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How will Ralf Rangnick improve Manchester United? – Lewis Potts, Wilson’s School

When Manchester United parted ways with club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjær as manager, its most loyal fans were left pondering who best to take the helm of the sinking ship he left. Whilst there can be no doubt that United find themselves in a better position now than in late 2018 when Solskjær took over, the club are still failing miserably to live up to the infamous Sir Alex Ferguson era that is still so fond in their minds. With most touting Mauricio Pochettino or Zinedine Zidane to be the next United manager, it came to the surprise of many to hear that Ralf Rangnick was the next appointment of a United board that has so often been predictable in every move. But how is he going to make things work at the Theatre of Dreams?

With the former United striker’s tactics board being leaked after his dismissal, reading ‘Do the simple things well and with pride’, ‘Play for the team’, and ‘Go and do your magic’, questions often arose over the Norwegian’s capability as an elite manager. Where many felt that Solskjær was not tactically adept for the job, it is hard to say the same for Rangnick. The German boasts over 37 years in coaching and has been credited for inspiring the management styles of Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel and Julian Nagelsmann – all of which rank among the best managers in the world.

His ‘heavy metal’ football has made waves across Europe in the last decade, with the last 3 UEFA Coaches of the Year being of German descent – all of their teams playing with heavy emphasis on the ‘counter press’ that he has introduced to football. Rangnick has previously explained to the Coaches Voice that if he were to ‘call his team at 12am in the middle of the night to play a game at 1am, they would still {instinctively} play with the counter press’, because it should be ingrained in them. So what can he do for a United team that seem desperately in need of results as soon as possible, and how much will it vary to the previous regime?

Well, the most immediate and arguably most important fix surely must be the cohesion of the playing squad. Under Solskjær, many questioned the playing style of the legend; His most coveted victories as boss being won purely on the counterattack with extremely low possession on the ball – namely their victories against Manchester City in March 2020 where they had just 27% possession, and against PSG where they mustered just 28%.

Rangnick, being an advocate of the ‘gegenpress’, where players relentlessly press opposition defences for the ball upon losing it, will look to nullify United’s lackadaisical approach to pressing by using young and energetic players like Donny Van de Beek and Jadon Sancho with more regularity than Solskjær, with the former not even mustering a start in the league this season under the Norwegian. Utilising these players in the ‘half-spaces’ (spaces in-between opposition wide and central players where pockets of space usually open up), where both Van de Beek and Sancho have previously shone with their past employers, might finally give the pair the boost they need to start writing their careers at Old Trafford.

Rangnick will likely also need to find ways to create a ‘horseshoe’ in the United defence, pushing the full backs far higher up the pitch to rebrand United as a more attacking unit than they have been under Solskjær; And whilst it is easy to see Luke Shaw adapting to this change, it might be a tougher task to adapt the more defensively astute Aaron Wan-Bissaka to the new position. Finally, the 63-year-old German coach will need to figure out how best to use Cristiano Ronaldo, who has come under much criticism for his failure to commit to any sort of pressing in the past regime – but it seems unlikely Rangnick will fail to find a solution given his résumé.

Whilst setting up a new system for the United players to play in might be his first step as manager, there can be no doubt Rangnick will need to find the right players for his football – and perhaps more importantly, identify those that aren’t right for him. With Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata and Edinson Cavani’s contracts all running out in the summer of 2022, and Rangnick taking up a position in the United board starting immediately after the 21/22 season ends, the German will need to make key decisions regarding their futures. It remains to be seen whether Paul Pogba wants to commit to his boyhood club beyond his current contract, and with his lack of defensive effort often coming under criticism by footballing media, he might find Rangnick’s demanding football unsuitable for his career. It is entirely possible Rangnick does not fancy Pogba in his system too, with notorious hard workers like Emil Forsberg and Konrad Laimer often taking up midfield spots in Rangnick’s days at Leipzig.

Juan Mata is surely likely to be moved on, as the Spaniard turns 34 in April, but the future of England star Lingard is entirely up in the air. Under Jose Mourinho, the 28-year-old was a star midfielder who was praised for his hard midfield battles, and Rangnick would likely be a fan of the traits the talented trickster possesses. Edinson Cavani will almost definitely be high in Ralf Rangnick’s rankings, being an avid presser and United being slightly ‘light’ in strikers, but with Rangnick well renowned for using youth as much as possible, he may look to hand the starting job to the endlessly gifted Mason Greenwood in the coming months and years.

However, as much as Rangnick will look to make changes on the pitch, he’ll need to make just as many if not more off of it. With the Glazer ownership of United offering Rangnick a 6-month interim job as manager and a 2-year role in the board following it, the direction the club are looking to move in is clear. Having successfully run the Red Bull franchise clubs Leipzig and Salzburg, as well as working as Head of Sports and Development at Russian club FC Lokomotiv Moscow since 2020, Rangnick is far from inexperienced at recruitment and scouting, and he’ll need to make serious change to United’s recruitment system in the last decade. With many big money signings in recent history not blossoming into any real success at Old Trafford like Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Alexis Sanchez, the Red Devils have become more well-known for making marketing signings than beneficial signings on the football pitch.

Even recently, the outfit snapped up global star Cristiano Ronaldo within 72 hours of his transfer request from Juventus amidst rumours he was going to rivals Manchester City. With many calling his acquisition a ‘panic buy’, despite his unquestionable goalscoring performances, Rangnick is going to have to reform the system at Manchester United that allows so many signings to not have large benefit to the football played at the club.

So, Ralf Rangnick has a tough task ahead of him. With countless issues at the infamous footballing institute, the German tactician is going to have to make key changes in the style of football, the squad dynamic, and the running and processes at the club on board level. But with his near 40 years of experience in the game, and his appointment being the first step from the Glazer ownership into a long term plan for the club, it seems likely that only good can come from his appointment.



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