The writing was on the wall for Ralf Rangnick on Monday. He was mentioned in the fourth, 14th and 15th questions at Erik ten Hag’s introductory press conference and it was Ten Hag’s reply to the latter that was telling.
Did he endorse Rangnick’s consultancy role?
“That’s on the club.”
In the press room afterwards, we half-joked Rangnick wouldn’t be at United this time next year. Make it a week.
Ten Hag and Rangnick never met in person, their working relationship consisting of WhatsApp messages and a lengthy telephone conversation last week.
It took United less than a week to conclude Rangnick’s role as the new Austria national team coach “would make it hard to spend the time working for United that was previously anticipated”.
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Rangnick accepted the Austria role a month ago. Understandably, United waited until Ten Hag was in town to end Rangnick’s consultancy role before it had even started.
Many at United will be glad to see the back of Rangnick. A source said no one at the club liked his home truths, although the fans did.
The players were not having Rangnick’s methods. One noted he had started “dropping bombs” with the diagnosis the United squad needed open-heart surgery.
Players derided Rangnick’s CV and the backbiting was so unedifying some nicknamed him ‘Specs’. Rangnick only started Marcus Rashford nine times in the Premier League and if Ten Hag had used him as a sounding board then Rashford’s days at United might have been numbered. Instead he could be reprieved.
The United football director John Murtough drove Rangnick’s appointment, his first major act, and it resulted in the worst period in United’s recent history. Rangnick had managed 81 games in the decade prior to his appointment on November 29 and the biggest club he had managed was Schalke. The zenith of his coaching career was reaching the 2011 Champions League semi-finals when Schalke were swatted aside by Darron Gibson and Anderson.
Rangnick’s gripes about United failing to sign a forward on deadline day in January spooked staff. Luis Diaz and Dejan Kulusevski, two of the finest winter recruits, had pivotal impacts at Liverpool and Tottenham, the former chasing four trophies and the latter back in the top four.
The following day at Brighton, the United press officer asked this correspondent in the press room prior to kick-off to ask Rangnick a question inviting him to clarify his comments the previous day. The Red Bull man’s wings had been clipped.
Journalistically, Rangnick was a fascinating appointment. There was next to no pressing from the players and the gegenpress conferences were the highlight of Rangnick’s six-month tenure.
At a time where there is so much pretentious intellectualising in football with the superfluous ‘expected goals’, the misleading ‘goal contributions’ et al., It was especially reassuring Real Madrid won the Champions League with a manager who simply told Rodrygo to “go and score a goal “against Manchester City in the semi-final second leg.
On the timeline of coaching innovators, Carlo Ancelotti will be absent. Yet he is “The Record Man”, as he endearingly put it on the Stade de France pitch, with four European Cups and winners’ medals from Europe’s five major leagues.
Uefa should build a monument to Ancelotti, scourge of the so-called sportswashing trinity in the knockout rounds prior to the final, and Sir Alex Ferguson owes his kindred spirit a crate of Italian red for seeing off City and Liverpool.
Ancelotti does not yearn for an audience genuflecting at his genius, unlike some of his peers. His genius is man-management, as Ferguson’s was. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is proof it is not easy to replicate.
Rangnick occasionally had the human touch with Victor Lindelof, whom he consoled on the plane journey back to Manchester as the defender reconciled with the trauma of his wife and two boys sheltering from burglars in a panic room. Anthony Elanga was consoled after his penalty failure against Middlesbrough.
Ultimately, the United dressing room was not ripe for an interim appointment; always a dubious decision. Rangnick will not be missed nor mourned but he had the nerve to analyze objectively and, with him off the payroll, United are in danger of pandering to under-performing players and regressing to a compliant culture again.
Ten Hag is a disciplinarian, at least, and Rangnick’s position was not just on the club.