FOOTBALL'S MOST WANTED ● RALF RANGNICK

 

S ince the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, there is an absence of a figure in the global game who can single-handedly revolutionise an entire club from the ground up.

Jurgen Klopp probably comes closest to that mould of manager in the modern game, a 'club builder' in the sense he has built super clubs from sides who were not really hitting the heights of yesteryear but in truth no one quite comes close to Ralf Rangnick in this respect. A man who has consistently demonstrated profound expertise on and off the pitch in areas such as team moulding, player and coach scouting, implementing tactical frameworks, utilising sports medicine and championing data analytics.

United have become infamous for having an old school philosophy. Hand the tools to one man and let him imprint his vision on the entire club. The problem has been that aside from constantly handing the keys to the wrong man - in the modern game, it is all about specialisation. Breaking down the components of how to run a club and getting the best at each of these variables and combining them together into one functional outfit. By going for Rangnick, United have stuck to their old mantra but have finally landed on a man who can literally do it all but with the foresight to delegate accordingly as time goes on. Just as Sir Alex did.

To those who do not have the time to delve into this dissertation on Rangnick, in short - United will now have an identity on and off the ball. They will be renowned as one of the most effective ball winning units in Europe. They will become a younger team and have less of a Galactic element - egos will not be tolerated. Efficiency will become a buzzword in every facet of the running of the club. Rangnick despite being bankrolled by Red Bull, did not spend extravagantly - it is not his way.

One thing that will not happen is United playing teams off the park with dominant possession football. Rangnick's teams are direct, brutal and exhilarating - reminiscent of Sir Alex's sides of the late 90's. They are the opposite of Man City. This will dishearten some United fans but the bottom line is that Rangnick will ultimately leave the club in a far better state than what he will find himself facing right now. He always does. Furthermore he seems to have a knack for identifying or inspiring managers who can compete at the highest level, that in of itself is greatly reassuring.

For those who want to sink their teeth into something deeper, let us conduct a surgical investigation into his inspirations, his methodologies and assess exactly why he is a man held in such high esteem and what magic he can work at the 'Theatre of Dreams'.


 
bank
RANGNICK WAS BARELY IN HIS TWENTIES WHEN HE TOOK HIS FIRST MANAGER ROLE
 

COACHING BEFORE HE COULD WALK

Following his graduation from the Max Born Gymnasium in his hometown of Backnang, Ralf Rangnick started studying to become a teacher of sport and English at the University of Stuttgart in 1977. Simultaneously, he was playing for the VfB Stuttgart reserves from 1976 onwards as a defensive midfielder, after being previously called up to the selection team of the Württemberg Football Association as an A-youth player.

During a period of study abroad at the University of Sussex as part of a research project, the young German played amateur football in England for West Sussex-based FC Southwick in the 1979/80 season. It provided Ralf with the opportunity to get first hand experience of the dizzying frenetic pace of English football.

""I'd see either Arsenal or Tottenham usually. But Brighton and Hove Albion were in the First Division then so I'd go to the old Goldstone Ground. It was one of the best years of my life."

It is perhaps also worth noting that while at the University of Sussex, Rangnick would be shortlisted to join the FDR's space programme - quite fitting for a man who would be associated with being a 'Scientist of Football'.

When he returned to Germany, Rangnick joined VfR Heilbronn, where he played in the Baden-Württemberg Oberliga. He transferred within the league to SSV Ulm 1846 in 1982, before leaving the club after a solitary season after playing a bit part role in their promotion to the Bundesliga 2. It was dawning on the young Rangnick that playing football professionally at an elite level was not destined to be and he began to seek out coaching opportunities as a way to stay in the game.

Rangnick's eventual progress in the coaching environment would prove to be no shock as despite his desire to have made it as a professional footballer, there is no denying that for Rangnick, coaching was also a lifelong obsession. Barely out of kindergarten, he was intrigued with the concept of selecting teams, organising the side tactically and showing others how to improve. He particularly took a keen interest in the training methodologies of other sports and was bemused by the lack of theoretical and rigorous training undertaken in football by way of comparison.


 
Valery Lobonovsky
VALERY LOBANOVSKYI WAS RANGNICK'S BIGGEST INSPIRATION
 

A CHANCE ENCOUNTER CHANGES EVERYTHING

FC Viktoria Backnang (1983-1985)

Barely out of his twenties, Rangnick's managerial journey would start as a player manager at sixth-division hometown club FC Viktoria Backnang. Even at this tender age Rangnick already had a vision for how a 'club' should be run.

He had taken over a team where it was completely normal to drink alcohol or have a smoke after games, and using the knowledge he had gleaned from other sports and his studies, within the space of four or five weeks, Rangnick had turned the team into a highly professional spirited one - constantly instilling professional values and standards in the players, which eventually became second nature to them.

Whilst Rangnick had shown an aptitude for how to 'run' a football club, he was still trying to figure out 'how' he wanted his team play. A key moment in his tactical development would be the moment he first crossed paths with Valeriy Lobanovskyi, the Ukranian managerial wizard and tactical visionary who could be described as football's first scientist and a preeminent architect of the modern press.

In 1983, Lobanovskyi's Dynamo Kiev side were staying in a nearby training centre and needed easy opposition for a friendly. The selected victims? FC Viktoria Backnang. What ensued would leave an everlasting impression on young Rangnick and shape the German's own thoughts on how the game should be played.

Prior to this encounter, Rangnick's side had been beaten by established opposition before but this was different. A few minutes in, when the ball had gone out for a throw-in, Rangnick in sheer disbelief, stopped and counted their players. Something was wrong. Did they have 13 or 14 men on the pitch? There seemed to be simply no moment of breathing space for his players... Kiev were the first team Rangnick had ever come up against who systematically pressed the ball.

After the game, Rangnick was able to talk to Lobanovskyi through an interpreter and asked him if he could regularly observe their training sessions at a local sports school. The lessons he learned from Lobanovskyi would prove to be invaluable. During the period of 1983-1985, Rangnick managed the club's rise from the Bezirksliga to the Verbandsliga. He also used this period to obtain his football coaching license at the Cologne Sports University in 1984, as the best student of the year with a 1.2 grade point average.


 
Helmut Gross Ralf Rangnick
IN GROß RANGNICK FOUND A KINDRED SPIRIT
 

A MEETING OF MINDS (HELMUT GROß)

A couple of years later, Rangnick was appointed coach of VfB Stuttgart’s youth teams. There he worked alongside a trained structural engineer who would become his tactical soulmate. That soulmate would be the first manager in Germany to introduce Ballorientierte Raumdeckung, a system that combined zonal marking with aggressive pressing. He would also be the first individual to lay down the foundation to 'konzepttrainers' - a German term referring to coaches who believe in a defined game model and long-term process. A fellow disciple of Valery Lobanovskyi, his name was Helmut Groß.

A Brief Detour - The Managerial Journey of Helmut Groß

In 1981, an hitherto unknown Groß took charge of Geislingen, an amateur club from his hometown (and sixth division). He initially took as a model the game of two national teams of the late 70's – early 80's - the Netherlands managed by Ernst Happel and the Belgium of Pfaff, Gerets and Cuelemans, managed by Guy Thys. Both teams used the offside trap as a tool to deter the opponent and Groß was soon of the opinion that man-marking was inefficient as that it would be prudent to spend the saved energy from chasing an opponent by adopting aggressive zonal pressing. Furthermore with this tactic, the level of individual performers was not so important and it would arguably negate the need for an all-conquering sweeper.

In 1987, Groß left Geislingen for fellow sixth-division team VfL Kirchheim (in what would prove to be his final coaching role). There, the club arranged a friendly against Lobanovskyi’s Dynamo Kyiv and earned 1-1 draw, which is arguably the famous result in the club’s history and something that mightily impressed the opposition manager as well – he was surprised to see a club playing a similar style to his own team, despite being so far down the German football ladder.

Shared Love Of Sacchi

In the mid eighties, Groß and Rangnick would eventually cross paths when they were tasked with developing coaching manuals for the Württemberg FA, their local football association. With their burning desire to upturn the status quo and a shared thirst for tactical knowledge that existed beyond the borders of the Rhineland, the duo hit it off instantly.

The two nerdy hipsters soon hit on a new obsession outside of championing the virtues of Lobanovskyi - replaying endless tapes of Arrigo Sacchi's Milan games, utterly enraptured by how well the Rossoneri players worked in tandem according to the ball situation. Such was the intensity with which they kept rewinding the tapes to pick up new nuances, Groß's video recording equipment inevitably broke down.


 
SACHI
SACCHI PROVIDED THE NEXT STEP OF EVOLUTION FOR RANGNICK'S TACTICAL TEMPLATE
 

GROß-RANGNICK FOOTBALL PHILOSOPHY (PROTOTYPE)

Back 4 and Zonal Marking

After consuming a heady cocktail of Happel, Lobanovskyi and Sacchi, the Groß-Rangnick template for the perfect football philosophy began to take shape. The first cornerstone was ball-oriented zonal marking with a back four in line and the ball as a main reference for the defence. Man-marking and the sweeper role was expelled, concepts which at the time considered sacrosanct in German football circles.

Pressing Traps To Proactively Win The Ball

The second cornerstone involved hunting for the ball aggressively and wildly rushing towards the ball-carrier aiming to reduce time and space... inducing panic and forcing the opponent to make mistakes and steal the ball higher up the pitch and closer to the goal. The faster you could win the ball, the greater the momentum you could take into the ensuing attack and the greater likelihood of the opposition being disoriented with lesser time to react.

To avoid mindless wasted waves of pressing, clever positioning would be utilised to force the opponent to play short or long miss passes. This would take the form of luring the opponent into little tricky spaces and then deploying the pressing waves to force turnovers - the famous 'pressing traps'.

Verticality In Possession

In possession the primary idea was verticality, fluid attacking movement and efficient combination plays, aiming to attack with pace and break the opponent's shape with less number of passes. The idea was that more passes risked a loss of possession. Furthermore too much ball retention would take the tempo out of the game and reduce the possibilities to exploit the opposition in transitional/counter pressing situations.

It was also thought that a narrow shape would be an advantage so that the ball area is surrounded by a good number of players allowing them to react immediately in the defensive transition.

Short Small Sided Games With Emphasis On Tactics

In order to the spread the word on how to successfully implement these tactics, Groß and Rangnick developed a curriculum for young and amateur club coaches in the region, centred on dynamic, tactically focused sessions which emphasised ball-oriented zonal marking. Small-sided games, which only take between 30 and 60 seconds at a tempo that is often not achieved in the game were utilised to create this concept of 'Football without a Speed Limit'.


 
DAUM
DAUM PROVES TO BE A ROADBLOCK

THE SCHOOL OF STUTTGART

Whilst they made an undeniable impact locally, outside the Württemberg FA, Groß and Rangnick would bear the brunt of criticism from a stagnant football society. They were called know-it-alls, dilettantes, and nerds. No one in Germany believed that their concept had a future.

The fact that Germany had reached the World Cup Final in 1982, and 1986 and would go on to win the World Cup in 1990 made them look at complete odds with what constituted successful football tactics at the highest level. As a consequence of the Die Mannschaft's utter domination at International level, most of the teams of the two major leagues were dogmatically wedded to formations which revolved around a Libero.

U19's Manager (1990-1994)

Rangnick retired from the pitch fully in 1988 when he took on the role as coach of SC Korb. After 2 seasons where he achieved nothing of any real note, he seized the chance to work more closely with Helmut Groß, who by this stage had been appointed by VfB Stuttgart as the youth coordinator. Despite resistance from the club, he employed Rangnick because he felt he was the perfect man to implement his philosophy. Groß’s vision was to have a uniform playing style for the club's youth set up.

Together Ragnick and Groß successfully increased the reputation of the club, who were now synonymous with an established style of how their youth teams should be playing and how their coaches should be taught. The Stuttgart school, Groß’s brainchild, not only improved Stuttgart ( Rangnick lead the U-19 to A-Junioren Bundesliga, the highest accolade in German Football for U-19), but Germany overall - although it would take time for this impact to become apparent.

“It was comparable to the Ajax school,” Thomas Tuchel once said. "When Ralf Rangnick and Helmut Groß installed a new game system in Stuttgart at the end of the eighties and early 1990s, it was a model for the entire region. I was inspired.”

Rangnick believed that their unparalleled work would open up pathways into the first team but in truth the unified concept that he and Groß had strived so hard to establish had not filtered into the running of the first team. The nomadic yet brilliant Cristoph Daum at the helm and was making his own waves after a successful spell at FC Koln.

Against all odds he would take a team that was sitting 15th when he joined in November 1990 to winning the Bundesliga in the 1991/1992 season. With that in mind the first team was understandably in no hurry to change the style of play, even after the departure of Daum. Subsequently when Rangnick found out that his profile was not even being considered for the vacant position of assistant coach, he left the club in search of new project.


rEUTLINGEN
A FRESH FACED RANGNICK VENTURES INTO THE MEN'S GAME

MOVING INTO FIRST TEAM FOOTBALL

SSV Reutlingen 05 (1995-1997)

After reaching the pinnacle in academy coaching, Rangnick was in search of a first team project. He initially signed a contract with his former playing team, SSV Ulm 1846, but failed to take up the coaching post due to illness. Upon recovery, he took the helm at local side SSV Reutlingen 05 who also competed in the Regionalliga Süd.

Reutlingen were perceived to be a failing institution and the club had barely escaped relegation in the 1994/95 season. After winning his first game in charge at Reutlingen, Rangnick then experienced a mixed beginning to life at the club, winning four, drawing four and losing two of his first ten games at the helm.

Results eventually stabilised as Rangnick's roster, including the likes of Michael Mayer, Thomas Winter, Kristijan Đorđević and Joachim Cast increasingly responded to his dynamic leadership, sparking an upturn in fortunes and an eventual fourth place finish in the table. Going into the 1995/96 season, expectations were high and the club continued to push for promotion.

However behind the scenes there was turbulence as Rangnick's relationship with the sporting management began to deteriorate - no doubt due to the incessant interest his former club SSV Ulm 1846 were showing in him. It culminated in him drastically terminating his contract during the Christmas break and switching to fierce rivals Ulm. He would leave with Reutlingen in fifth position, having achieved a respectable 51% win success rate during his tenure.

Verdict: No promotion but leaves the team in a better state


THE PROFESSOR MAKES A NAME FOR HIMSELF

ULM 1846 (1997-199)

Promotion from Third Division

In the preceding years, SSV Ulm 1846 had been playing for a return to the 2nd Bundesliga. When Rangnick arrived midway through the season, he once again implemented his preferred ball-oriented system with a four-man defensive line but not without a few teething issues. Rangnick would win only one of his first seven games in charge. Furthermore the club ended the season with 50 goals conceded, with 31 of those under his leadership.

Considered a relegation candidate at the start of the following season, SSV Ulm 1846 took everyone by surprise as they established themselves at the top of the league in the Regionalliga (Sud). The team competed with Kickers Offenbach and held their nerve to secure the sole automatic promotion spot by a solitary point. With the system of play completely embedded and results justifying Rangnick's methodology.

Back to Back Promotions?

Ulm rocked the 2. Bundesliga in their debut season, earning the epithet of 'Autumnal' champions. Rangnick became a much sought-after media subject for interviews and a popular candidate for coaching. However, many took offence to his appearance on the ZDF programme das aktuelle sportstudio on 19 December 1998, where he provided a very detailed presentation of the tactics of a game on a blackboard.

Rangnick was widely mocked for his 'know-it-all' persona, and was labelled the "football professor". In hindsight it would prove to be a compliment and if anything the appearance was reminiscent of Cruyff famously extolling the virtues of the 3-4-3 (diamond).

Pride before the fall

With Ulm seemingly headed for back to back promotions, the vultures began to circle. Rangnick's former VFB Stuttgart decided the time was ripe to secure their former man's services for the upcoming 1999-2000 Bundesliga season. Rangnick was caught in two minds... did he take on the challenge of securing Ulm's promotion and then look to establish them as a mid table Bundesliga outfit or take on the opportunity to reunite with Helmut GroB and manage a club with the resources to win the Bundesliga itself.

Having made the decision to take the reigns at VfB Stuttgart for the upcoming season, Rangnick was blindsided when the deal was somehow leaked to the public. It did not sit well with the Ulm Fanbase nor the crestfallen squad who had hung on to his every word. What ensued was a string of desperately poor performances, with the players gravely demotivated and the crowd becoming ever hostile. The scandal of jumping into another ship mid-season eventually proved to be too big to handle for Rangnick and he was forced to resigned ahead of time

Verdict: A tremendous success, let down by how his departure was handled.


RANGNICK STUTTGART
RANGNICK'S FIRST REAL SET BACK

RANGNICK'S BACK... BACK AGAIN

VFB Stuttgart (1999-2001)

On 3 May 1999, Rangnick took control of VfB Stuttgart for the remainder of the 1998-1999 season. Now first team coach at the club he had served as a player and coached at under 19 level - Rangnick had come full circle. Romanticism aside, Rangnick could not have asked for a tougher opening game, facing Bayern Munich at home.

He watched his side fall to a 2-0 defeat, before watching them go down 3-0 to Hansa Rostock a few days later. Thoughts must have drifted back to the cushy environment he had built for himself at Ulm. He eventually won two out of the club's five final matches as the club finished in 11th place. Rather awkwardly, former club Ulm also managed to limp their way into the Bundesliga courtesy of a third place finish. They would be out for revenge.

His first full season in the 1999–2000 Bundesliga saw the club finish in a respectable eighth position. But results masked what was a tumultuous year behind the scenes. Under the stewardship of new Stuttgart president Manfred Haas, the club embarked on a process of restructuring which involved the departure of experienced football men like Frank Verlaat (formerly of Ajax) and Fredi Bobič (formerly part of the iconic magic triangle for Stuttgart along with Giovane Elber and Krasmir Balakov). Disputes repeatedly arose between the club's financial and sporting managers, with Rangnick - unable to stick to just on the pitch issues - frequently blamed for eagerly trying to force his ideas on the club.

The disharmony inevitably spilled on to the pitch the following season. When Rangnick suspended Krasmir Balakov, a club icon but also a traditional number 10 who did not fancy putting in the hard yards off the ball, he provided ample ammunition for certain members of the board who did not take kindly to Ralf's reformist zeal. With results also failing to justify Rangnick's methods - they were hovering in the relegation zone by the halfway point - his job was in peril.

There was some successes in cup competitions, including a run to the semi-finals of the DFB-Pokal and in the UEFA Cup where they made the round of 16, but ultimately Rangnick's days were numbered. After a 2–1 loss to Celta de Vigo in the UEFA Cup on 22 February 2001, Rangnick was gleefully dismissed by sporting director Rolf Rüssmann, who had signed on shortly before and swiftly replaced by the experienced Felix Magath. They would narrowly miss relegation. He would finish with a record of 36 wins, 16 draws and 34 losses.

Verdict: Did not really make a huge impact and was constantly fighting fires with the board


RANGNICK HANNOVER 96
REBUILDING HIS CAREER AT HANNOVER

ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK

Hannover 96 (2001-2004)

Getting Promoted In First Season

Rangnick would not have to wait long before he secured his next role but he did have to accept a demotion back to the Bundesliga 2. Hannover 96 were a fallen giant with genuine history having been former Bundesliga champions (1938 and 1954). Since the club's success in the 1991/92 DFB Cup, Hannover 96 had never been promoted to the Bundesliga despite having hired 13 different coaches and once again were in desperate need of a new sense of direction.

Upon his arrival, Rangnick immediately changed the playing system and Hannover 96 made a storming start, going his first 20 games in all competitions unbeaten. The team became the dominant force in the 2001/02 second division, with the offensive line involving the likes of Daniel Stendel, Jiří Kaufman, Jan Šimák and Nebojša Krupniković performing particularly well, as they scored 93 goals for the Lower Saxony club that season. With a ten-point lead over second-placed Arminia Bielefeld, the team was promoted to the Bundesliga.

Relegation Battles

Their first season back at the top level saw them consolidate but it was a season that really tested the limits of Rangnick's tactical prowess. Jan Simak, their star attacking midfielder who had scored 18 goals in the promotion campaign had been snapped up by Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the summer and Hannover 96's weakened frontline faltered against sterner opposition. Going into the winter break, Hannover was at the bottom of the table and the decision to renew Rangnick's contract to the summer of 2005 was beginning to look rather premature.

One aspect of Rangnick's managerial ability that has not been touched upon is his ability to 'team-build' and his 'eye' for a player. It was all well and good having an ideal football philosophy but without the right players to implement it - against bigger and better opposition, it would be difficult to compete and Rangnick fortunately was not just a 'coach'. After several new signings during the winter transfer window, the club climbed out of the relegation zone on matchday 20 and ended the 2002/03 season in a respectable eleventh place.

The following season proved to be more of the same, with a relegation battle once again underway. The unwavering faith in Rangnick that existed behind the scenes was beginning to falter and Rangnick frequently had disagreements with president Martin Kind and sports director Ricardo Moar.

As a result, there was widespread speculation about a possible move by Rangnick to Hertha BSC. Things came to a head following a 0–1 defeat at Borussia Mönchengladbach in March 2004 and Rangnick was relieved of his duties. At the time of his sacking, Hannover were in 15th place. Rangnick would finish with a record of 44 wins, 22 draws and 32 losses.


Rangnick 2005
SCHALKE GAVE RANGNICK THE OPPORTUNITY TO TAKE ON THE ELITE

COMPETING AGAINST GIANTS

By the mid 2000's, a German cultural renaissance was under way and who best to lead it but national icon and everyone's favourite German, Jürgen Klinsmann, who had travelled the world, was open to radical ideas and yet could cross the divide into the old world. He quickly identified Ralf Rangnick as the man he wanted to work alongside for the 2006 World Cup and the individual who could revolutionise the German approach on the international scene.

Rangnick - a man who loves to reject the status quo - rejected the offer and a certain Joachim Löw was hired instead. The reasoning behind the decision was that Rangnick was not ready to give up on establishing himself as a force in the Bundesliga and at that stage of his life he didn't really have the stomach to be an assistant with someone else ultimately calling the shots. Instead he chose to replace the iconic Jupp Heynckes who had just left Schalke 04 a few weeks into the 2004–05 season.

Schalke (2004-2005)

Competing For The Title

With a squad containing the likes of the powerful Gerald Asamoah, the industrious yet intelligent Christian Poulsen anchoring the midfield and the fleetfooted Hamit Altintop providing the creative spark, Rangnick's call to reject Klinsmann's offer seemed to be justified as he guided the team to joint top spot of the Bundesliga in the first half of the season, equalling Bayern Munich. They would proceed to edge ahead of the Bavarians when they defeated them on the 25th matchday but would hand over the initiative by losing four of the following five games, allowing Bayern Munich to capitalise and win the league.

The Bavarians would also prove to be a roadblock in the DFB-Pokal, where despite Rangnick's best efforts to steer Schalke to the final they once again fell to the mighty Bayern Munich, 2-1. It is worth noting that this Bayern side was incredibly strong containing the likes of Kahn, Sagnol, Lucio, Lizarazu, Schweinsteiger, Makaay, Ze Roberto and Ballack. For Schalke to compete as they were doing was mightily impressive and this was Rangnick's first real experience of managing a competitive ready made team for the highest level.

In Europe, Schalke had earned a UEFA Cup spot via the UEFA Intertoto Cup. Rangnick successfully steered Schalke through the group phase beating the likes of Ferencváros and Hearts, but they were unable to overcome the tougher sides in Basel and Feyenoord. This inexperience and naivete against stronger opposition would prove to be a sign of things to come as they ultimately exited in the first knockout round to Shakhtar Donetsk.

The Wheels Come Off

The next season started well, with Rangnick defeating former club VfB Stuttgart 1–0 and securing the 2005 DFL-Ligapokal, the over-elaborated German equivalent of the 'Charity Shield'. Their second-place league finish of the previous year had also qualified them for the 2005–06 UEFA Champions League, Rangnick's first entry into the prestigious competition. Schalke were competitive, grabbing a draw against the mighty AC Milan at home only to lose to them 3-2 at the San Siro and miss out on second place to PSV.

Domestically, things were not going to plan as they sat ten points off the pace in the Bundesliga, as well as having crashed 0–6 in the DFB-Pokal to Eintracht Frankfurt. There was much speculation in the media regarding the Schalke board's willingness or lack there of to hold on to Rangnick. Feeling the pressure, Rangnick ended up going on an impromptu lap of honour to thank the supportive fans after the game against Mainz. This did not go down too well with the board and two days later, he was dismissed.

Verdict: A good start to the regime but ultimately lacked the substance and new ideas to progress the team


Rangnick hoffenheim
AT HOFFENHEIM RANGNICK FINALLY EARNT THE RESPECT HE DESERVED

TAKES THE HELM AT HOFFENHEIM

Promotion from the Regionalliga (2006-2007)

After having carved out a respectable reputation in the Bundesliga, it was a surprise to see Rangnick take the reigns at third-tier TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (Regionalliga Süd). He was drawn in by the owner - Hoffenheim native and billionaire Dietmarr Hopp (a former IMB employee who helped to co-found SAP the world's third-largest publicly-traded software company by revenue) - who entrusted Rangnick with the freedom to build the club in his own mould and lead it into the Bundesliga. A Project Manager's paradise.

Since his departure from Ulm 1846, Hoffenheim would be the first club where his policy of the three K’s — Kapital, Konzept and Kompetenz — money, concept and competence could be implemented without hindrance.

"If those three things come together, then you can be successful. If you only have one or two of them, it’s more difficult, No one here asked me to report. When I said the team needed a sports psychologist, they hired a sports psychologist. I was told in Gelsenkirchen that this was not necessary. It is difficult to work when you are not heard"

Rangnick got to work and brought in 14 new players including the likes of Salihovic and sold 15 players. One thing that stands out about Rangnick's project management is how quick he is to dispose of players he does not envisage coping with his tactical demands and how adept he is at spotting those that are. After two defeats in the first four competitive matches, Rangnick soon got a tune from his squad, winning 10 of his next 11 games. By 5 May 2007 Hoffenheim were promoted to the Second Bundesliga for the first time in their history following a 4-0 win over Sportfreunde Siegen.


luizgustavo010111
A MAINSTAY FOR RANGNICK IN HIS RISE AT HOFFENHEIM

Promotion from the Bundesliga 2 (2007-2008)

As expected, the transfer activity going into Bundesliga 2 was just as frenetic. 13 players departed including some players who had been just signed a year before including Mernes Mesic and Sebastian Hoeness. This again gives an insight into Rangnick's mentality. He's a calculated risk taker who is happy to admit he has made a mistake and confront it quickly rather than brush it under the carpet.

He's also willing to go to painstaking lengths to locate the right vessels in which he can instil his footballing philosophy. 13 players came in including the likes of Demba Ba who he took from Belgian club, Mouscron and Carlos Eduardo and Luis Gustavo who he took from Gremio and Sao Paulo respectively. The signings helped the club make the leap into the Bundesliga within a year, finishing behind Borussia Monchengladbach to secure the second automatic promotion spot.

Taking the Bundesliga by storm (2008-2009)

One of the first acts that Rangnick did when getting promoted to the Bundesliga was reconnecting with Helmut Groß. With his mentor close by, Rangnick once again led an unfancied side to the unofficial autumn championship (Hoffenheim won 35 out of 51 available points).

The key behind the success was the tactical framework. Responsibility was distributed among all players. They all had duties in defence and in attack - in some ways it resembled 'Total Football' but it was also the prototype of the 'heavy metal' football we would see German teams display in the 2010's.

Delving deeper into the tactical framework, Rangnick used a mid block 4-3-3. He did not want his team to just waste energy by forcing the press but rather invite the opposition on to them and trigger certain pressing traps.

One particular trap involved inviting the opposition centre backs to play the ball through the centre of the pitch by using wingers to press wide. Rangnick would instruct his team to ensure one midfielder was left unmarked and offer him up as bait so that as soon as he would collect the ball, there would be a feeding frenzy.


Hoffenheim Press
THE 'HOFFS' MIDBLOCK MIDFIELD COUNTER PRESS

During the successful autumnal run of fixtures, Rangnick's team destroyed Jurgen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund 4:1, leading a flummoxed Klopp to say. "We would like to learn to play the same kind of football one day," Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a German newspaper, even offered to include a DVD of the game "Bayern 2-1 Hoffenheim" in the curriculum for coaching courses in the German football Union. Germany had never seen such intensity and command of movement. There was even a term given to the brand of football - Autobahn-Fussball, football without a speed limit.

Even when results went against Hoffenheim, the plaudits still came out in force in utter admiration of the quality of football on display - reminiscent perhaps of how Potter's Brighton rarely look second best in any given game but the actual result does not reflect it. This was before XG was a mainstream concept but here we had a team that was actually getting the results to match their dominance. Rangnick was again invited as a guest to the same analytical program on ZDF, but this time there was no one laughing. Everyone was eager to learn from the man whose "Hoffenheim" was in first place in the Bundesliga and the autumn champions of 2008/09.

For all the plaudits however, the 'Hoff' ran out of steam in the second half of the season (winning only 20 out of 51 points), concluding the season in seventh place. With all their focus concentrated on the league, Hoffenheim reached only the second round of the DFB-Pokal. A season that had promised so much eventually yielded so little but it was still a remarkable debut season for a newly promoted outfit. For all the talk about being bankrolled by Dietmarr Hopp - the net spend was minimal, Rangnick like any good German - extolled the virtue of efficiency.

Consolidating (2009-2010)

The following season proved to be one of consolidation for Hoffenheim. Ahead of the 2009–10 season, key playmaker Carlos Eduardo was linked with a move with Russian side Zenit Saint Petersburg after the club made 15 million bid for him in the summer transfer window. Rangnick keen not to lose him convinced Eduardo to stay at the club by extending his contract, until 2013, thus ending transfer speculations. Overall there were less departures, 8 but there was still a great influx of players, 13, including Simunic from Hertha BSC, centre back for £6m, Zuculini (CM) and Marciosuel (Left winger) both for 4 million.

There can be pros and cons to frequent changes to the roster. On the one hand, there is a certain freshness to the squad every season and no one rests on their laurels. For Rangnick's intense style of play it was important to have fresh legs and fresh minds with which to attack every season. On the downside, if the signings don't 'stick' for that particular season, it can affect synergy and the team can end up going backwards. None of Rangnick's signings that season progressed the side and they ended up finishing 11th, although they did make a run to the quarter-finals of the DFB-Pokal.

Another issue that seemed to be hurting Rangnick was the lack of 'surprise' element. It is all well and good setting 'pressing traps' but what do you do once the opposition is wise to it. He had become such a media personality and his tactics had become so scrutinised, teams knew how to set up against it. Hence Hoffenheim went from scoring 63 goals in the 2008/2009 season to a mere 44 the next.


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HOPP'S UNREALISTIC AMBITIONS ULTIMATELY KILLED RANGNICK
Betrayal (2010-2011)

The anticlimactic feel to the 2009/2010 season led to some grumblings from Dietmarr Hopp. However for all the money he had invested behind the scenes, in truth the transfer kitty had been pitiful and if Rangnick and GroB stood a chance of competing with the likes of Bayern, he would need to put money where his mouth was. This came in the form of a multitude of signings during the 2010/2011 summer transfer window, Ryan Babel (£6.3m), Gylfi Sigurdsson £4.68m, Sebastian Rudy £3.6m, Roberto Firmino £3.6m, Kevin Volland (£630K) and David Alaba (Loan).

Hoffenheim started the season in fine fettle, winning their first three games, beating Werder Bremen 4-1 and Schalke 2-0. But a draw against Kaiserslautern, in which they were comprehensively outplayed and a loss to Bayern in which they only enjoyed 23% possession knocked the wind from their sails. They would only win 3 out of their next 13 games with 6 of those being draws. Rangnick's tactical limitations were coming to the fore. It was all well and good playing a counter-pressing style but by ceding territory, Hoffenheim were getting pulled into too many dogfights instead of being on the front foot and demonstrating their superiority.

Furthermore for all the signings Rangnick made, he was too slow in 2010/2011 to introduce the new players into the lineup - perhaps not feeling these players had acclimatised quickly enough to carry out his tactics. Hopp was itching for an instant return from his investment and with Rangnick failing to mount a title push and the team sitting in 8th place, Hopp declared open warfare by selling Luis Gustavo, Rangnick's ever present midfield lynchpin. Without such a key player, the system would fall apart and Rangnick was faced with no choice but to step down as TSG coach on New Year's Day of 2011.

One of the big problems Rangnick faced at Hoffenheim was too much ambition from the men in suits, who seemed to lack the understanding of how difficult it can be to establish yourself as a title contender with a side that has had no history of competing at that level. He needed time to adjust to the fact that his tactics were now losing their element of surprise; goals were harder to come by and goals were being conceded at an alarming rate. Having said all that, Hoffenheim were competitive in every game, sitting in 8th and given time, the kinks could have been ironed out especially once the likes of Firmino had been bedded in.

Verdict: Monumental success in terms of putting club on the map but lacked the ability to deal with teams figuring his tactics out.


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WINS HIS FIRST NATIONAL TITLE

REKINDLING THE FLAME AT SCHALKE

FC Schalke 04 (2010-2011)

Rangnick was unveiled as head coach at Schalke 04 on 21 March 2011, only about 3 months after his contract with Hoffenheim was terminated. Having impressively reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League under Magath's guidance, there was not much time nor need to carry out any immediate tactical surgery bar a few tweaks.

Rangnick introduced a young Joel Matip into the starting lineup - he would become a mainstay for years ahead and as he had to make do without Klaas-Jan Huntelaar due to injury, he pushed Edu up front to give Raul some legs. Otherwise the spine of the team still consisted of the aforementioned Raúl, Jefferson Farfán and Manuel Neuer.

That Famous Champions League Run...

Under Rangnick's command Schalke continued to impress in the Champions League, defeating the current title holders Inter Milan (with no Mourinho at the helm) 5:2 and 2:1 in the first and second legs, respectively. However their run came crashing to an end in the semi-finals when they were completely outclassed by Manchester United.

Quite frankly if it had not been for Manuel Neuer, the results could have been even more embarrassing. Caught between trying to absorb the pressing strategies of Rangnick and involuntarily obeying the muscle memory of Magath's tactics, Schalke were often caught in no man's land and United brutally exposed their lack of synergy.

Mediocre domestically...

Domestically Rangnick made minimal impact in the league. If anything they had got worse, losing their last 4 games of the season to finish 14th in the table. They did however redeem themselves in the final of the DFB Cup (which the club reached under Magath) where Rangnick and his players defeated MSV Duisburg 5-0; an achievement that was Rangnick's first title at the national level.

At the end of the season, Neuer confirmed he was not going to renew his contract and would join Bayern Munich. A huge body blow for the club and for Rangnick who was already questioning whether he had the stomach for the fight. Still burnt out from his long stint at Hoffenheim, Rangnick was suffering from disturbed sleep, restlessness and poor appetite. He nevertheless took the team into a good preseason and Schalke made a strong start to the season with 3 wins in their first 4 games.

The wheels began to unravel however and Rangnick was soon diagnosed with vegetative burnout, a kind of fatigue syndrome. With immediate effect, Rangnick tendered his resignation from his position as Schalke coach on 22 September 2011 and his former assistant coach Mirko Slomka took over.

“I found it incredibly hard to make a decision like this, but my current energy levels are not high enough to succeed and in particular to advance the team and the club. I am taking this step for the benefit of the team, who I wish every success for the rest of the season.”

Verdict: In a way leeched off Magath's success and had neither the time nor energy to leave behind anything of substance


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OVERSEEING THE RED BULL FOOTBALL PROJECT

RANGNICK GIVES RED BULL WINGS

Technical Director at Salzburg and Leipzig

After a 10-month break from football, Ralf Rangnick became the new sporting director of FC Red Bull Salzburg in late June 2012. He was also in charge of the development of RB Leipzig. His first action was to ruthlessly dismiss the coach of RB Leipzig, Peter Pacult, and appoint Alexander Zorniger to replace him. For Salzburg, Roger Schmidt became head coach, a position formerly held by Ricardo Moniz.

Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig 2012/13

RB Salzburg was already a successful project long before Rangnick arrived, with the likes of Giovani Trappattoni winning league titles in Austria from the outset of Red Bull GMBH's takeover back in 2005. What Rangnick was expected to brign to the table was a capacity to breathe new life into the model, with a failure to make an impact in European football a particular concern. Strange when you consider the relative lack of success he had in Europe bar the run he had on the back of Magath's work with Schalke.

Not long after, Salzburg was defeated by Luxembourg club FC Düdelingen in the Champions League qualifiers, yet another European disaster and as a result, Rangnick restructured the squad, bringing in young players such as Kevin Kampl and Sadio Mané, the latter of whom scored 16 goals in 26 games in the league as Salzburg finished as runners up in Austrian Bundesliga.

Across the border, RB Leipzig had also been making moves before the arrival of Rangnick. They had managed to secure promotions from the lower reaches of German football to the Regionalliga (4th tier) but had now come unstuck, failing to secure promotions for 2 seasons in a row. Rangnick's arrival would kickstart Leipzig's ascent to the top. As is the case with a Rangnick run project, there was major upheaval with 11 players coming in and 13 players going out.

The season proved more successful than the previous two. The club won the Herbstmeister title with two matchdays left of the first half of the season, after defeating FSV Zwickau 1–0 away. The team then went on to secure first place in the 2012–13 Regionalliga Nordost at the 18th matchday, after the second placed club FC Carl Zeiss Jena lost a match against Berliner AK 07 on 7 May 2013 and, as a consequence, were no longer able to overtake RB.

As the winner of the 2012–13 Regionallig Nordost, RB Leipzig won a place in the qualification for the 3. Liga. The club was drawn against Sportfreunde Lotte from the Regionalliga West.

RB Leipzig won the first leg on 29 May 2013 by 2–0. The match was played at the Red Bull Arena in front of 30,104 spectators, a crowd number which set a new record for matches in the 4th division.The second leg was played on 2 June 2013 and ended 2–2 after two goals to RB Leipzig during extra time. The result meant that RB Leipzig had finally won promotion to the 3. Liga, after three seasons in the Regionalliga.


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ONE OF HIS FIRST SIGNINGS AS SPORTING DIRECTOR AT SALZBURG

Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig (2013/14)

RB Salzburg were crowned champions with eight games to spare. The team’s 106 goals after 34 games broke the Bundesliga record previously held by SK Rapid Wien. The team was narrowly beaten by Fenerbahçe in the Champions League qualifiers, and in the following Europa League group stage was group winner, winning all six of their matches. Salzburg managed to defeat the Dutch champions Ajax Amsterdam in the second round but ultimately fell to FC Basel in the round of 16.

In the 2013–14 season, RB Leipzig made its first appearance in the 3. Liga in club history. To equip the team for the new campaign, the club signed Anthony Jung from FSV Frankfurt, Tobias Willers from Sportfreunde Lotte, Joshua Kimmich from the U19 team of VfB Stuttgart, André Luge from FSV Zwickau, Christos Papadimitriou from AEK Athens, Yussuf Poulsen from Lyngby BK and Denis Thomalla from TSG 1899 Hoffenheim during the summer.

By the winter break, Leipzing were third after beating Heidenheim by 2–0 after a convincing performance at the Voith-Arena. More reinforcements were made in January and after after losing 1–2 away to MSV Duisburg on 1 February 2014, the team would not concede a single defeat for the rest of the season, finishing the season in second place and becoming the first team since the introduction of the 3. Liga to win promotion to the 2. Bundesliga after only one season.


Rangnick Kimmich
RANGNICK DISCOVERED JOSHUA KIMMICH

Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig (2014/2015)

In the 2014–15 season, Red Bull Salzburg once again won the Bundesliga and added the cup for good measure. Rangnick was beginning to lose enthusiasm for the project and did not feel he could make a big difference to the fortunes of the side in such an uncompetitive league and wanted to devote more time to the Leipzig project which he believed could provide greater stimulation and a sense of challenge.

In February 2015, when Leipzig was still playing its first season in the 2nd division, Rangnick revealed that he intended to take over the coaching position of the Leipzig team and resign from his duties in Salzburg when the season ended.

Subsequently, Leipzig coach Zorniger stepped down early and U-17 coach Achim Beierlorzer assumed the first team until the end of the season. It is worth noting that before taking this step, Rangnick had brought in players like Marcel Sabitzer, Ante Rebic and Emil Forsberg during the 2014/15 summer transfer window.


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THE FRONT MAN YET AGAIN

BACK IN MANAGEMENT

For the 2015/16 season, as previously stated, Rangnick became the head coach at Leipzig, while Beierlorzer became his assistant coach. In Salzburg, Jochen Sauer, the general manager, and Christoph Freund, the sporting director, became his successors. It was Rangnick's tenure that saw RB Leipzig gain promotion to the Bundesliga.

Players were now expected to arrive at the training facility 90 minutes before a session started so they could undergo saliva and blood tests; within 30 minutes, Rangnick and his staff would know how much the players would train that day, and how hard. They tested for allergies — gluten and lactose — and tailored their players’ diets. They brought in an expert to help teach them how to maximize their sleep.

Strategically he utilised a 4-2-3-1 and gave prominent roles to Sabitzer and Forsberg. The team went from scoring 39 goals and conceding 31 to scoring 54 and conceding 32. There was not much evolution in his tactical approach to the game since before his sabbatical.

The team was still averse to hitting the long ball (a rather high average of 20.65 yards per pass), pumping crosses in and playing a very direct brand of football (averaging only 3.83 passes per possession and 2.29 offsides per game). Minimal time was spent in the build up phase and mid-block counter-pressing was a huge component of how Leipzig were getting their goals (with immense PPDA numbers of 5.36), classic Rangnick traits.


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RAN OUT OF IDEAS

OVERSEEING HASENHUTTLE AND NAGELSMANN

The Hasenhuttle Era (2016-2018)

The following couple of seasons, Rangnick went back to his sporting director role as he brought in Ralph Hasenhuttle, a young Austrian manager who shared his counter pressing philosophy. To prepare for life in the Bundesliga, a number of signings were made including Naby Keita, Timo Werner and Dayot Upmeyacano. They would fit like a glove.

Werner provided a fantastic counter pressing component with his electric pace and excellent movement off the ball, both in an offensive and defensive sense. Upmeyacano provided an athletic powerful presence in defence, which would give the side an extra layer of security should the press be beaten and in Keita, the side finally had a playmaker who could give the side more sophistication if faced with a low block.

In terms of shape, Hasenhuttle shifted from the 4-2-3-1 to a 4-2-2-2. In his first season they took the league by storm and finished 2nd in league with 66 scored and 39 conceded. The pressing was slightly less intense with a PPDA of 8.48 and they seemed to be better organised in rest defence.

However in the second season, there was barely any signings made outside of Ibrahima Konate and Hasenhuttle basically re-ran the same tactics as the year before, which teams got wise to. They would end up finishing sixth, with 57 goals scored and a mammoth 53 goals conceded and Rangnick would be back to take change.


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THE PROTEGE

Rangnick Takes Over (2018/2019)

Prior to the start of the 2018/19 season Rangnick sold Keita to Liverpool after receiving a series of lucrative offers. He brought in a young Emile Smith-Rowe on loan and Kevin Kampl became a more important player tactically. Certain elements of what Hasenhuttle had brought in during his reign were kept i.e. the slightly more conservative press but there was a calculated reduction in terms of how much Leipzig held of the ball.

Possession went from 55% down to 50%. Yet Leipzig scored more and conceded less, 63 goals scored and only 29 conceded - their best defensive performance since Rangnick came to the club in any capacity. It was a validation of his philosophy that more possession could lead to inefficiencies in terms of outcomes. Formations wise, Rangnick was more versatile than Hasenhuttle and drifted from the 4222 to go diamond or even 3-5-2. Overall they had more counter attacks (4.85 per game) and even more positional shots with attack. A team that looked to make the most of any time it had the ball.

Hands Over To Nagelsmann (2019/2020)

Rangnick ultimately guided RB Leipzig to a third-place finish, which qualified them for the Champions League, and they reached the final of the DFB Cup, losing to FC Bayern München. He then moved back upstairs and handed the reigns to Julian Nagelsmann.

Nagelsmann made the team even faster, with an 18.57 pass tempo, but he also made the team more possession orientated - giving the team more guile than Rangnick's sledgehammer approach. This elevated their average XG to 2.11 per game. Key players brought in during his tenure included Nkunku from PSG and Angelino from Man City.

In what would prove to be Rangnick's final season as a sporting director for RB Leipzig, Nagelsmann would lead the team to the semi finals of the Champions League, and remain 3rd in the Bundesliga. The following season they would finish second both in the league and the cup. In a sense, Rangnick had succeeded in helping to construct a club that was now a stable force at the very top of German football but the lack of trophies also perpetuates the notion that he was more of a philosopher rather than a winner at the elite end of the spectrum.

Verdict: For the first time, Rangnick was able to sustain a club as a title competing force and make waves in Europe. Nagelsmann did make a huge impact in making the side more nuanced but he showed here that he can evolve and still learn.


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TALKS FALL THROUGH WITH MILAN

DRIFTING AWAY

When Ralf Rangnick resigned from his post at RB Leipzig at the end of June 2019, he was quick to find a new dream club. In the spring of 2020, he was ready to sign with AC Milan. There have been several talks with owner Paul Singer and club boss Ivan Gazidis to reach an agreement. But Rangnick wanted further commitments and improvements in order to be able to work successfully.

Older players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic were not supposed to get new contracts, he submitted a list of new arrivals. He wanted a number of his own people to join the team, and in the end, he allegedly called for the head of sporting director to replace club legend Paolo Maldini. But as the troubled club developed into a top-flight club in the second half of the season, its bosses became fearful of taking on the fans if Rangnick's tough plan was implemented. The need for a saviour was no longer great. The collaboration fell through. He had other offers mostly from German teams, but this did not interest him.

Manchester United represents his greatest and only chance to prove that he is not just one of the finest football minds in recent German history but someone who could redefine the game for generations to come on a global scale. A chance to compete against some of the young guns who he inspired but who have gone on to surpass him in tactics and trophies. A chance to compete with Pep Guardiola but on a more level footing. For his entire career, he has been punching above his weight to a degree and always coming up short against the mighty Bayern Munich.


United Current
HOW THE CURRENT UNITED TEAM COULD LOOK
 

WHAT WILL HE BRING TO MANCHESTER UNITED

Professionalism and Humility

Inspired by the likes of Lobanovskyi and Sacchi, it is no wonder that Rangnick prioritises systems and the collective over the individuals. He does so with utmost zeal and he will not cower in the face of any player to achieve that aim. You can bet your bottom dollar that if he is backed appropriately - if the likes of Ronaldo and Bruno dare to throw strops or interfere with the implementation of his regime, they will be sold without a moments hesitation. There is also no chance of Pogba being indulged like he was under Ole despite blatantly disrespecting the club.

There will also be a cultural reset behind the scenes. Rangnick is a genuine 'football scientist' and he will demand that United have the best in class when it comes to nutritionists, video analysts and data analytics. The issue is that United are competing against teams who already have this in place and what was once considered revolutionary is the norm now in the Premier League. Nevertheless, the fact that United will no longer be left behind in this respect can only be a positive.

If Rangnick can make United a 'University of Football' rather than an adult Disneyland, they will be able to attract managers of great talent and ambition once again. They will attract serious young players who want to advance their game, not their pockets and there will be a move away from signing geriatrics and past their best Galacticos. There will be a return to the signing of 'Gems' and developing these players, which was a tradition under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Structure Off The Ball

In terms of ball winning, Rangnick still remains cutting edge and United will be turned into one of the best counter-pressing sides in the world if he is allowed to oversee the project. Gone will be the days of individuals charging out on suicide missions just to look like they are pulling their weight and if Wan-Bissaka ever just leaves a gaping hole in behind for no reason, he will not play for the club again. Rangnick will ensure the team works as a collective unit and understands when to stay in shape and when to spot the right moment to induce panic with waves of pressure.

To provide some flavour in terms of the level of detail, at Leipzig, Rangnick would instruct players to seize on triggers such as a pass to the full-back and then collectively shift towards the ball side. In doing so, they would press the ball-carrier and shut down every single passing option. This would succeed creating a cul-de-sac in which they trap the opposition from switching sides.

To avoid being beaten by a ball over the top, Rangnick said: “We don’t give up our sweeper, it just depends on the situation who our sweeper is”. There is a calculated staggering of the backline to ensure distances are correct. Ideal for being able to join in with another wave of pressure but also being able to respond should lines be breached.


Structure With The Ball

The attacking structure in Rangnick sides is quite different to that of a Pep Guardiola model. In fact it is quite different even to a Jurgen Klopp model. Rangnick’s sides would rather aim at creating overloads, especially in the half-spaces rather than out wide. Through the creation of triangular structures and diamond shapes, they could then play with very few touches allowing combinations in central areas at a high pace.

With the focus being on penetration and dominating closer to goal, his sides tend to play with striking duo up front. He does not really play with orthodox wingers and prefers for them to operate in the half space, allowing the full backs space in which to bomb on into. With their attackers positioned within the central areas they can then quickly penetrate the opposition back line with a variety of through passes or rely on these full backs to provide deliveries.

Dynamism And Tempo

One thing Rangnick shares with Sir Alex Ferguson is a love of high tempo football. He wants his side to finish the counter-attack within under ten seconds since this is the time window with the bigger probability of scoring. In order to practice transition play, he even uses a clock with a count-down and the players can hear the ticking. That way, the ten-second rule for a shot on target is supposed to “become an instinct” according to Rangnick.

"After regaining possession, they must immediately look for their most offensive player available. The wingers must quickly support the receiving player with deep runs. However, they only provide the maximum width needed as this shortens the way towards the goal. Sometimes, teams park two buses in front of their box and force us to have lots of possession, which makes it more difficult to pick up pace and create clear goalscoring opportunities. If you have too much possession, your game resembles handball and you don’t get anywhere."

This is actually a good match up for the Old Trafford crowd who often get impatient and zone out when the team goes into 'zombie passing' mode with listless periods of possession. Under Rangnick there will be genuine purpose on the ball.

The media has speculated about who will be winners or losers under Rangnick's regime and it has revealed a lack of knowledge of what Rangnick actually stands for. Players like Bruno and Rashford, are in theory, Rangnick style players due to their direct threat and the speed at which they play the game. Off the ball, they need to put in a greater effort and their ego's need to be cut down to size but if they can do that, they could blossom under his tutelage.

Other players who have the hallmarks of Rangnick style players include Fred and McTominay. Guys who work tirelessly for the side and would have no problem in helping put together an aggressive collective counter press. The only issue is the quality of their forward passing. Compare their between the line passing to say a Keita or a Sabitzer and it is clear that United do need an upgrade here even if Rangnick is not a possession obsessive.


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A TACTICAL TEMPLATE FOR LONG TERM UNITED

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS?

Formation wise, Rangnick has always preferred a 4-4-2 structure (whether it is a 4-2-2-2 or a 4-2-3-1) but in recent years - his last season at Leipzig as a manager and then the first season under Nagelsmann - there was an increased willingness to embrace formations which deployed 3 at the back and aggressive wing backs. This suggests that even this late into Rangnick's life, he is looking for new solutions, new ways in which to create 'efficient' methods of winning football matches.

If Nagelsmann fails at Bayern, it is conceivable that he would be a prime candidate to bring across to United in a year or two. "I see [Nagelsmann] as a great coaching talent in all the relevant areas that a coach has to fulfil: leadership, dealing with the players and their tactical development, as well as his public appearance and perception."

If not, there are a number of young managers who could thrive under Rangnick's direction. One can envisage Graham Potter, or even a Pochettino forming a harmonious relationship with Rangnick. The great thing about Ralf is his willingness to embrace other managerial talents and not be jealous of their success. He seems to take pride in picking the right manager, even if the coach in question slightly deviates from his original template - as long as it is for the greater good.

Bearing in mind the type of manager Rangnick is and the type of managers he would bring in to replace himself, it is clear that United will become a much younger squad by 2023. It will not be a squad glittering with 'Hollywood' names but rather players who are on the up, hard-working and skilful and play at a fast tempo.

I can envisage the likes of Jude Bellingham, Tariq Lamptey and a range of unheard of names blossoming at United. Above I have provided a tactical template of what a future United side could look like but in truth it is unrealistic, Rangnick doesn't sign obvious players who the average fan will know about. His scouting reach is far and wide. It does however give a taste of tactical profile.


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MAGUIRE COULD BE VULNERABLE IN A HIGH PRESS TEAM

Whilst I am a fan of Harry Maguire, his lack of pace makes him a vulnerable target in a Ragnick based project. He does not have the recovery pace to play in a high line. Luke Shaw has a very inconsistent mentality and he will either be better than he has ever been or he will be binned during the first transfer window. Wan-Bissaka will have to really work on his positional play and will not be allowed to just rest on his laurels and 1 v 1 defending to bail him out. Sink or swim time for much of United's backline.

In midfield, I expect Fred and McTominay to remain key members of United's squad but greater quality will be brought in to help progress the ball faster from defence to attack. Sabitzer would have been a great option and might still be a good shout if he does not thrive at Bayern Munich. Bellingham would be an excellent option and could become a cornerstone for the team. A big bid for Frenkie De Jong could be tempting too, a midfielder comfortable operating in a number of thirds and with indefatigable energy.

In attack, Rangnick sides tend to require players who attack clinically, with pace and can support the central forwards on the inside but also have the versatility to drift wide and put crosses in. They must also be prepared to chase loose ends, compete physically and have the intelligence and commitment to follow his strict counter pressing philosophy. There is simply no room for ego.

Haaland has been touted due to his historic connection with Rangnick but he is already a 'superstar' and in Raiola has a problematic agent. This seems to be in conflict with the type of player Rangnick tends to go for and the German would probably back himself to find the next Haaland for a fraction of the price, rather than get drawn into a dogfight.

A player like Son Heung Min, or Alexander Isak could be more realistic options but the Korean could be hard to prise now that Conte is at the helm. The best option may just to be to pin hopes on Greenwood to come good and mould him accordingly.


 
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CAN OLD TRAFFORD BECOME A UNIVERSITY OF FOOTBALL?

THE PYTHAGORAS PERSPECTIVE

In conclusion, there is no doubt United are now heading in an upwards direction with this appointment. Rangnick is an astute choice for Manchester United and will most definitely bring the cultural and strategical reset the club has been craving for over a decade. Will he single-handedly take them to the top of the European game? or even the domestic game? No. He has never won a major league title and his direct impact on the upper echelons of the European game has been minimal.

Instead he has inspired others to go on to achieve the things that he himself could never manage. Young proteges who took the best of what he had to offer and combined it with lessons learned from the Spanish/Dutch model of how to play. This fusion is imperative if United are going to really compete at the elite end of the spectrum and Rangnick must realise that if he is to transition from contender to winner. Thus his choice of successor for himself will be of utmost importance as to how successful this project becomes.


 
 
 
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