Ralf Rangnick: Should he stay on the Manchester United bench next season or should he leave? This is the question the club will face if the caretaker manager secures a top-four finish, claims (or simply misses out on) FA Cup glory and shows well in the Champions League; basically, if he performs as an impressive mid-season Mr. Fixit he deserves a chance to have a No 1 contract drawn.
The German is open to full-time work, so could incoming United CEO Richard Arnold stick with him in mid-May? After the better part of two months and nine games, a picture of Rangnick and his managerial savvy is forming. Wednesday at Brentford was particularly instructive because, with United 2-0 up, the 63-year-old made Cristiano Ronaldo his scapegoat and a 3-1 victory was the reward. He led the team to 35 points and maintained his finalist status in hopes of getting ahead of the curve in the quest for a Champions League berth.
So, flash back to the moment in west London when Rangnick assesses United’s 2-0 lead, Mason Greenwood’s attack was started by a clever chest-down pass from Ronaldo, and decides the 36-year-old should being sacrificed for a back three to close the deal in the way it didn’t at Aston Villa, when United carelessly went from 2-0 down to a 2-2 draw.
Ronaldo, as is his modus operandi, is not happy to be hooked at 71 minutes and, as a £490,000-a-week man who is a five-time Ballon d’Or winner with 801 career goals, he demands a reason. “Because I?” he asks. Moments after Marcus Rashford – replaced by Greenwood (who doesn’t demand an explanation) – scored the third, Rangnick, in the heat of battle when he should be concentrating on the field, decides to explain. He then tells the media what he told Ronaldo: that “it was for the good of the team.”
From here, zoom out to see a larger image. The vignette in Brentford is a subplot, a two-man scene in the larger narrative of Rangnick, his style and what might become of him at the end of the season. At the moment, Rangnick is scheduled to take on a two-year quasi-director of football role, as a “consultant”, to use United’s terminology.
The idea was that signing Rangnick would give Arnold-managed United time to chase Paris Saint-Germain’s dazzling manager Mauricio Pochettino, who was in a Champions League final with Tottenham. Or maybe Erik ten Hag from Dutch champion Ajax. Or Brendan Rodgers, who brought Liverpool closer to the 2013-14 title, became Leicester Cup champions and whose team allowed Spurs two goals over 90 minutes to lose 3-2 on the same night United beat Brentford. .
But how about the “godfather of pressure” as a candidate to be United’s fifth permanent manager since Sir Alex Ferguson retired? The man whose handling of Ronaldo suggests a backbone for the job, as well as a penchant for throwing casual bombshells at news conferences, such as the claim that Anthony Martial refused to travel to Villa (the player denies), or that Jadon’s £73m signing Sancho is struggling “psychologically” to deal with playing for the biggest club in the world™. Or that Paul Pogba may be motivated to act solely to attract suitors as his contract runs out.
On the field, too, there are signs that Rangnick is repairing the mess he got himself into. His league record stands at five wins, three draws and one loss; United are alive in two cups: the Champions League round of 16 clash with Atletico Madrid starts next month, and Middlesbrough are away in the fourth round of the Cup next Friday; and, before that, the push for Champions League qualification continues at Old Trafford on Saturday against West Ham.
Moyes’ fourth-placed is the first of 17 Premier League rivals United must draw enough points from to force Rangnick’s paymasters to consider ending the search outside the club for Ole Gunnar’s full-time successor. Solskjær. If the Hammers are beaten, Rangnick’s side overtake them and sit six points behind Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea with a game to go. It’s not that simple, of course. Beyond having to win these games, will United be consistently inconsistent? – there are also Tottenham and Arsenal. They are ahead of United having played fewer games.
These yes, but and perhaps make the situation tempting. If Manchester City look like a surefire candidate to retain the title, at least two Champions League places are now up for grabs. United, under Rangnick, can be stirring up when needed, with previously disappointing players now waking up. Greenwood’s sustained performance chart is yet to rise: as a lethal winger, can he be United’s Mo Salah? – and the less gifted Rashford have been lukewarm, but at Brentford each scored, as did Bruno Fernandes (twice) at Villa.
His form and that of other disappointments, including Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Sancho and Pogba, will be vital in determining where United’s campaign ends and whether next season’s Rangnick will be United’s top or bottom man.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism