SAYAR ROWCHOWDHURY | 5th December 2021

“Our Red Bull football is heavy metal, rock and roll”, the man said, sat on a stage with David Jones, facing a room full of aspiring football coaches, trying to inspire. As he has done all his life.

Every point he tried to get across was accompanied by a stabbing finger as his words made for thought bubbles amongst the audience of a footballing blueprint that would convince one who didn’t understand the offside rule.
Ralf Rangnick has been in the game for more than four decades. Ron Atkinson oversaw training at The Cliff, Diego Maradona still hadn’t moved to Napoli and the football was nowhere near as evolved tactically or otherwise when the ‘Godfather of Gegenpressing’ first took to coaching.

At this point, there isn’t any surprising the German about just about anything that happens behind the scenes at a football club. Enter Manchester United.

While a lot has been written about his previous stints, the nuances of his tactical setup and all that jazz amongst a mirage of buzzwords out of nowhere, what it is about the manager’s job at the M16 that’s so difficult? What fires does the professor need to put out and what exactly should we expect?

Let’s dive head first right into it.

Can the high-press and CR7 be a happy marriage?

It goes without saying that the base of everything Ralf preaches about is speed and intensity. An immensely high-tempo from start to stop and training players in a way that their brains match their veins and they’re able to process the game as quickly, mentally, as they are, physically.

For players having played more than 270 minutes in the Premier League this season, United’s highest ranked player in the list for pressures per 90 is Fred. Unsurprisingly. A

quick peek down that table down to 13th place, sandwiched between the much-maligned centre-halves in Maguire and Lindelöf is a name of unparalleled stature in the game.

A name that sends newsrooms into headline machines by just being dropped to the bench to avoid a 3rd consecutive start in 7 days at the age of 36 as Michael Carrick found out at the weekend.

A name that is a must-start irrespective of circumstances, catering largely to the needs of this corporate giant that is Manchester United.

The punditry around Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Manchester has been largely emotional rather than analytical like we found out as recently as Sunday, on Sky Sports.

While Roy Keane kept on insisting that “he was brought in to score goals” and “he came back to play in these (Chelsea) fixtures”, Jamie Carragher’s only point, which I quite agree with myself, was how United aren’t closer to the title with Ronaldo than they were without him, last year.

And how, the concept of having a Park Ji-Sung and a Wayne Rooney doing the running to allow him to flourish, is backdated and practically, impossible to implement in a passenger-averse day and age of football.

But such is the nature of the problem Ralf Rangnick is tasked with solving. Surrounding the Portuguese icon with high-volume pressers in Lingard and Sancho does look like the most amicable solution but does come at the detriment of the team’s in-possession aesthetic and in-turn stagnates the gametime of some of this squad’s brightest prospects in Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford. At some stage, something will have to give.

That’s what’s interesting to look forward to. 

Which players will thrive and survive under Rangnick?

Fred: As stated earlier, in Fred, Ralf and United have perhaps their most important asset. With his tireless pressing, off-the-ball intelligence and ball-winning ability higher up the pitch, the Brazilian fits the Rangnick vision to a tee.

Considering Fred thrives for his national team in a more advanced role and has for United against Chelsea and Arsenal in back-to-back outings, expect Ralf to unleash a weapon of a box-to-box midfielder.

The redemption arc writes itself.

Edinson Cavani: It’s been a season marred by injuries so far for El Matador. However, if we’re to see a throwback to the famous 4-2-4 shape, popularized through Ralf’s work with the Red Bull group, Edinson Cavani is a tailor-made pick for one of the front two positions.

Industry mixed with intelligence both on and off the ball, if the German can manage the Uruguayan’s fitness, he’ll go a long way in implement a vision where relentlessness reigns supreme.

Adding to this, it is interesting to remember that the Ronaldo-Cavani pairing at Tottenham did raise eyebrows but did not end up being the worst decision Solskjaer had made towards the end of his time at the helm.

The yin to Ronaldo’s yang and the ideal No.9 for a Rangnick side.

Jesse Lingard: This one’s bound to turn a few heads as we’ve had reports of Lingard wanting to leave as recently as mid-November. Including Declan Rice dropping emojis for hints for an East London reunion once again.

But in Lingard, United have a forward who embodies the tenacity they’re lacking in trying to press from the front. Add to that his proven goal threat and it could well be comeback season yet again for the England international.

Buy the dip and invest in the $JLINGZ coin under Ralf.

What should we expect from Rangnick off the pitch?

The Consultancy Role: This, is where United might (sound this word out in caps in your head) struck gold. Ralf Rangnick has single-handedly brought clubs from the dark depths of the second and third divisions in Germany to the glamour and glory of the top flight, overachieving wherever he’s been, from Hannover to Hoffenheim and quite recently, with Leipzig.

Both as manager and sporting director, his ability to steer a club whilst stabilizing it is immaculate. However, at Manchester United, the business model is different.

He’s tasked with identifying players for the endgame and not just to make a profit on them. Additionally, having more sizeable funds to work with at one of the biggest clubs on the globe could make Ralf’s vision a force to be reckoned with, unbarred by previous restrictions.

That and him being a seasoned networker in the game will definitely come in handy to United, should they use him properly.

It’d be silly not to be giddy about the prospects of this role.

The Academy: United’s reserves and under-age groups have a host of prospects. The understanding is, the current crop is the best Carrington have harvested in quite a long time.

Owing to the good work of Ole Solskjaer, the academy, headed by Nick Cox, boasts the likes of Alvaro Fernandez, Hannibal Mejbri, Anthony Elanga, Charlie McNeil, Shola Shoretire and so many more.

Give Rangnick the keys and let him unlock Hannibal Mejbri

Ralf will certainly be tasked with creating a pathway to the first team whilst improving the setup and adding his input like he did so successfully with the Red Bull group.

A lot of his work there was identifying future prospects around the age group of 17-18, bringing them in for substantially lesser fees and making a massive profit on them.

A certain Erling Haaland was identified by Ralf while he was at Molde and brought to Salzburg. A 17-year old Dayot Upamecano was brought to Salzburg from the reserve team of FC Valenciennes in France. Bobby Firmino was his last signing at Hoffenheim. Other names include Sadio Mane, Timo Werner, Joshua Kimmich, David Alaba and the list goes on.

These are examples of Ralf’s incredible eye for talent and a measure of how he can both identify and trust young players to go out and tackle first division football. Something that bides in well with United’s youth, courage and success policy.

No, I did not mean to sound like an ex-player at Manchester United that’s selling the club’s values.

But my point is, at Red Bull, he didn’t exactly have a host of academy talent to pick from. At United, he isn’t short of any options.

The Managerial Search : And for all the talk about the gegenpress, the shape, personnel, likely outcomes and the present, the future is very much what must concern the United board and Ralf Rangnick. So, what do they look for beyond these six months?

A similar philosophy as Rangnick’s to continue his work? Or tapping into a long-standing interest in Mauricio Pochettino?

Of course, come summer, the outstanding candidate beside him is Erik Ten Hag. And it’d be very bizarre if the next man on the Old Trafford hot-seat is anyone outside these two.

Two incredible tacticians that could paint the city of Manchester as well as the footballing landscape red once again if they’re handed the pieces to their puzzles.

And here we are then. A new start? Or an interval in a circus show? Before the Rangnick era unfolds, it’s probably right to say that for the first time in forever, United have gone all in.

All or nothing quite literally. He’ll have the glamour of the post. He’ll have the gloom too.

But all the speculation comes to an end tomorrow as Rangnick prepares to begin the first phase of his career at Manchester against Patrick Vieira’s tricky Palace side.

We’ll let time tell the rest of the story about whether a fallen giant will rise again under Ralf.

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