Ralf Rangnick against the Manchester United machine: is it a master stroke? | Manchester United

Dyes one. Ralf entered the chat. There will be a note of relief on the news, announced on Monday morning via a club statement, that Manchester United have officially named their final interim manager, following on from the previous interim to permanent, who in turn was replaced by the previous interim, which has now been replaced by the current interim.

First of all. Ralf Rangnick is a great ‘get’ for the United executive level. The annual Premier League sacking season is not recorded by gruff-voiced middlemen ringing the phones of Premier League CEOs saying things like, “Ralf is very, repeat very, very interested.” Rangnick is above all an ideologue. He must love and believe in what you offer.

But her appearance now raises two important points. First, how is it possible that this huge global brand, this huge public business entity, is so appallingly random in recruiting its most important employee? Rangnick is United’s fifth semi-permanent manager in eight years. At least José Mourinho and Louis van Gaal had something in common – arrogance, the past, angry statements. The Ole United era lurch to Rangnick’s academic styles has a sort of Partridge TV pitch element: tussle with William Shatner, gegenpressing with Cristiano Ronaldo, Phillip Schofield talks about Chekhov.

Which is very good and quite predictable. But there’s also the second thing about Rangnick’s arrival. It doesn’t matter how they got here. Cut the noise. It’s a really enticing prospect. It all depends on the influence he manages to exert. But in terms of scale and method, Rangnick to United is arguably the most sweeping managerial appointment the Premier League has seen.

It is Rangnick’s personality as much as his background that makes him such a surprising turning point. There has already been a lot of thought about his familiar lines, quotes and jokes in recent days. What emerges from this patchwork is a slightly comical figure, something along the lines of Evelyn Waugh’s German Modernist architect professor Otto Silenus, who sees human beings as imperfect mechanical designs, who says things like ” the only perfect building must be the factory, because that is built to house machines not men ”. Based on his pre-commercial, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Rangnick hold his first press conference standing motionless behind a synthesizer surrounded by dry ice and mumbling about being a robot.

Except, of course, that he’s actually a coach who feels the sport with passion, who sees coaching and theory as a kind of intellectual vocation. Rangnick has been called the godfather of modern German pressing football, but his own main influence came from further east. “We didn’t even have the vocabulary to describe the things that were happening on the pitch. But we knew it was the future. Rangnick described his first view of Valeriy Lobanovskyi’s Dynamo Kyiv in February 1983 on the Coaches’ Voice website. He was leading FC Viktoria Backnang in the sixth tier of West German football when Dynamo came to play a friendly. “A few minutes later,” Rangnick recalls, “I had to stop and count their players. Something was wrong. Did they have 13 or 14 men on the pitch?

Lobanovskyi, with his concrete jowls, his worker’s cap, had been decorated colonel of the Red Army. He built the wonderful USSR teams of 1986 and 1988, pioneered the use of pre-modern computers in football, obsessed with numbers, measurements, distances traveled, viewing players as mobile and fluid human units. Kyiv was the first team Rangnick saw “consistently pushing the ball”. His own mixed and varied athletic life has been lived in pursuit of that light bulb moment, chasing that feeling, and notable for his ability to inspire and enlighten others in the same way.

Rangnick is obsessed with forms and systems rather than trophies. Photograph: Alexander Shcherbak / TASS

It’s Rangnick’s obsession, not with cups or trophies, but with shapes, space and systems. Likes: team play, theory, old silent and dead geniuses of the Soviet era. Dislikes: ego, star players, inefficiencies. And now here he is at Old Trafford. Hmm. How will it work?

And here is where his appointment to a club so aggressively, and so awkwardly, as a commercial machine, becomes fascinating. It is not difficult to see the potential for disaster. What’s the worst thing you can do with Rangnick? How about throwing him into a mid-season rescue job in a hysterically hungry league at a club obsessed with its own marketing arm? Welcome, Mr. Process, to a place where there is no process. Now to work.

There is also something a little sinister about United looking for Ralf, looking for the closest ‘thought guy’ when the brand and stardom have failed. We lack culture. We lack vision. Let’s go buy one. Let’s take this careful and disciplined thing and apply it to this sloppy, careless, money drunk thing. Maybe one will crush the other. Who knows what?

And yet, for all that, there is every reason to believe that it could turn out to be a masterstroke.

Rangnick’s job here, his role, is simply to be Rangnick: to instill discipline, a system, small but simple improvements. There are so many fruits at hand here, a group of players, a club that claims not only its tactical intelligence, but also a good management of the culture. Rangnick is not a “cold” figure in this sense. He has two sons of the same age as his players. He wants to understand how these players think and work, how they can be happy.

“I consider it my duty to help them face all the temptations and the false reality they face as young men who make a lot of money.” It’s a delightful prospect. United have so many players performing below capacity, so many lost-looking young men, ghosts in the machine. Rangnick loves bright, energetic and affordable footballers. What could he do with Mason Greenwood and Jadon Sancho? What other levels can he get from this level of vaguely scared-looking regulars, a Fred, a Wan-Bissaka, a McTominay?

And in the end, any obstacles Rangnick may encounter along the way seem to dissolve a bit. The idea that English football is a strange new frontier is a bit dated. Rangnick has personally influenced at least four of his fellow managers. We are not in 1995. There are no secrets here.

Can United players learn new things now, adopt a mid-season system? Well, yes they can. Footballers absorb huge amounts of detail and planning between games anyway. It’s now part of the briefing to be flexible, to understand the systems, to be aware of the tactics. If players wish, significant changes can be made. Ralf against the machine starts here.

About Shelley Hales

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