Manchester United: Ralf Rangnick’s art of ‘club building’ & new challenge at Old Trafford

Ralf Rangnick has been the architect of numerous top-tier German clubs, from Schalke to Bayern Munich. He’s now at work on Manchester United and will be tasked with shaping a team in need of reinvention.

Manchester United are currently in the midst of an interesting time. They have appointed a new manager, Ralf Rangnick, who will be tasked with building a club from the ground up.

Manchester United: Ralf Rangnick's art of 'club building' & new challenge at Old Trafford

Ralf RangnickRalf Rangnick stated of his task at Old Trafford, “I need to get into their heart, their thoughts, their blood.”

Ralf Rangnick has a drive for invention and a desire to modernize every club he touches, despite the fact that his footballing epiphany occurred over 40 years ago and continues to underlie his style of play.

Since Rangnick was chosen Manchester United’s interim manager, a tale has emerged about a game he played as a midfielder for Viktoria Backnang, a sixth-tier German club, in a friendly against Valeriy Lobanovsky’s Dynamo Kyiv in February 1983.

Rangnick had to pause and count the number of opponents a few minutes into the game, thinking they were fielding more than 11 due to Dynamo’s oppressive strategy of pressing the ball.

“We came across a genius,” Rangnick said of the experience, which helped to shape the high-intensity football for which the ‘Godfather of Gegenpressing’ has become known.

Some of the lessons acquired from watching Lobanovsky’s team – as well as Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan from 1987 to 1991 – are already being adopted at United’s Carrington training facility. Rangnick, 63, now has a well-deserved reputation for his innovative style.

Rangnick is described by many who have worked with him as a genius when it comes to forming clubs. A guy whose attention to detail motivates players to perform at their best, but who can also be tiresome and push some to their limits.

Last week, United’s interim manager confirmed it himself: “The players must purchase a ticket. I need to get inside their hearts, minds, blood, and anything else they have. The first measures have already been taken.”

He is described as someone who questions the established quo and rushes to put his own system in place. He may be irritable and passionate, as well as brutal when it comes to those who fall behind. He wants success and understands how to get it by fostering a high-performance atmosphere. Despite the fact that he is unlikely to tell Cristiano Ronaldo how to “eat and sleep,” as one insider put it, he is fast to persuade famous players of his techniques.

His most noteworthy prize win, a German Cup with Schalke a decade ago, may seem disappointing, but his true talent lies in enhancing his surroundings. That is his purpose at United, a club that has seemed to be lacking in direction since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013.

It’s a familiar struggle for Rangnick, but the circumstances are considerably different from what he’s faced previously.

Short presentational grey line

Rangnick’s techniques have been refined over the course of a lengthy coaching career that has seen three significant shifts. He transformed lower-league clubs into Bundesliga teams at Ulm, Hoffenheim, and RB Leipzig.

When he joined in 1997, Ulm was in the third tier. But, by the time he departed in 1999 for a larger role in Stuttgart, they were on the verge of securing their first ever berth in the German top flight.

He took charge at Hoffenheim in 2006 and won two promotions in a row, constructing a system that has since seen the ambitious club expand into a Champions League team, reaching the group stages in 2018-19.

“Ralf Rangnick is one of TSG Hoffenheim’s most significant architects, a football visionary and, in a good manner, motivated,” says Alexander Rosen, TSG Hoffenheim’s football director.

“On the one hand, he can achieve short-term success, but he is also someone who thinks and prepares strategically for the long run.”

Rangnick has had mixed success in other jobs, such as at Stuttgart and Hannover, or has barely missed out on considerable success, like as at Schalke. Bayern Munich won the league championship in 2004-05, the first of two stints in Gelsenkirchen. In his second season, they advanced to the Champions League semi-finals, only to lose 6-1 on aggregate against Manchester United.

But it was with RB Leipzig that he did some of his greatest work.

Ragnick, pictured among Leipzig fans at Borussia Dortmund in 2017, when he was the club's director of footballWhen Ragnick was Borussia Dortmund’s director of football in 2017, he was photographed with Leipzig supporters.

Rangnick was named sports director of Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig, two European clubs owned by the company, in 2012. He had the potential to exercise maximum influence here, as he did at Hoffenheim, and he had the means to carry out his vision.

Rangnick recruited Alexander Zorniger to lead Leipzig after a four-hour conversation in which he sold him on the concept. Phone calls at 7 a.m. would soon become the norm.

“Ralf despises wasting time; he wants to go forward,” Zorniger says to Sport. “If someone at Manchester United is thinking right now, ‘oh, it will take three or four years before you see the first effect,’ they are mistaken. If they fail to meet his expectations, he will replace them.

“He is the most self-improvement-oriented professional I have ever encountered.” Every day, he double-checks everything: ‘Is it still cutting-edge?’ Is there anything we can do better?’

“He constantly believes that football is a 100-piece jigsaw, and that we should be able to supply all 100 parts to the players in order for them to become great players. That is what he is doing in terms of diet, mental preparation, physical requirements, physiotherapy, and even kinetics.”

When Rangnick joined, Leipzig was battling to get out of the fourth-tier Regionalliga Nord. They were competing in the Bundesliga within four years.

Die Roten Bullen were steered to consecutive promotions by Zorniger until Rangnick took over as coach in 2015-16, completing the club’s ascension with a second-place finish in the second level.

“Rangnick is the designer. He is a fantastic guy for doing all of this “According to Guido Schafer, RB’s climb to lead reporter at the Leipziger Volkszeitung was chronicled.

“Everything changed when he landed in Leipzig. He gave the club a new lease of life by making it younger and quicker. It’s his ideology, and everything has been under the influence of it since then.”

Rangnick, putting out training cones as Hoffenheim manager in 2008Rangnick in 2008, while he was the manager of Hoffenheim.

A countdown clock in training enables players to get the ball back in eight seconds and score a goal in ten seconds. Sleep specialists and a Soccerbot machineexternal-link, which mimics prior matches to assist players enhance their cognitive abilities, were brought in.

Rangnick believes in “creating faster brains rather than faster feet,” and would need players to come 90 minutes before to training to complete tests that would enable staff to determine how hard and for how long they should workout that day.

Former Hoffenheim striker Chinedu Obasi told World Service that “Ralf is not only a coach, he’s also like a psychotherapist.” “He understands how to demand the most from his players, and he wants you to do the same.”

Rangnick initially started scouting for younger players at Hoffenheim. He thought they’d be more suited to his high-intensity game because they’d recover faster and had empty ‘hard drives,’ devoid of hard-to-break habits.

“Ralf is a proponent of sport innovation; he seeks to deconstruct old notions in order to release fresh vitality in a club,” Rosen continues.

“In the scouting area, he also has a keen eye. One of his biggest assets is his ability to spot, recruit, and develop youthful talent.”

Rangnick’s philosophy was adopted by Red Bull’s whole worldwide portfolio of teams, including the New York Red Bulls and Red Bull Brasil. There was a strategy of typically only recruiting players aged 23 or younger from a database of over 400,000 footballers who were graded according to various personality traits and attributes.

“Ralf Rangnick is an exceptional football guru as well as a great club builder,” Leipzig CEO Oliver Mintzlaff adds. “We owe him a great debt of gratitude. We would not have been able to attain the kind of success we have in recent years if it hadn’t been for him.”

RB Leipzig were well established among Germany’s top when Rangnick quit from his employment with Red Bull in the summer of 2020. They reached the Champions League semi-finals, losing to Paris St-Germain, and finished third in the Bundesliga during that Covid-affected season.

He’s spoken about the three Cs of success: idea, competence, and capital. He found all three at Hoffenheim and Red Bull’s squads, with money to throw at a blank canvas in order to realize his ideology.

At Old Trafford, things are a little different.

Ralf RangnickRangnick has two victories and a tie in his first three games with United.

“Ralf has always had the option of changing anything,” Zorniger argues. “He brought in a new coaching staff, new players, a new medical department, and a new scouting squad to Hoffenheim and Leipzig.

“At the moment, he doesn’t have these options at Manchester United.” These ancient, traditional clubs have an old, complex network, and it might be difficult to open up and build new structures.

“It was his first time managing great players when he was named manager of Stuttgart in 1999, and he struggled since they didn’t follow anything he believed was a good idea. But now that he has more coaching expertise, he understands precisely where he can make a quick impact and where it would take some time.”

Rangnick was able to get the early process up and running swiftly at Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig. His suggestions were promptly accepted after discussions with the club owners – Dietmar Hopp at Hoffenheim and Dietrich Mateschitz at Red Bull.

“We did it when it made sense,” Zorniger says. “It wasn’t like going through a board and debating it with the finance experts and this man and that guy like in a typical club.”

“That was always the reason Ralf didn’t take over every team – he has to find the ideal scenario for his football expertise, not debating if something makes sense or not with seven former players.”

Rangnick, pictured celebrating RB Leipzig's 2016 promotion to the Bundesliga, chased by a player pouring beer over his headRangnick celebrates RB Leipzig’s promotion to the Bundesliga in 2016.

Regardless of the circumstances, change is already underway at Manchester United.

Rangnick, who has previously engaged an army of experts to cover every eventuality, typically takes a hands-on approach on the training field before delegating to the trustworthy members of staff he has selected.

He’s already began this process at United, signing Chris Armas, a former USA international and ex-New York Red Bulls coach, as his assistant and adding sports psychologist Sascha Lense, who he worked with at Schalke and Leipzig, to the team.

Lars Kornetka, on the other hand, has decided to remain at Lokomotiv Moscow and take over as sports director, which was his most recent position before joining United. Kornetka worked with Rangnick at Hoffenheim as the first video analyst in German football before moving on to Schalke and then RB Leipzig.

However, another old acquaintance, Helmut Gross, Rangnick’s mentor and the guy with whom he would compose coaching manuals, has been said to be assisting at Old Trafford in some manner.

Gross was always the individual in charge of teaching Rangnick’s coaches about the pair’s concept and keeping them up to speed on any new adjustments. Rangnick wanted that attitude to pervade the whole club at Leipzig, so he made all of the younger teams adopt the same style of play – he was often seen attending Under-13 games or coaching sessions.

In the end, Zorniger feels Manchester United will acquire an innovator who has had the most impact on coaching and coaches in Germany over the last 20 years.

“If you’re open-minded, you can learn something new every day from him,” says the German, who is currently the manager of Apollon Limassol in Cyprus.

“Everything is at the best level conceivable, and I am certain that if Ralf has the time, he would thoroughly inspect the club and flip it upside down.”

“When you’re chatting with him, there are so many facets of the game that you’ve never heard of before. You must be deafeningly deafeningly deafeningly deafeningly deafeningly deafen”

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