Ralf Rangnick has just been recently hired by Manchester United. A man with several layers of experience in Germany, most notably, at Hannover 96, VfB Stuttgart, Schalke 04, 1899 Hoffenheim, and RB Leipzig has just taken the reins of arguably the most recognizable, if not greatest, club in England.
This also happens to be a club that has been stuck in limbo for the better part of a decade. Correction, a club that has put itself in limbo.
Rangnick is a brilliant manager with fascinating ideas, an excellent talent spotter, and a successful director, all things United needs. Yet somehow, the whole situation feels like it has significant potential to cause even more drama. Rangnick is at his best when he has a rarely-seen amount of control as coach (or director). Just ask his previous teams— Leipzig, a perfect example. He secured promotion to the Bundesliga before stepping aside (or up) to be the director. Even from this position he had a powerful influence on the team.
Rangnick’s experiences indicate that he is most successful when he is able to pick and control how his team plays and who he plays, when he can make sweeping, club-altering changes and demands. This has been problematic before (Schalke 04). Success comes at a price and, to be fair, his price is not all that costly. That being said, he has been out of the game for two years and has never managed such a big club.
The football world is lucky to have him back in the game and, in the end, it was quite fortuitous that AC Milan decided to stick with Stefano Pioli in 2020.
At the time, however, Rangnick’s rumored move to Italy had sparked controversy in the Rossoneri camp. Paolo Maldini did not take kindly to reports of Rangnick’s imminent arrival (https://www.acmilaninfo.com/the-true-reasons-why-ac-milan-pulled-the-plug-on-ralf-rangnick/)— unsurprising, considering he, or at least his influence, would have been severely damaged with the German’s presence.
This brings us back to his role at Manchester United. He was appointed at the end of November 2021 after United parted with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after growing calls from pundits (mostly outside of England and especially Manchester) and fans alike.
[A quick shoutout to Michael Carrick who disappointingly but understandably just left the club and seems to have potential as a future coach. Maybe like another Manchester United legend, Ryan Giggs, he will land a national team job with extremely limited coaching experience. That’s unfair because Carrick appears to be better equipped for a successful future as a coach. Here’s to hoping he continues as an assistant or a youth/second team coach outside of England to broaden his horizons].
Rangnick would have been the perfect appointment for Manchester United— a couple years earlier. This interim role followed by a two-year consultancy period screams of United wanting two opposing things and trying to force the issue: a qualified interim coach who can help build the identity of the team, can stay on after as they look to hire another coach (who hopefully accepts the awkward footing), guide the direction of the club along with Darren Fletcher and whoever replaces Ed Woodward’s outsized influence (let’s not forget that little nugget) and could potentially step back in if things go badly, and also… too many things to name.
It all sounds rather messy. Unless, United has planned well ahead, knows who will be taking over next season, and said coach is completely in agreement with Rangnick’s consultant role and Rangnick himself will be content in this new position, as well. Does that sound like United? Or even Rangnick (possibly: he’s older and in a different situation, so maybe it could work. But seriously…)?
Manchester United could have had Mauricio Pochettino when he was at the top of his game before he took the PSG job. Antonio Conte was recently available but was allowed to go to Tottenham. Everyone knows how good those two coaches are (although Pochettino’s struggles at PSG have clouded some people’s vision). Of course, Conte is combustible but United could not have asked for a better manager to come in and make them win. Is Zinedine Zidane going to be convinced? Unlikely. Will they go get Laurent Blanc? Why? Brendan Rodgers? Awkward. Graham Potter? Too soon, perhaps. Erik Ten Hag? Ok, that could be interesting.
They are banking on Rangnick righting the ship and then what? What will be the deciding factor for him staying? For surely, that must be the next step. It’s nearly unfathomable to think that if he were successful they would just part ways. Would the fans allow it? The club hired Solskjaer on a permanent basis after an initial impressive run. It had been a wrong but perhaps admirable decision then. The question is: have they learned from it? It must, however, be taken into account that Rangnick and Solskjaer are vastly different in terms of experience, identity, backroom staff, playing experience, attachment to the club, and conviction. That’s a lot. So maybe this time it will be different. Maybe he turns United around (this writer believes he will). But what if he does turn them around? United has had the all-powerful manager before but that was a rarity then and nonexistent now. Would the directors and executives who have gained influence be willing to return to that time? Would Rangnick be willing not to, would he be willing to work different to his modus operandi? At the end of the season, if both agree for him to continue as a consultant, does anyone truly believe that an established world-class coach would accept the manager role with the shadow of Rangnick looming over them? What if they don’t go with an established coach? Is that really the best way to set up a new manager to succeed?
There are a lot of questions and no one quite knows where this will go (certainly, not United); the only thing that’s definite is that the Theatre of Dreams will once again serve up drama.