Manchester United will be in safe hands for the rest of the season after agreeing a short-term deal with Ralf Rangnick to take over as interim manager to replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
United still have Mauricio Pochettino and Brendan Rodgers in their sights for the summer but were always open to appointing an interim to give themselves more time and flexibility to go after one of their preferred permanent options later on.
Rangnick will steer the ship for the rest of the season and is believed to also have agreed a two-year consultancy role on top of that which will give him a voice at Old Trafford until 2024.
This is a coach whose reputation has been built on player development and tactical mastery.
Rangnick was not a noteworthy player. Hailing from the state of Baden-Wurttemberg in Germany’s south west, he joined the youth ranks at regional powerhouse Stuttgart but never made it past reserve team level. After a brief spell in England that he combined with a year of study at the University of Sussex, he returned to Germany but very much remained in BW.
Even Rangnick’s coaching career had humble beginnings. He was in his early thirties when he was put in charge of home-town club Viktoria Backnang as player-manager, before spells at various other clubs around BW – including Stuttgart at various levels on three separate occasions.
But he had been coaching in some capacity since his late teenage years and has been known in Germany as the ‘football professor’ since 1998, considered by many to be a tactical genius.
Rangnick won Germany’s fourth division with Ulm in 1998, by which time he had been coaching and managing for 15 years – he still hadn’t left the comfort of BW. He still hadn’t even 12 months later when he landed his first top flight job at Stuttgart, taking charge of the first-team after earlier spells in charge of the reserves and Under-19s over several years.
Stuttgart jumped into the top half of the Bundesliga on his watch and got into the UEFA Cup as a result of winning a place via the Intertoto Cup. He was sacked in 2001 but quickly landed a new job at Hannover in the second tier and re-established them as a Bundesliga side.
Rangnick’s next opportunity was at Schalke, where he replaced Jupp Heynckes a few weeks into the 2004/05 campaign, finishing runners-up to Bayern Munich in both the Bundesliga and DFB Pokal.
His legacy of club building arguably started at Hoffenheim when he joined the ambitious provincial side in 2006. Rangnick was only just over a year removed from a second place Bundesliga finish and had managed in the Champions League until the end of 2005, but dropped into the third tier for the project, spending five years in charge and overseeing consecutive promotions.
Hoffenheim achieved their ambition of Bundesliga football under his guidance and haven’t left the top flight since. Rangnick eventually left in 2011 after consolidating the club’s position over multiple seasons and it is the longest spell he has had as a head coach in a career spanning nearly 40 years.
“What we did in Hoffenheim had a lot of influence on German football,” Rangnick told ESPN last year. “I remember in our first year in the Bundesliga in 2008 we played Borussia Dortmund under Jurgen Klopp and we dominated them 4-1.
“It could easily have been six or seven, because we continuously pressed them for the entire game. The following week Jurgen said that this is exactly the style of football he wants to play with Dortmund in the future.”
After Hoffenheim came a return to Schalke in 2011, taking over deep into the second half of the 2010/11. The club had already reached the DFB Pokal final, which he won, but Rangnick also masterminded a Champions League quarter-final win over holders Inter to book a semi-final tie with Manchester United – the only time he has ever faced his new employers.
Over the last 10 years, Rangnick is mostly known for his work with Red Bull. In 2012, he was appointed director of football for Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig, overseeing the ambitious football development and recruitment at both clubs simultaneously.
Salzburg were already dominant in Austria but Sadio Mane and Kevin Kampl were among the first wave of young talents that arrived on Rangnick’s watch. Leipzig, meanwhile, were in the fourth tier in Germany and targeting a place in the Bundesliga – it was a similar project but on a bigger scale than what he had previously achieved at Hoffenheim.
After three years pulling the strings upstairs, Rangnick took the head coach reins himself in 2015 and steered the club into the top flight. Joshua Kimmich had been one of the talents identified there, sold to Bayern Munich prior to the promotion winning season.
Rangnick immediately went back to his director of football role, continuing to oversee development, talent scouting and recruitment, before returning as head coach for one more season in 2018 and qualifying for the Champions League. After that, Red Bull promoted him to head of sport and development, overseeing all of the company’s global football operations.
Development and recruitment characterised Rangnick’s decade at Red Bull. As well as the aforementioned names, Erling Haaland, Timo Werner, Dayot Upamecano, Ibrahima Konate, Enock Mwepu and Patson Daka are just some of those to have been polished by the Red Bull system.
As a coach, Rangnick has a way of building and knitting teams together, which is exactly what is now required at Old Trafford. When presented with big ambitions and pressure from wealthy owners at Hoffenheim and with Red Bull, he delivered.
In terms of style, he is credited with inventing gegenpressing, which has been internationally popularised by Jurgen Klopp over the last 10 years at Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool, as well as being a staple for many Bundesliga coaches. As such, Rangnick is considered a huge influence on Klopp, as well as other leading German coaches like Thomas Tuchel and Julian Nagelsmann.
His system, in his own words, is ‘fast, proactive, attacking, counter-attacking, counter-pressing, exciting and entertaining’, which would be extraordinarily popular with his new fans because it fits the classic ‘United way’ of playing the game preached by Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson.
The implementation of a particular style is something that United have been crying out for this season. Too often under Solskjaer the team looked tactically unprepared and disjointed and, because the ability of individual players at Old Trafford is not in question, it is tactics and instructions from a visionary coach like Rangnick that will make the difference now.
United were pulled apart by Liverpool last month because the players appeared to have no idea how to close down their opponents as a unit, with too many reading from different pages and leaving gaps for them to be carved open at will. Under Rangnick’s instruction, that scenario in future promises to be much more cohesive and effective.
But where else Rangnick appears to be a smart fit for United is his general approach, especially because of the expected agreement that will see him stick around for two more years to advise.
He breaks football into ‘three Cs’, which are ‘cash, concept and competence’.
“It is certainly helpful in football and in business to have some money at your disposal, however, this money will not help you if you do not have the other two Cs in your portfolio,” he told ESPN.
“In order to be sustainably successful, you need to have a plan on how to develop the club and the best possible and competent people to implement the concept and plan. Those three C’s were the foundation of our [Red Bull’s] sporting success paving the way for the development of players with quality and increased market value at a factor of 10 or sometimes even higher.”
United are full of cash, but Rangnick is now ready to add concept and competence to the party.