Ralph Rangnick can bring Manchester United into the future by breaking the Christ knot of the past
It’s a date that involved a month’s worth of negotiations, and then some. The name Ralph Rangnick was first raised as a possible replacement for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after, after Manchester United5-0 defeat to Liverpool, but the working relationship with the EVP Ed Woodward back much further.
The Old Trafford official has consulted Rangnick in the past, and at various points has considered using his expertise to reform the club. Solskjaer’s initial success was one of the few different developments that prevented this.
This is a date — and club theorist — that Woodward has wanted for a while. Given that he is on the verge of leaving office, making decisions too late is arguably the story of Woodward’s tenure. This applies to everything, from the appointment of Jose Mourinho, three years too late, to finally sacking Solskjaer.
The big difference with this is that he can still go much further, bringing United into the future, but also erode their unhelpful obsession with the past.
This is the broader benefit of appointing the “Godfather of Serious Pressure” and one of the major influences on how 2021 football is played. You can’t bring in Rangnick without allowing for a major cultural change.
He’s one of those characters whose way of working automatically puts principles in place, because he changes the way people think. This comes from asking research questions, in a way that can seem demanding.
United really requires all of that.
Their own culture has become something of a caricature. United may object to this, but the club’s actions revealed the focus on the managers as Christian figures. Perhaps this is inevitable when their greatest legends are the patriarchs who have rebuilt the club over a collegial period of more than half a century, while winning all of their European Cups and 90% of league titles. It will also be clearer, too, after Sir Alex Ferguson echoed everything Sir Matt Busby had done but rose to new heights.
He created a mentality, even subconsciously, that this was just United’s ‘way’. They have always been waiting for the coming Messiah.
Such thinking ensured a culture that began to enslave the club rather than serve it. Perhaps no other club in Europe so owes it to the idea of a ‘manager’. Summing up it all was Woodward’s supposed “obsession” with echoing Martin Edwards in 1989/90 and giving Solskjaer time to rectify this, long after it became painfully clear that sticking with him was a mistake.
All Norwegian time, especially the last few months, has been rock bottom to this. It seemed like a constant attempt to recreate the past by rote rather than design something new with clever design.
I felt a lot of it was tribute work, club performances that worked more on nostalgia than anything else. This can be heard in Solskjaer’s many references to the past, right down to one of his last lines on the job. As Claudio Ranieri wished him well in front of the media after that fateful final defeat to Watford, Solskjaer sadly repeated the first few words of Eric Cantona’s famous sentence. “When the seagulls follow the trawler…”
It’s ironic and self-defeating because a lot of the discussion in Ferguson’s last years has been about avoiding exactly this. Instead, United fell into every trap, and then some new ones.
They didn’t just repeat the mistakes they made after Busby, or those made by Liverpool in the 1990s. They made brand new mistakes, many of which were a unique result of the age of social media.
When nostalgia is an easy sale, and the superficial echoes of the past get such an emotional response, it could be something you buy a lot of—especially when you don’t actually win.
United became overwhelmed by their own notions of exceptionalism, rather than being guided by exceptional standards.
The problem is that even this level of myth cannot escape the truth of the results.
It was proven by the way the Watford match ended that even famous loyal United fans mistreated Solskjaer.
They were, after all, just a football team winning and losing matches. No amount of myth can get away with it.
They are now, at least, a football club that has appointed one of the best visionaries in the modern game.
Rangnick will change the culture because he will start changing minds. It represents that much power.
It must be admitted that this is also one of the reasons why he was “only” in the Lokomotiv Moscow club and why such a vaunted figure spent so little time working in the big clubs. Rajnik was notorious for demanding, and that naturally applies to negotiations as well. He wants levels of power that power clubs are usually unwilling to give.
The main reason this took so long, and Solskjaer was not replaced sooner, is that Rangnick wanted to secure a position in the summer after this temporary role. United have finally been able to overcome that in the discussions over the past few days by creating an advisory role.
That’s clever, and only adds to the sense that this is the most informed decision the club has made since Ferguson’s retirement.
Many who know Rangnick believe that he will go much further, just because of the effect it will have.
It will raise United’s players up to speed in the modern game, quite literally.
Much has been said about Rangnick’s ideology, but the best illustration of how it works comes from the training ground. His coach has set the drills so that groups without the ball must score in five seconds, and groups with the ball must score at 10. The countdown clock is used to increase the pressure, so that the drills “attack the nerves.”
The rationale comes from the work of psychologist Ivan Pavlov and dozens of scientific papers on the best of football.
“It’s based on classical conditioning, like Pavlov’s dog,” explains Alex Zorneger, one of the trainers in Leipzig from Rangnick. “You think faster than the opponent, so you can handle situations faster than the opponent. The idea is that it becomes almost like slow motion for you. What to do when you lose the ball becomes second nature.”
This is a world apart from anything United have done under Solskjaer but also Moyes, Mourinho and – to a lesser extent – Van Gaal.
It is also the modern world of football.
There have been comments that indulgent United stars will not take this. The phrase “Good luck getting them to press,” was a single line. Those who are more familiar with how the band operates caution against such arguments. This is not Paris Saint-Germain. The bigger character, Cristiano Ronaldo, is generally very professional on the field.
After him, sources say it’s a band that’s hungry for training now. for something modern. They starved of it. They are ready for something different.
Rangnick will also offer alternative ways of looking at jobs.
This has impressed personalities such as football director John Murtaugh in the discussions. Rangnick has painted a picture of how his perfect moves look, and how certain United players can fit in with certain attacks.
Some can already visualize the change of team structure. This temporary role could have broader implications for the club’s structure.
Rangnick will essentially include a new philosophical foundation. A bit like the way the people at Bayern Munich said Van Gaal before Pep Guardiola, it will make the players more prepared for what comes next.
In that regard, Ajax’s Erik ten Hag is much closer to Rangnick’s approach than Mauricio Pochettino. independent United were similarly told how the Dutch coach operates in a structure, rather than claiming to be the ‘manager’. He will start transforming the club like this.
It is undoubtedly a surprising new trend for Manchester United.
It’s the most interesting move they’ve made in years.
“It shows that they have to be taken seriously again,” said one of the players linked to his opponent.
For this reason, even if Rangnick does not remain in the role after May, his influence will go much further.
A club that is used to playing like 1999 will do much better in 2022.