Interim manager Ralf Rangnick has likened the reconstruction of Manchester United to open-heart surgery.
United are certain to finish a fifth successive season trophyless and are unlikely to qualify for the Champions League for the fourth time in the last nine seasons.
Six out-of-contract players are due to leave while several others under contract are open to leaving, with Rangnick suggesting United need up to 10 ‘new players’.
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United have lost to Manchester City and Liverpool, the Premier League’s top two, by an aggregate scoreline of 15-1 across four fixtures this season. Rangnick, manager for the away games at the Etihad and Anfield, has become scathing in his analysis of the United squad as he approaches his last four weeks as interim manager.
United’s next manager Erik ten Hag has signed a three-year contract with the option of an additional year but the problems at the club extend beyond the football team, with some skeptical supporters of football director John Murtough and technical director Darren Fletcher, as well as chief executive Richard Arnold and the director of football negotiations Matt Judge. Arnold and Judge are friends of the former executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, responsible for recruiting his fellow alumni from the University of Bristol.
Rangnick insists it is ‘crystal clear’ what United must change to become a credible and competitive force again, reiterating it can be achieved in as few as three transfer windows.
“Too many ifs and what would happen,” Rangnick scoffed when he was asked if United could hold their nerve and support Ten Hag. “I can only tell you from what I’ve seen and heard and experienced so far, that I think Erik ten Hag is a good choice, if not a very good choice. He has shown that in the past and I’m pretty convinced he’s the best possible coach you could get right now.
“All the other things as I said earlier on, as sad as it is and as frustrating as it feels right now for everyone involved. And for me, It’s terribly frustrating because in the last 10 or 15 years we only experienced success, myself also as a sporting director and as a manager.
“In football, you’re not always on the bright side. Right now, we’re on the other side. As I said earlier, the good thing is that it’s crystal clear it’s not that difficult.
“You don’t even need glasses,” Rangnick explained, removing his spectacles, “to see and analyze where the problems are. Now it’s only about how do we solve them?
“For me it’s not enough to do some minor amendments, some little issues here and there and little cosmetic things. In medicine, you would say that this is an operation of the open heart. There are more things to be changed than some little things here and some minor things there but this is the good thing.
“For me, if this happens and everyone has realized that this has to happen and if people want to work together, then it makes sense and I still believe it doesn’t take two or three years to change those things. This can happen within one year.
“Other clubs not too far away from here have shown that it doesn’t take two, three or four years, it’s possible within one, two or maybe three transfer windows.
“Is strong leadership needed? For sure. This is also something that not just one single person as a manager can do. With all respect to Jurgen and Pep I’m sure that they didn’t do all the things themselves. There were also other people involved in those two clubs, people in certain positions no matter what area it was in order to rebuild and build something that we want to build here.
“In all areas, you have to have top people and they have to work together in a very close and very reliable way.
“He (Ten Hag)’s a good character to start with, all I heard from people who work with him is that he is a very good character, very communicative, very much carries himself and does things himself.
“Obviously, he needs the assistance of the whole club, all the people inside the club and I think he will get that and have the chance to mold a new team together with the scouting department and the board which is necessary, obviously.
“For me, this is the most vital part that the club manages to get in the best possible players, the attitude and the energy and for me, it’s a question for me of energy. We need positive energy for the new team and this is also important for the new manager.
“We spoke about other clubs in a similar position as United five or six years ago, so if the right lessons are being learned from what has happened this season this could be one of the good things from what we’re going through right now.
“At least we know what kind of screws we need to turn, which things we need to change and if that happens why should Erik ten Hag not be as successful as he was at Ajax? It’s not the manager’s quality it’s about changing all the other things.
“I would rather say it’s more the level of expectation [than patience]. This has also got to do with patience, yes. But at a club like Manchester United, it’s difficult to tell people to be patient.
“We have to face the current situation. We lost on aggregate against Liverpool 9-0, we lost against Manchester City 6-1 on aggregate, the team even lost against teams like Watford 4-1, a team like Everton – who were not full of confidence – 1-0.This is just the reality, the sad reality.
“It also makes sense to have a sense of reality, I wouldn’t even call it patience I would call it reality. We have to acknowledge this and this would also help Erik ten Hag.”
It has been apparent for a number of weeks Ten Hag was expected to take over at United but now it is official the players’ performances will be heavily scrutinized, especially after the horrific 4-0 thrashing by Liverpool on Tuesday.
Rangnick takes United to Arsenal on Saturday knowing defeat would all but end their lingering hopes of finishing fourth to get into the Champions League next season. Rangnick stressed the players owe the supporters a performance: “We owe it to the couple of thousand supporters traveling to London tomorrow and the millions of Man United fans across the world.
“And it’s also a question of pride and honor we cannot play the way we played at Liverpool, it’s just impossible. We showed in the last couple of weeks and months that we’re capable of playing in a different way.
“We have five games to play and we have to take it game-by-game. It doesn’t make sense to speculate against which kind of percentage of chances we missed to finish fourth.
“Maybe if we win all five games, even then it’s not in our hands, we cannot influence the other results only our results. The way we have played recently, it doesn’t make sense to say we have a good chance to finish fourth at the end, this doesn’t make sense.
“For me right now, it’s only about getting a better performance on the pitch tomorrow and then after that game the next one is not an easy one against Chelsea.
“It’s not about being sustainable right now it’s about showing a different mentality on the pitch, a different performance and sustainably changing things is about what has to happen in the future.
“In training, we have been training on the kind of level that I would have wanted us to train. Obviously, we are very far away from the kind of football that I would like to play and that I normally stand for as a manager, we are very far away.
“Even if I watched Burnley yesterday in the second-half against Southampton, and they are fighting for relegation and to stay in the league, the way that they defended in the second-half didn’t allow Southampton a single chance to score. This is what I mean by basics, those are the things we need to try and get implemented again and need to show in the next few games.”