Manchester United stepped into a new era on Friday morning as the German innovator Ralf Rangnick was unveiled as new interim manager in the club’s boldest move since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure eight years ago.
Less than 12 hours after caretaker Michael Carrick walked away from the club – marking the last of Ferguson’s 2008 Champions League winners to leave Old Trafford, having played and then coached at United ever since – the 63-year-old Rangnick gave a measured press conference in which he hailed Cristiano Ronaldo, warned of the “big” gap to the Premier League’s three, and hinted he could stay on permanently.
Rangnick has walked away from a brief stint as sporting director at Lokomotiv Moscow where he was charged with overhauling the club as he had done so successively at Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig before. He revealed he turned down an interim position at Chelsea in February because it was only short-term, whereas United offered him a two-year consultancy role beyond this season to use his considerable experience guiding the hierarchy. “If a club like Manchester United contacts you for such a role, you cannot possibly turn it down,” he said.
His first recommendation at the end of the season could be to hire Ralf Rangnick. “The people with whom I’ve spoken so far, they’ve been very clear we’re talking about a six-and-a-half month role. Maybe if it goes well and they ask me, I might make the same recommendation as I did twice at Leipzig – to continue with me.”
One of the most interesting aspects of the coming weeks will be to witness how Rangnick’s relationship with Ronaldo unfolds. Rangnick has been dubbed the ‘godfather of gegenpressing’ and his philosophy on determinedly winning the ball high up the pitch has been adopted and adapted by Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel and Julian Nagelsmann, now at Liverpool, Chelsea and Bayern Munich respectively. It is a strategy of intense sprinting without the ball which is not naturally suited to the 36-year-old Ronaldo.
But after watching from the stands as Ronaldo scored twice to sink Arsenal on Thursday night, bringing up his 800th career goal, Rangnick was convinced the striker will be crucial to United’s season. ““You always have to adapt your style or your idea of football to the players you have available, not vice-versa. Seeing Cristiano yesterday at 36, I’ve never seen a player that physically fit at that age. He can easily make the difference.”
United conceded twice before the familiar sight of a Ronaldo winner, and Rangnick said his focus would be on bringing more “balance” to a porous team. “I have watched the latest games, Watford Chelsea, Arsenal, and I also watched on TV the games against Liverpool and Manchester City.
“I am well acquainted. It’s pretty obvious the team has an abundance of young, talented players and experienced players. The major target for me is to bring more balance into the team. Even yesterday we conceded two and needed three to win. We concede on average two a game and this is too much.
“I want to bring more balance and more control. Yesterday’s game, for me as the future coach, they are not the games you need. I will try and bring these outstanding, talented players away from their own goal.”
Rangnick tried to convince Carrick to stay, and said he will look for additional coaching expertise to join his inherited staff. “I had a conversation with Michael for more than an hour and tried to convince him, but he needed a break and I understand his decision. I am more than happy to work with the current staff because I need their expertise on the current squad. I will try and find one, two, maybe three people to help us.”
His first game in charge will be the visit of Crystal Palace to Old Trafford on Sunday before an intense run of fixtures through the festive period which will offer limited time on the training ground. The January transfer window follows, but Rangnick says he will not make any plans to bring in new players until he has assessed his current squad. “It is not the time to speak about new players. The squad is definitely not too small. Maybe after Christmas there is time to speak about transfers.”
But perhaps the biggest signpost to United’s new direction was Rangnick’s assessment of the club’s path since Ferguson. The German said it was understandable that the team had lost its way after a long period of sustained success, and that the chopping and changing of managers in the following years had prevented the club from building a stable plan for the future.
“The club has had no continuity in signing new players and sticking to its DNA,” Rangnick said. “In the future, the board members and myself have the same opinion: it’s important not to have many changes in management.”