Bringing Ralf Rangnick to Manchester United as their interim manager hints at an actual plan for the club to build an exciting future.
So the votes are in and the grey smoke is set to billow from a chimney at Old Trafford; Manchester United have made a decision which is most unlike Manchester United in its common sensibility. Rather than falling back on the comforting glow of nostalgia or a name with brand recognition and not much else, the club’s interim manager will almost certainly now be Ralf Rangnick, the former Hannover, Schalke, Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig coach.
There are visa details to be worked out and Rangnick’s current club, Lokomotiv Moscow, haven’t released him from the contract that he only agreed with them last summer just yet, but it seems that the decision has been just about finalised. So how will all of this work? It has been reported that Rangnick rejected United’s first offer because of a lack of clarity over what his role would be beyond next summer. The club’s second offer answered this question by offering him a two-year contract in a consultancy position, and this seems to have been enough to persuade him to swap Moscow for Manchester.
Rangnick’s appointment will ensure that Manchester United stick to their unusual decision to have an interim-interim manager, followed by an interim manager, followed by a permanent decision to be made next summer. Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher will remain in control of the team until the loose ends are tied up, and then the floor will belong to Rangnick until the end of the season. It certainly seems like a wise call to get him quickly, if only to prevent any groundswell of support forming for the current caretakers to be given more permanent contracts after a couple of decent results.
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Manchester United supporters can at least now expect a definite playing style. Rangnick was one of the first coaches to have introduced and popularised the high press that is now used by many teams across the continent, and it seems difficult to believe that he wouldn’t move towards a similar style.
Quite how this will sit with a certain Madeiran attacking player is a question that we’ll only find out the answer to after we’ve seen a few games. One of the dilemmas that Rangnick now faces is whether he should try to build an entirely high-pressing team, whether he should try to build a team of gegenpressers around them, or whether he might even decide that he has more suitable attacking options than this particular player, who turns 37 in February.
Interim managers can work and sometimes they can fail. At one end of the spectrum, Chelsea won the FA Cup and the Champions League under Roberto Di Matteo after he stepped in to replace Andre Villas Boas in March 2012. Di Matteo’s tenure was so successful that he was offered a two-year contract as permanent manager, but was relieved of his duties just five months later.
At the other end is Alan Shearer, appointed on an interim basis at Newcastle United in April 2009. Shearer had no previous managerial experience and it showed. Newcastle were deep in a relegation battle, but under his management they could only take five points from their last eight matches of the season and were duly relegated. Shearer was not considered for the job on a permanent basis afterwards.
Rangnick feels like a different appointment to these two, for a couple of obvious reasons. Firstly, he seems to be part of a plan which takes into account more than ‘just’ the immediate future. And secondly, at 63 Rangnick carries the air of the experienced elder and will, upon his appointment, already know that he is moving into a consultancy position come the end of the season. Manchester United have been clamouring for a cohesive identity since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. This feels like an opportunity to build one.
It doesn’t require a long memory to see how quickly and spectacularly this sort of decision can reap immediate rewards either. It’s less than a year since club legend Frank Lampard was managing Chelsea, and replacement Thomas Tuchel wasn’t necessarily expected to succeed instantly. Chelsea, of course, ended last season as the champions of Europe for the second time.
The same as Thomas Tuchel with Chelsea, with nothing to prove Rangnick comes into this position without the burden of being a ‘club legend’ sitting on his shoulders. If he can get a tune out of this expensively-assembled group of players, he could really begin the process of actually getting Manchester United to where they’ve been waiting to be for most of the last eight and a half years. They’re still in the Champions League and within touching distance of the qualifying places for next season.
But Rangnick’s appointment isn’t just for six months. His two-year consultancy period offers the opportunity to give the team a distinct identity moving forward, too, and it will certainly be interesting to see whether (or how) he influences the decision over who to hire from next summer on. Earlier this week, the press had been talking about Mauricio Pochettino as though his move from PSG was a done deal, but PSG’s capitulation against Manchester City in the Champions League and ongoing concerns over how to extricate him from his contract in Paris have raised fair questions. It has also been suggested that Erik ten Hag would be a better fit to succeed Rangnick.
It’s all open to debate, but by making this decision now, United have bought themselves a little thinking and breathing space. There’s still a long way to go this season, and with most other teams in the Premier League continuing to display flaws fairly regularly, there is space above them in the current table into which they can grow. But for now, Manchester United have a plan and are showing signs of competence which have been absent for some time. For supporters of the club, it must all feel like a breath of fresh air.