As the pioneer of a high-intensity pressing game adopted widely across Germany, Ralf Rangnick was an inspiration for coaches like Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel who have gone on to be successful at two of England’s biggest soccer teams.
At the age of 63, Rangnick is heading to the English game himself, ready to take on his countrymen as manager of the grandest club of them all.
The revered German coach was hired Monday to lead Manchester United until the end of the season, an appointment that likely will shake up the playing style and management structure of a Premier League giant seeking to return to the top of the English game after nearly a decade of underachievement.
Rangnick has left his role as head of sports and development at Russian club Lokomotiv Moscow to take charge of United, which has been managed by former player Michael Carrick since the firing of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Nov. 21.
United, which is in eighth place after a third of the Premier League season, is planning to hire a permanent manager in the offseason. At that time, Rangnick will take up a “consultancy role for a further two years,” the club said.
“The squad is full of talent and has a great balance of youth and experience,” Rangnick said. “All my efforts for the next six months will be on helping these players fulfil their potential, both individually and, most importantly, as a team.”
Getting teams to function as a unit has been Rangnick’s great strength in his long career in soccer management that started in the 1980s when, as player-coach of unheralded sixth-tier team Viktoria Backnang, he watched in awe as a touring Dynamo Kyiv team coached by Ukrainian great Valeriy Lobanovskyi overwhelmed the German side with its intensity and relentless pressing.
It made Rangnick think deeply about the game. Now he is regarded as “The Professor” of German soccer, his style of play spreading through his native country and becoming increasingly dominant around the world over the last decade.
Under Klopp, Liverpool won the Premier League in 2020 and the Champions League in 2019 with it. The Tuchel-led Chelsea won the Champions League last season and is leading the Premier League this season.
United director John Murtough described Rangnick as “one of the most respected coaches and innovators in European football.”
“He was our No. 1 candidate for interim manager,” Murtough said, “reflecting the invaluable leadership and technical skills he will bring from almost four decades of experience in management and coaching.”
Rangnick’s arrival at Old Trafford, for his first job in English soccer, should shake up the playing style of United as the record 20-time English champions look to rescue a season that was thrown off course under Solskjaer.
United is already 12 points behind Chelsea after 13 matches, with Solskjaer unable to develop a coherent game plan to challenge the team’s biggest rivals in England. The lack of a pressing game was particularly evident, especially when Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City — the top three — all do that facet of the game so well.
Rangnick should provide that, though how some players — in particular 36-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo — adapt will be fascinating to see.
Rangnick’s first match in charge will be against Arsenal on Thursday if he is able to secure a working visa by then. If not, Carrick will continue in an interim role into which he has transitioned well, securing a place in the knockout stage of the Champions League after to a win at Villarreal and earning a slightly fortunate 1-1 draw at Chelsea in the Premier League on Sunday.
United has gone from the relative inexperience of Solskjaer, a club great who was in charge for three years and didn’t win a trophy despite improving the make-up of — and culture in — the squad, to a visionary like Rangnick, who has a big reputation to live up to.
Most of Rangnick’s time over the last decade was spent as sporting director, first at Salzburg then at Leipzig. Then he had an overall role for the whole Red Bull network, overseeing transfers and hiring while coaches handled the day-to-day tactical work.
His most recent role, in Russia with Lokomotiv, has been more of the same because he had overall authority for transfer strategy and a recent coaching appointment.
The highlight of a slew of short-lived spells as coach with German clubs was at Schalke, where he won the German Cup in 2011 — the same year he reached the semifinals of the Champions League, only to lose to Alex Ferguson’s United.
Getting United back in Europe’s top competition will be his aim — the team is five points behind fourth-place West Ham — before he gets to work as a consultant, perhaps putting in place a philosophy that will serve the club well for the long haul.
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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80