and success in Germany making him a popular choice, and we can now feel some satisfaction in knowing someone with a clear vision and tactical expertise will be coaching the players.
While United have replaced a manager who enjoyed a remarkable playing career, Rangnick’s time on the pitch was less impressive. When completing a degree in English and physical education at Stuttgart University as a 21-year-old, he spent a year at the University of Sussex in Brighton and played for local non-League side Southwick.
He made his debut against Steyning Town in 1979, with 154 people in the crowd, and suffered serious injuries a few games later, breaking two ribs and puncturing his lung.
Rangnick returned to Germany, playing for obscure clubs like VfR Heilbronn and SSV Ulm, but it was clear his footballing career was destined to be as coach rather than a player.
Gegenpressing, a tactic Football Manager enthusiasts will be all too familiar with, was the style he has been credited with creating. Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel and Julian Nagelsmann are among the managers who view him as their mentor.
When discussing his philosophy last year, it clear to see how influential his ideas have been on these fellow world-class managers.
‘We like to press high, with a very intense counter-pressure,’ he said. ‘When we have the ball, we do not like any square or back passes. It is a fast, proactive, attacking, counter-attacking, counter-pressing, exciting and entertaining [style of] football.’
Rangnick’s work as a coach has influenced a number of the Premier League’s finest managers
Thomas Tuchel, now Chelsea boss, pictured greeting Rangnick in 2010 at a Bundesliga match
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has also been influenced by Rangnick – here, they are pictured together in 2011 before Rangnick’s Schalke played Klopp’s Dortmund in the German Super Cup
Rangnick was a huge fan of AC Milan’s approach in the 1990s, when they dominated Italian football and had great success in Europe, and after spending hours studying how they played, took plenty of inspiration from their approach.
Klopp faced Rangnick’s Hoffenheim in 2008, who had progressed from the third tier to the Bundesliga in his first two years, and his Borussia Dortmund side were battered. ‘That’s the kind of football we want to play one day,’ Klopp said after the game.
Rangnick later reflected on this match and the impact it had on Klopp’s style at Dortmund and Liverpool.
‘We dominated them 4-1,’ he said. ‘It could easily have been six or seven, because we continuously pressed them for the entire game. The following week Jurgen said that this is exactly the style of football he wants to play with Dortmund in the future. During the next two years he developed his team in such an impressive manner that they managed to win two consecutive championship titles and two cups.’
Not only tactically astute, Rangnick is a big supporter of developing young players and giving them a place in the first team. He believes their higher capacity to learn, their faster recovery times and an unwavering team ethic puts them above older players in their desirability.
‘The ability to counterattack, the aggression in trying to win the ball and moving as a unit only works when done collectively,’ he said nine years ago. ‘The performance both with and without the ball effects the entire team and requires an absolute altruism. Younger players often have a greater predisposition to invest in the team spirit because they’re aware that they need it for their personal style of play.’
At Hoffenheim, he insisted the club only signed players who were 23-years-old or younger, in a model that is fitting with United’s long-held ideals.
Rangnick is a perfectionist and likes to have full control on everything behind the scenes, from how his team travel to away games to what they eat before matches, as well as how they train.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer leaves a United squad that most managers will relish working with
His success with Hoffenheim, and then with Schalke, which saw them finish second in the league and reach the Champions League semi-final in 2011, a feat United fans will be well aware of, leads to the belief he could be the man to ease the transition to the permanent appointment.
It had been repeatedly stressed that Solskjaer would restore a cultural identity at the club and that’s what he achieved. While tactically he fell short, he has developed an impressive squad full of players who largely look like United players.
There are no personalities in the Angel Di Maria or Alexis Sanchez mould, rather a group who know what it means to represent the club and lots of young players. He’s put his arm around their shoulder, built them up and with a manager with a keen eye for detail, could be successful.
But Rangnick’s role is likely to be to lay the foundation for whoever follows, with PSG’s Mauricio Pochettino and Ajax’s Erik ten Hag favourites.
The former Spurs manager showed the success of pressing during his time in the Premier League, finishing 2nd in the table and reaching the Champions League final, with his team compressing space in advanced positions, remaining compact and keeping the defensive line very high.
Ten Hag has also had joy in defending the counter attack with his team comfortable playing in the opponent’s half. Ajax also have a plan for when it doesn’t work, with a number of players behind the ball who defend and control the ball zonally. They force the opposition towards a certain area of the pitch, making the angles for passing harder.
Rangnick has spoken negatively about Luke Shaw in the past – his role could be one to watch
Whoever comes in as manager will benefit from Rangnick’s impending work with United
Either manager will benefit from the groundwork that Rangnick will put in over the next few months, which will identify those without the footballing brain capable of employing such tactics. Luke Shaw is a player who may already be in question, with the German manager calling the left-back out last year. He won’t be alone in having to adapt his style under the demanding new manager.
Following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, United have floated from one disastrous appointment to the next, even if winning a few trophies along the way, but the foundations put in place by Solskjaer on a personal level should allow for Rangnick to hit the ground running once his tactical changes are employed.
It’s easy to get carried away but at least United are finally showing signs of having a long-term plan in place. But with the Glazers as owners, it’s impossible to get too excited, because you never know what is going to happen next.