If only we had the free time and patience, Ralf Rangnick’s career is the one many of us would love to emulate on Football Manager. With no great playing record to speak of, you start in the regional leagues in Germany, spending years gradually building up your reputation as a modern thinker with an appealing style of play which eventually sees some of the biggest clubs in the world sit up and pay attention.
This is the experience us Football Manager purists really want, however much starting a game as the Paris Saint-Germain boss and winning annual quintuples with Messi, Mbappe and Neymar might bring cheap thrills.
For Rangnick, the long road from the bottom is the reality of the last 40 years of his life, and it is a journey which has led him to the verge of the interim manager’s role at Manchester United. After Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sacking on Sunday, the Red Devils announced that their next appointment would be until the end of the season only, with a permanent boss being named ahead of the 2022-23 campaign.
That gives Rangnick, who is set to be appointed for the remainder of 2021-22, six months to show what he has learned from four decades during which he has won zero national leagues titles but millions of admirers thanks to his teams’ high-pressing approach to games. In turning to the Lokomotiv Moscow head of sports and development, United have made a commitment to a vision which will take them beyond Rangnick’s immediate spell in charge.
Jurgen Klopp speaks about how highly regarded Ralf Rangnick is among other football coaches
The offer to keep him on until the summer of 2024 in a consultancy role makes immense sense. While Rangnick will make way for a replacement in the manager’s office after this campaign, United need to nail an identity around which they want to build the next era of the club. If that is to be even loosely based on Rangnick’s Gegenpressing principles, then the 63-year-old is exactly the right person to hand the reins to.
He is considered as something of a godfather of modern-day German coaching, with the likes of Jurgen Klopp, Julian Nagelsmann and more having waxed lyrical about the effect he can have on a team and on a club as a whole. And Rangnick himself revealed in an article for The Coaches’ Voice that it was Dynamo Kiev visionary Valeriy Lobanovskyi who showed him the path to follow back in the early 1980s.
“I was player-manager at sixth division FC Viktoria Backnang, outside Stuttgart,” Rangnick explained. “We weren’t very good, but we were extremely lucky – on a cold February day in 1983, we chanced upon a genius.
“Dynamo Kiev, the team of legendary coach Valeriy Lobanovskyi, were staying in a nearby training centre and needed easy opposition for a friendly. A few minutes in, when the ball had gone out for a throw-in, I had to stop and count their players. Something was wrong. Did they have 13 or 14 men on the pitch?
“I had played against top teams before – we always lost against them, of course – but they had at least given you the occasional moment of breathing space. Kiev were the first team I had ever come up against who systematically pressed the ball.
“That was my football epiphany. I understood that there was a different way of playing.”
What has followed is a CV which includes spells at German institutions such as Stuttgart, Hannover, Schalke and Hoffenheim, and latterly two one-year runs as head coach at RB Leipzig which featured promotion to the Bundesliga and a third-placed finish in the top flight either side of two seasons as sporting director.
The fact that he has never spent more than four years in any coaching role – his longest being his role as Stuttgart’s youth team boss between 1990 and 1994 – suggests a short-termism which actually in no way reflects his effect on clubs. While his stays might not have been the longest, his impact has been known to last long after he has gone.
His decision to openly explain his philosophy on a tactics board on German TV in 1998 raised eyebrows but immediately enhanced his reputation, as he quickly became credited as a revolutionary of sorts. And the more managers such as Klopp, Nagelsmann and Thomas Tuchel have achieved, so the aura around their ‘mentor’ Rangnick has grown.
What Manchester United potentially have on their hands is more than simply a stop-gap. They have a man who can make immediate positive changes to a talented squad, but more than that he is a visionary whose influence will help to shape the United sides of 2022-23 and beyond.
An interim manager with an innate long-term approach. Maybe Manchester United are getting the best of both worlds with Ralf Rangnick.
*Odds supplied by Betfred | 18+ | BeGambleAware