Ralf Rangnick - How Godfather of 'gegenpressing' can revive Manchester United

Manchester United have officially appointed Ralf Rangnick as interim manager till the end of the season and then as a consultant for a further two years.

Ralf Rangnick in a file photo. (Image: Twitter)

It is now official – Manchester United appointed Ralf Rangnick as interim manager. Amusingly, it is worth noting that when rumours of this happening first broke, there were typically two types of reactions.

Many predicatbly (and sadly) asked who – while others were amazed at United getting a decision like this so right. The reaction of the latter camp makes more sense, especially given what the German has achieved in his time in the game.

More than just a coach, Rangnick is someone whose ideas for how the game should be played make him such a fascinating character.

It helps, of course, that his ideas and teachings have influenced many a top modern manager. He is not just someone with plenty of good ideas; he is more than happy to share his ideas and visions with those willing to listen.

Of course, it is worth noting he hasn’t done a lot of coaching in recent times. Rangnick is now more of a football director instead of just a head coach or manager. But United are keen to keep him beyond just this season.

Multiple news reports suggest the club want the German to stay on as a consultant of sorts. How exactly that role would work is unclear. But there are few people better suited to a role than Rangnick.

It’s safe to say that United’s managerial situation post Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement has been rocky. None of their preferred choices have worked out, for one reason or the other.

But if this feels different, it is because it is. Rangnick can and will bring plenty of improvements to Manchester United – both in his stint as interim coach and the future consultancy role.

After all, he knows a thing or two about building and rebuilding clubs – both on and off the field.

Ralf Rangnick – the genius behind Gegenpressing

Ralf Rangnick is a radical departure from the type of managers United have gone for since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. In David Moyes, they went for a tried and tested Premier League manager but it backfired spectacularly.

Louis van Gaal was the revolutionary technician, but it was apparent his best days were behind him. And Jose Mourinho was the serial winner who guaranteed trophies and toxicity in equal amounts.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was arguably the most shocking appointment of all. Brought in summarily to change the mood post Mourinho’s departure, he shocked everyone by landing the job permanently. He then shocked everyone even further by lasting as long as he did.

Rangnick, however, is different. He is seen in Germany as not only a tactical genius, but a football visionary. His style of play, centered around ‘gegenpressing’ or counter-pressing, is high-octane and pleasing on the eye.

Indeed, it is telling that Rangnick’s ideas of football have been adopted by so many managers; many of whom have been personally mentored by him.

Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel, Julian Nagelsmann and Ralph Hasenhuttl are four of Rangnick’s more well-known disciples. The likes of Hansi Flick, Adi Hutter and Marco Rose play a similar brand of football.

Rangnick did not actually invent the concept of pressing; he got the idea from legendary Dynamo Kyiv manager Valeriy Lobanovskyi. But its use in modern football was championed by the German during his time as a coach.

But aside from his coaching, Rangnick is also known for being able to give clubs a proper direction. And that is something United badly need at this point.

Success at Hoffenheim, RB Leipzig

His ability to build clubs from the ground up can be seen in his efforts at both Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig. In both clubs, he took over a side in the lower divisions and made them Bundesliga regulars.

Hoffenheim is a small village in Germany and the football club only became a serious force in the late 2000s. Investment from alumnus and software mogul Dietmar Hopp helped, but it was Ralf Rangnick who provided the football know-how.

He signed for them in 2006 and instantly got them promoted to the second division. The following season saw him get the club up to the first division Bundesliga, where they still play.

He did a similar job at RB Leipzig, only here he took it one step further. Not only did he coach Leipzig, he also took on a director of football role – both at the club and for Red Bull, the club’s owners.

This role saw him oversee not just Leipzig, but also RB Salzburg and the indeed the whole network of Red Bull-owned clubs. Under him, Leipzig and Salzburg became finishing schools for some fine talent.

The likes of Dayot Upamecano, Timo Werner, Sadio Mane, Erling Haaland, Joshua Kimmich and Naby Keita have all passed through either Salzburg or Leipzig en route to their current clubs. And they won’t be the last players to do so either.

Under Rangnick, the focus went largely on finding and developing young talent. Players were signed for the first team but they had to fit the club’s manner of playing.

Given how scattergun United’s approach has been in recent years, having someone with modern football know-how guide player and manager recruitment will be a huge plus.

What change can United expect to see?

Most clubs – particularly the bigger ones – will have a certain recruitment policy in place when entering the transfer market. Strangely, the same cannot be said about United in recent years.

Their approach has changed depending on who the man in the dugout is at any given time. That might seem a good sign, given they are listening to the demands of the manager.

But it betrays a lack of vision from those at the top of the club. To make things worse, even when there is a semblance of coherence, players are signed simply to prevent them from joining a rival club.

That lack of vision comes, in part, due to not having a figure with football know-how in a key position. That condundrum has seemingly been solved by the appointment of Ralf Rangnick.

It also helps that the German takes a keen interest in how the club plays too. Thus, once his interim stint ends, expect someone who also favours a high-pressing style to occupy the dugout.

Mauricio Pochettino, long admired at United, fits the bill in that regard; so does Ajax manager Erik ten Haag. Both would fit the bill in that sense.

But no matter who comes next, one can expect Rangnick to effect major change in the footballing side of things. Too often United have seemed like a corporate entity, a content-making machine cashing in on past glories.

That looks likely to change. As Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said ahead of Rangnick’s appointment, “Unfortunately a good coach is coming to England.” It is indeed unfortunate – for the rest of the league.

Shayne Dias

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