Friday, May 27

Ralf Rangnick vs. Manchester United machine: is it a masterstroke? | United manchester

Day one. Ralf has entered the chat. There will be a note of relief at the news, announced Monday morning through a club statement, that Manchester United have formally appointed their last interim coach, following up on the previous interim to permanent, who in turn was superseded by the former interim, which has now been superseded by the current interim.

The first is the first. Ralf Rangnick is a great “achievement” for United’s executive level. The annual season of Premier League layoffs is not accompanied by hoarse-voiced brokers pinging the phones of Premier League CEOs saying things like, “Ralf is very, I repeat, very, interested.” Rangnick is above all an ideologue. He has to like it and believe in what you are offering him.

But its appearance now does raise two important points. First, how can this vast global brand, this huge public business entity, be so frighteningly random in hiring its most important employee? Rangnick is United’s fifth semi-permanent coach in eight years. At least José Mourinho and Louis van Gaal had something in common: arrogance, the past, angry pronouncements. United’s leap from the Ole era to Rangnick’s academic styles has a kind of Partridge television tone: wrestling with William Shatner, pushing Cristiano Ronaldo, Phillip Schofield speaking with Chekhov.

Which is fine 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. This is a really delicious prospect. Much depends on how much influence you can exert. But in terms of scale and methods, Rangnick to United is arguably the most radical managerial appointment the Premier League has ever seen.

It’s both Rangnick’s personality and his background that makes this such an amazing twist. His familiar phrases, quotes and jokes have been studied a lot in recent days. What emerges from that mosaic is a slightly comical figure, something akin to Evelyn Waugh’s German Modernist architecture professor Otto Silenus, who sees human beings as faulty mechanical designs, who says things like “the only perfect building must be the factory, because it is built to house machines, not men ”. Following his pre-publicity, it would not be a surprise to see Rangnick give his first press conference standing motionless behind a synthesizer wrapped in dry ice and muttering about being a robot.

Except, of course, that he’s actually a coach who feels passionate about the sport, who sees coaching and theory as a kind of intellectual calling. Rangnick has been called the godfather of modern German pressure football, but his main influence came from further east. “We didn’t even have the vocabulary to describe the things that were happening in the field. But we knew this was the future. ”Rangnick described his first vision of Valeriy Lobanovskyi’s Dynamo Kyiv in February 1983 on the Coaches’ Voice website. He was managing FC Viktoria Backnang in West German soccer’s sixth division when the Dynamo even played a friendly. “Within a few minutes,” Rangnick recalled, “I had to stop and count their players. Something was wrong. Did they have 13 or 14 men on the field?”

Lobanovskyi, with his concrete double chin, his worker’s cap, had been a decorated colonel in the Red Army. He built the wonderful USSR teams of 1986 and 1988, pioneered the use of pre-modern computers in football, obsession with numbers, metrics, distances traveled, seeing players as fluid and mobile human units. Kiev was the first team Rangnick saw “systematically press the ball”. His own mixed and varied sporting life has been lived in search of that explosive moment, pursuing that feeling, and stands out for his ability to inspire and enlighten others in the same way.

Ralf rangnick
Rangnick is obsessed with forms and systems more than trophies. Photography: Alexander Shcherbak / TASS

This is Rangnick’s obsession, not cups or trophies, but shapes, space, and systems. Likes: team play, theory, silent old geniuses from the Soviet era. Dislikes: Ego, Star Players, Inefficiencies. And now here he is at Old Trafford. Hmm. How is this going to work?

And this is where his appointment to a club that has been run as aggressively and as awkwardly as a trading 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 on a midseason rescue job at a hysterically hungry club obsessed with its own marketing arm? Welcome, Mr. Process, to a place where there is no process. Now get down to work.

There’s also something a little bleak about United approaching Ralf, looking for the closest “thought boy” when brand and celebrity have failed. We lack culture. We lack a vision. Let’s buy one. Let’s take this careful, disciplined thing and apply it to this sloppy, sloppy, cash-drunk thing. Perhaps one will overwhelm the other. Who knows which? And yet, despite everything, there are many reasons to believe that this could turn into a masterstroke.

Rangnick’s job here, his role, is simply to be Rangnick: instilling discipline, a system, small but simple improvements. There is plenty of fruit at hand here, a group of players, a club clamoring not only for their tactical intelligence, but also for a friendly management of the culture. Rangnick is not a “cold” figure in that sense. He has two children the same age as his players. He wants to understand how these players think and work, how they can be happy.

“I see it as my duty to help them deal with all the temptations and the false reality that they face when they are young people who earn a lot of money.” It is a delightful prospect. United have so many players operating below their capacity, so many young people looking lost, ghosts in the machine. Rangnick loves bright, energetic, and meek footballers. What could he do with Mason Greenwood and Jadon Sancho? What other levels can you bring out of that vaguely scared-looking group of regulars, a Fred, a Wan-Bissaka, a McTominay?

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

Can United players learn new things now, adopt a midseason system? Well, yes they can. In any case, footballers absorb a great deal of detail and planning between matches. It’s part of the job now to be flexible, to understand the systems, to be tactically aware. If the players are willing, important changes can be made. Ralf against the machine starts here.

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