The Ralf Rangnick era at Manchester United will go down as one of the stranger episodes in the Old Trafford soap opera of recent seasons. Rangnick was appointed as interim manager on the back of two coaching spells in the previous 10 years, lasting a total of just 88 games, and was an unmitigated disaster in the dugout at United.
The 63-year-old won just 11 of his 29 games in charge, abandoned his principles after two matches, alienated almost the entire dressing room and earned at least one rebuke from those above him in the chain of command as well.
Despite all that, he is feted by some United supporters and hailed on social media as one of the key figures in what it is hoped will be the turnaround of the modern United, from laughing stock to challengers once again.
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Yet the laughter has never been louder than under Rangnick. In those 29 games, it’s hard to think of more than three of four where Rangnick’s tactical plans outwitted the opposition.
This is an interim manager who made matters on the pitch worse rather than better, who improved perhaps just one player on his watch and failed to get his methods across on the training ground.
He is idolized by some supporters because he has been a vocal critic in press conferences, of the club’s previous recruitment and of the players.
In his introductory press conference at Old Trafford on Monday, Erik ten Hag said Rangnick’s two-year consultancy contract was now “on the club”. as the Manchester Evening News revealed on Tuesday, the pair have no face-to-face talks scheduled and might only talk remotely.
Some of the reaction to that was confusion as to why Ten Hag wouldn’t want to talk to Rangnick, but what exactly is he going to offer? He might be critical of the players, but Ten Hag has to find out about their personalities for himself. Those players would be equally critical of Rangnick, who just wasn’t cut out to coach or manage them.
It’s hardly a surprise the players weren’t convinced by the appointment of a coach whose CV never suggested a coaching role as prominent as the one he landed at United.
Over the last 10 years Rangnick’s strengths have been as a sporting director and if his consultancy role is to mean anything – and there’s a good chance it won’t – then discussions are likely to take place with United’s football director John Murtough, rather than Ten Hag, who has to pick up the pieces from Rangnick’s time in the dugout and try and improve a group of players who have been neglected when it comes to elite-level coaching.
But how much value will there really be in consulting Rangnick over recruitment? There remains a feeling he still hasn’t truly grasped the size and ambition of United.
Even in his final pre-match press conference he suggested United should value the Europa League ahead of the Conference League because of what it meant to Eintracht Frankfurt to win it, and that United’s transfer strategy should involve signing players for the future that can be sold on.
“I think we showed that in the last 15 years with Hoffenheim, Salzburg and Leipzig, even for clubs not as prominent as Manchester United, it’s possible to identify, develop and even at one stage sell,” said Rangnick.
“I know Manchester United is not a selling club but rather a developing and buying club, but this is possible and this is what is most important, that the club finds players for whom it is the next logical step is in their career, to develop their sporting career.”
There was a degree of correcting himself in that answer, but this is the philosophy that Rangnick knows. It is what he did with Hoffenheim, Salzburg and Leipzig.
To ask him, at 63, to now change his approach and sign elite players ready to win now, is to ask him to forget the principles which actually made him a success. Rangnick deserves credit for the work he’s done with those clubs, but is that the level United aspire to?
None of the supporters who have loved Rangnick’s open and honest assessment of the club’s failings want them to become a club that develops players to sell to Real Madrid, Paris St-Germain or Manchester City.
Rangnick’s candor might have shone a light into the parts of this system that simply haven’t been working at Old Trafford, but plenty of people – even inside Old Trafford – knew that anyway. The question now is he the man to fix those problems? And the answer is no.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.