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Klopp, Tuchel, Rangnick and the Premier League’s Germanification | Andy Brassell


As Michael Carrick gallantly stepped aside on Wednesday night, the exit of the old and the arrival of the new was officially signed off. When Ralf Rangnick takes charge of Manchester United for the first time against Crystal Palace early on Sunday afternoon, it will be the latest wave of German coaching influence at the top of the Premier League.

Jürgen Klopp’s gutsy propulsion of Liverpool back to prominence has already left an indelible mark on 21st-century English football and Thomas Tuchel, Klopp’s successor at Mainz and then Borussia Dortmund, has been the surprise hit of 2021 in a league that has become an arms race of high-end coaches. Throw in Pep Guardiola, who coached Bayern for three years from 2013, then all of the Premier League’s big four have coaches with relatively recent experience of the sharp end of the Bundesliga.

Rangnick, the last of the quartet to arrive, is the starting point of it all, a man who inadvertently shook German football culture in December 1998 when giving a de facto seminar on a tactics board on the Saturday night institution Das Aktuelle Sportstudio, the German equivalent of Match of the Day.

Ralf Rangnick: 'You cannot possibly turn Manchester United down' – video
Ralf Rangnick: ‘You cannot possibly turn Manchester United down’ – video

The then Ulm coach, midway through whisking a modest club from the third tier to the top flight, purposefully moved coloured and numbered magnets on a whiteboard in front of the attentive presenter Michael Steinbrecher. Such was the innovation in the concepts presented by Rangnick – not least a back four in which one of the centre-backs could act in a libero role – that Steinbrecher felt he had to bullet-point it all for the viewers at the end. Squeezing the space, creating overloads – all part of modern football parlance, but alien to the game’s nomenclature in Germany in the late 90s.

The coach was snootily dubbed “the football professor”, yet Rangnick has long since had the last laugh. What he was lampooned for in certain quarters of German football society is what has proved to be his greatest strength: clear, detailed explanations of plan and performance, which have helped countless players hit form and, in some cases, fulfil their potential.

Despite the oft-excellent work of the Austrian Ralph Hasenhüttl, who coached RB Leipzig in the two-year spell between Rangnick’s two separate seasons in charge of the first team, the clearest manifestation of the Rangnick credo in the Premier League is Tuchel. Rangnick had made a 27-year-old Tuchel head coach of Stuttgart’s under-15 side in 2000 having met him at Ulm, and later tried to bring him to Hoffenheim to lead the under-23s. Tuchel presumably would have been groomed for eventual ascension to the top job.

Gegenpressing might fit the Premier League, where teams have in recent years fought for the right to counterattack, but Tuchel is the best example of why Rangnick’s approach could work for United. That one word, used to death barely a week after the confirmation of Rangnick’s arrival, does not suffice to describe Tuchel’s work. He already showed greater versatility at Borussia Dortmund, where his manner ruffled feathers to an eventually unsustainable degree but where his coaching pedigree was never questioned.

Thomas Tuchel (left) and Jürgen Klopp get animated during Chelsea’s visit to Anfield in August.
Thomas Tuchel (left) and Jürgen Klopp get animated during Chelsea’s visit to Anfield in August. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA

Tuchel’s Dortmund could and did press but knew when to circulate the ball at differing tempos, and when to sit and conserve energy. A multi-paced approach would offer less of a jarring about-turn from the Ole Gunnar Solskjær era. “My approach is to bring more balance,” Rangnick emphasised in his introductory press conference, “more control to the game.”

Conversation will be part of the approach, with Rangnick’s ability to relate key. A belief that managing is “30% coaching and 70% social competence” – as another from the Rangnick-Tuchel lineage, Bayern’s Julian Nagelsmann, observed in 2016 – is something he shares with Klopp. Tuchel’s own communication skills have moved on from his frequently brusque nature of the past – he “oscillates between perfection and humanity” was how the former Tottenham midfielder Lewis Holtby, who played under him at Mainz, put it – with his downfall at Paris Saint-Germain down to relations at board level rather than in the dressing room.

Unlike Tuchel, Klopp was an admirer of Rangnick but never a disciple. He was more influenced by the late Wolfgang Frank, his coach for two spells during his 11 years as a player at Mainz, who had magpied much from Arrigo Sacchi’s all-conquering Milan side of the late 1980s. While these coaches may share similar sources materials going back – Sacchi, Rangnick’s favourite Valeryi Lobanovskyi – their individual interpretations are quite distinct.

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Then there’s Guardiola, whose experience in the Bundesliga was more of an exchange of ideas than many realise. “He’s clear,” wrote Marti Perarnau in his 2014 book Pep Confidential, “that he doesn’t want Bayern’s game to mimic the way Barça played while he was in charge.” The aggression of Bundesliga football really seduced Guardiola and, in retrospect, marked the league out as his perfect midpoint between coaching in Spain and then in England.

Succeeding the treble-winning Jupp Heynckes in 2013, Guardiola knew he was there to add a recognisable style of football to the Bayern brand but never planned to throw the baby out with the bathwater. “Any team that has won four titles [counting the Super Cup] doesn’t need much of an overhaul,” he noted in his introductory press conference.

Guardiola wanted to take as much from the German game as he gave to it. During this course of his conversations with his coaching staff and Perarnau in the book’s narrative, his fascination with and admiration for Bundesliga teams’ manner of counterattacking became more and more apparent.

Rangnick’s ability to see the bigger picture, having only coached in two of the 10 seasons that have passed since he left Schalke in September 2011, has seen him move permanently to setting the tone, rather than just focusing on the next result.

The German idea, across most philosophies, is that process will lead to results, a faith frequently glossed over in the Premier League. Klopp and Tuchel – and hopefully for United, now Rangnick – are showing that process is everything.



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