Ralf Rangnick will not take up a consultancy role at Manchester United, and instead intends to concentrate full-time on his new job as manager of Austria. The German had signed up for a two-year spell as a consultant as part of his agreement to take over as interim manager after the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Now United find themselves in the bizarre position of having Rangnick’s involvement with the club end before he’s had chance to move into a role that suits him far better than management did.
Rangnick’s time in the Red Devils dugout failed to launch, with the former Schalke manager winning just 11 of his 29 matches in charge. Perhaps this should have been seen as inevitable, given Rangnick had managed in just two of the previous ten seasons.
Unlike his coaching credentials, Rangnick’s experience and ability as a football executive is rarely questioned. Whatever you think about the energy drink revolution in football, you can’t fault that Red Bull have sculpted an effective operation. Much of that was built in the image of Rangnick. It stands to reason that at a time when Manchester United are grasping for an identity, an administrator with a track record of cultivating a forward-thinking and modern ethos should be charged with sculpting one for them.
That hasn’t happened, and the reasons given are varied. The official line is that Rangnick will not have time for the role, with his duties with the Austria national team being too all-encompassing. However, James Ducker of The Telegraph reports Rangnick was due to work just six days a month on his United duties. This makes claims that juggling the two roles would be too demanding sound more than a little hollow.
There have been hints that Rangnick’s role might not be as ironclad as once thought. His record as manager, while not applicable to his potential aptitude as a consultant, perhaps made a few Old Trafford officials nervous. The 63-year-old’s regular viral takedowns of the players and club, while currying favour with a sect of the online fanbase, won’t have helped either. With a few Jose Mourinho-sized exceptions, usually a player’s failure is addressed in-house behind closed doors. This is where Rangnick’s move from coach to consultant hit a snag. Rangnick became so caught up with defending his own crumbling management by attacking those around him that he burned the bridge he would need to use to reach the club’s boardroom.
There has been another large-scale change since Rangnick first joined the club. Erik ten Hag has been confirmed as the permanent Manchester United manager. Beyond a coquettish answer to a journalist’s question early in his tenure, Rangnick never seemed to have real designs on the job long-term. But there is a chance Ten Hag was not keen on working alongside the outgoing manager. When asked about Rangnick’s consultancy, the Dutchman dismissed it as “on the club” to decide his role. While there is not much there to go on, it certainly did not read as the words of someone eager to strike up a partnership. A two-hour phone call between the pair has been reported, and perhaps the fact this has emerged so close to the news of Rangnick’s departure is instructive.
The Red Bull model and the set-up at Ten Hag’s previous club, Ajax, are very different. Broadly, one is a worldwide cottage industry of football talent, the other a forward-thinking but fiercely traditional giant of European soccer. One is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, big-budget, glossy and eye-catching. The other is the pages of Marvel comics. Inspirational, original, innovative. The former would not exist without the latter’s influence, but the end product caters for different needs. Ten Hag already seems to command a level of autonomy at Old Trafford, and perhaps Rangnick was seen as, if not a challenge, then not complementary to that.
Perhaps all of the above reasoning is over-complicated. Perhaps Rangnick simply found a club in disarray, saw no clear way to organise the chaos and washed his hands of the whole affair. You can’t blame him really. At the age of 63, and with his influence limited to six days a month, his hands were somewhat tied. Why ally yourself to a project you don’t feel you can execute effectively? Whatever the reasons are, the brief marriage of Rangnick and United is over. It will likely be a quickly-forgotten one, with both club and coach already having moved on.