He’s a football visionary, a mentor to some of Europe’s finest coaches including Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp, Chelsea’s Thomas Tuchel, and Bayern Munich’s Julian Nagelsmann.
But who is Ralf Rangnick, the 63-year-old Manchester United have turned to as interim manager to replace sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer? And why have the Red Devils chosen him to save their season?
Here’s everything you need to know.
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‘One of the best’: Man Utd to appoint ‘Godfather’ of modern football as Ole replacement
WHAT ARE HIS COACHING ACHIEVEMENTS?Rangnick’s coaching journey famously began when he was six years old, telling a team of 10-year-olds how they should play.
“You’re kind of born to be a coach,” he told Red Bulletin in October. “Even at the age of six, playing with 10-year-olds, I wanted to pick the teams, organise the game and show others how they could improve.”
Since then, he has forged a reputation for turning clubs around or taking them to the next level.
He first became a professional coach at the young age of 25, and his influence was clear from the start. At hometown minnows FC Viktoria Backnang, he began as a player-manager, and quickly introduced professionalism to the lowly club.
“My father (a newspaper design editor) and I published the stadium program. I put tape straps on players because I knew a bit about medicine from my studies. I once threw a crate of beer out of the dressing room to make a point, banned smoking within two hours of a game and introduced warm-downs.”
He would rise through the ranks of German football rapidly. He led unknowns Ulm to the country’s second division, then to the top flight a year later – without big name players and on a shoestring budget.
He got his first big break with top-flight club Stuttgart, saving them from relegation in the Bundesliga and guiding them to an eighth-place finish in a single campaign, but was sacked due to his radical push for change.
He quickly bounced back by leading Hannover 96 into the top flight in 2002 for the first time in 13 years. He was overlooked for the German national team assistant manager’s position, but was soon handed another big task – German heavyweights Schalke.
He led them to the final of the DFB-Pokal – the German cup – where they lost to Bayern Munich, who also claimed the Bundesliga as Schalke finished second.
But things soon soured, and he turned to his greatest challenge yet – taking third-tier minnows Hoffenheim into a genuine top-flight club. Hoffenheim had a population of just over 3,000 at the time, but backed by billionaire Dietmar Hopp, Rangnick dazzled his opponents – and brought in a number of foreign players who turned into stars, like Senegalese striker Demba Ba.
After two rapid promotions, he guided them to seventh in the top flight despite key striker Vedad Ibisevic suffering an ACL tear.
When Hopp sold Brazilian star Luiz Gustavo to Bayern Munich for €20 million without telling Rangnick, the manager immediately resigned in protest.
He returned to Schalke for just eight months, winning the DFB-Pokal and reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League before surprisingly resigning due to burnout.
Then – much as he did with Hoffenheim – he was entrusted with a club-building process on a much grander scale. The Red Bull project, first with fourth-tier RB Leipzig then with RB Salzburg and a number of their other controlled clubs around the world, including Brazil and New York.
He took on a sporting director role, but was happy to step up as manager if the situation demanded. In 2015-16, he won promotion to the Bundesliga with Leipzig as manager, then quickly stepped aside. Three years later, he did it again – this time leading them to a third-place finish in the league and a visit to the DFB-Pokal final.
He turned Leipzig and Salzburg into regular contenders in the Champions League and on the domestic front, and developed a host of players into top class talents.
The list of players he helped develop is lengthy: Joël Matip (at Schalke), Roberto Firmino (Hoffenheim), Naby Keïta and Sadio Mané (RB Salzburg).
He has been overlooked for coaching roles at Everton and the England and German national teams. And he knocked back a four-month interim role at Chelsea when Frank Lampard was sacked, believing he needed more time to fully implement his radical agenda.
And so, he took on a sporting director role at Russian heavyweights Lokomotiv Moscow, again turning the club around.
WHAT ARE HIS TACTICS?
Rangnick is known as the godfather of German football. From his earliest coaching days, he was a visionary.
He was one of the first to introduce video analysis to German football, and often hired video analysts and sports psychologists for his teams long before rivals had even considered the roles.
He also mentored and developed many top German coaches. At one point, five teams in the top six spots in the Bundesliga had coaches he mentored – leading to the league being nicknamed: “Rangnickliga”.
“He is one of the best, if not the best German coach,” Liverpool’s Klopp said of Rangnick.
The defensive ideology is a high-pressing game that was a precursor to Klopp’s gegenpressing: the most effective way to regain possession is within eight seconds of losing it, with most goals scored in the 10 seconds after gaining possession.
Offensively, his sides play a high-tempo game full of direct vertical passing.
In an interview with the Coaches Voice in September of this year, Rangnick told up-and-coming coaches: “Our idea is clear: it’s very, very similar to my almost-coaching friend Jurgen Klopp.
“Our football is very heavy metal, rock and roll and it’s not slow balls. It’s not square passes, back passes. Just having the ball ourselves doesn’t make sense.”
It is an energetic style of play that lends itself to younger players, who he makes a habit of signing (typically before they are 23) since they can be moulded into his style and are willing to put in the hard yards.
His training sessions are high-intensity sessions intent on replicating the pressure of a game. And Rangnick is so intent on drilling the ideas into his players that he believes they could perform in their sleep.
He added: “Supposed myself, Julian Nagelsmann, Ralph Hasenhuttl had informed our players at 12 o’clock at midnight: ‘We will meet in our training ground in one hour’s time. We’d have a meeting in the locker room and then we’d play 2×15 minutes of 11 against 11.’
“They would have played – in their sleep – high speed, counter pressing transitional football.”
He is also a master of set pieces. He said: “Then, of course, we have the set-pieces. This is highly important. If 30 per cent of the goals are being scored after set-pieces, how much percentage of our training time should we invest in set-pieces? Thirty per cent.”
Famously, he went on German TV’s iconic ‘Das Aktuelle Sportstudio’ in 1997 and delivered a coaching masterclass to the world. Years before ideas like zonal marking and organised pressing would become the norm, he delivered a lesson in tactics on free television. He was publicly mocked – rival coaches and the media branded him a ‘professor’ and a ‘theorist’, stunned by the way he openly rejected the German norm of a sweeper at the back and man-marking.
His ideas have since taken over German football and the Premier League. It was just a matter of time before Rangnick arrived to implement them himself.
WHY DO UNITED WANT HIM?
Rangnick is both an exceptional coach of individual players – the likes of Jadon Sancho in particular needing mentorship – but is a genius at overseeing the development of a club from top to bottom.
In 2019, United sought out Rangnick at Leipzig, where he offered football director John Murtough an eight-hour tour of the club he had revolutionised from the ground up. Just as he took on the coaching role at times, or ran video analysis before it was a regular feature in football, he had finetuned or tinkered with every aspect of the organisation.
“We see it like a jigsaw with 500 pieces,’ he told the Guardian in 2019, “and our role is to ensure that we have each piece available to help every player improve. We help every individual in the whole club develop and flourish.”
Getting the best out of United’s fringe players – as well as their raft of young talents – will be crucial to their success both this season and in the future.
The Old Trafford asked his collaborators through the years for their views, and received glowing endorsements. Yet United never called – until now.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked after a significant flurry in the transfer market failed to deliver results on the pitch. Where other elite Premier League teams have a clear style of play, United have been a tactical shambles this season.
That is precisely why United have turned to one of the finest tactical visionaries in recent football history.
And when his six-month stint as interim manager ends, he is expected to take on an influential two-year consultancy role at the club – where he will play a key role in transfers, an area in which the club has largely floundered in recent years, as well as renovate every minute detail of the club.
United is in desperate need of reform. Rangnick is the great reformer of modern football. Now it’s time to see if he can teach his former pupils like Klopp and Tuchel some new tricks.