Ex-Man Utd assistant Phelan insists he predicted Rangnick difficulties; likens Solskjaer and Ferguson ‘ideas’

Joe Williams
Former Man Utd caretaker boss Ralf Rangnick and Mike Phelan
Ralf Rangnick and Mike Phelan take charge of match at Old Trafford.

Former Manchester United assistant manager Mike Phelan predicted “it would be difficult” for Ralf Rangnick at Old Trafford during his caretaker spell.

Ex-RB Leipzig manager Rangnick was appointed as the Man Utd caretaker boss in December 2021 following the dismissal of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the month before.

The German moved to Old Trafford with a view to stepping into a consultancy role at the end of the 2021-22 Premier League campaign.

However, Rangnick had little impact on performances and results and he departed the club shortly after Man Utd announced Erik ten Hag as their new manager, sparking rumours that the former Ajax manager didn’t want to work with Rangnick.

And Phelan admits he half expected Rangnick’s spell at the club to pan out the way it did with the German “stepping into something turbulent”.

Phelan said in an interview with Sky Sports: “I thought it was difficult. Not difficult from the point of Ralf being the manager, but the circumstances of him being the manager. It wasn’t easy with it because Manchester United – does it need a caretaker manager?

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“It needs a proper manager – and I’m not saying Ralf wasn’t a proper manager, but he came in under this caretaker role having been one at a smaller club. I always thought it would be difficult for him to establish momentum, to sort out the players in a short space of time.

“I don’t know what conversations he had to get the role but he tried really hard. It didn’t work out in the interest of both parties.

“He was fantastic as a guy in the environment he was in before becoming manager – he does that director of football role really well, he was successful at that. Coming in as a manager, he had done that role before, but he was stepping into something turbulent.

“I have a lot of respect for Ralf, it was a difficult position to take on. But he really did try and worked immensely hard. He had his frustrations along the way, as a lot of us did. But he’s back in the international game and he seems to be doing really well. And I’m pleased.”

Phelan was also assistant to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before Rangnick joined Man Utd and he explains how the opportunity to work alongside the Norwegian came about.

The former Man Utd assistant added: “I knew things weren’t going too well at United and that Jose Mourinho was under a bit of scrutiny but I had no idea it would lead to what it led to.

“I got to my car, turned on my phone and I must have had 150 messages, lots of them repeated ones such as: ‘Where are you? Get in touch!’ These were from Ole, Sir Alex, from the news people. I’m thinking: ‘I will take this a bit later’.

“I heard Jose had lost his job and I got a call and Ole spoke to me saying, ‘I might be offered the job, would you be interested in going in again?’ As I had been there, seen it and done it and it would have been a help for him. There were no second thoughts.

“The club was different from the first time round. From the inside, working with Ole, it was refreshing. He had a different way of doing things, a different mentality but the same standards as when he was a player. He worked very hard to try to achieve what he could achieve. There was turmoil there, but there was turmoil in all different areas of the club. But he was the manager and we had a job to do.

“We hit the ground running, we changed the atmosphere, the standards. We changed a lot of small things that made it feel like a Manchester United that I and Ole knew. The players responded really well and we got off to a flyer. I think we had 10 wins out of 12 and we were starting to think: ‘this is crazy’.

“We tried to push it on and to Ole’s credit, he was a good thinker. He allowed people to work – he was similar in his ideas to Sir Alex. It was quite refreshing.

“There were issues going on in that time that weren’t going on the first time round. There was a lot more attention to things in the background, within the club and the atmosphere. You were dealing with these things a lot more than the bits you wanted to focus on which was the football. But when you’re the manager of a massive club, the results get you.”