Finally a Manchester United manager who can see what everybody else can. Ralf Rangnick was at Old Trafford on Thursday as United beat Arsenal 3-2. The German admitted he had enjoyed the cut and thrust of the contest.
But at the game’s heart was the chaos, unpredictability and freneticism that continue to blight United. As Rangnick prepares to oversee his first game at home against Crystal Palace on Sunday, his first mission is to rid all of it and bring some control back. It is painfully overdue.
‘It was exciting but it’s not the kind of game you can have every day,’ said Rangnick on Friday. ‘The major target for me is to bring more balance into the team. To help the team to get more control of the game.
Ralf Rangnick in his first press conference spoke about bringing control back to the team
‘I saw the games against Liverpool, against Manchester City, at Chelsea, although we won a point, and even against teams like Watford the team didn’t have control. We needed three to win against Arsenal. If you look at the total number of goals conceded this season, it is almost two per game and this is just too much.’
In Rangnick’s fluent English, this was United’s problem stated simply and clearly. It is one that has hampered each of the four full-time managers to have followed Sir Alex Ferguson since his 2013 retirement.
Much is made of United’s great history but the assertion — made by Rangnick’s predecessor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer among others — that frantic see-saw matches are somehow an intrinsic part of the club’s folklore is a myth.
There is not a successful team in the world that has consistently won things without the ability to control the tempo, rhythm and direction of matches.
United have been a desperately reactive team for years and it has not taken long for Rangnick to diagnose their greatest modern problem.
Manchester Utd lost badly in games such as away at Watford where the match turned frenetic
United impressed against Arsenal but still needed three goals to seal all three points
In an opening training session that started at 3pm, the 63-year-old began his attempts to cure it. ‘Obviously it’s not easy and I cannot do this in one or two trainings, not even in one or two weeks,’ said Rangnick.
‘I think to gain control of games in the future has got to do with playing proactively, no matter if we have the ball ourselves or if the other team is in possession of the ball.
‘It’s about helping the team to play together, it’s about togetherness, it’s also about team spirit. We will not have much time on the training ground because we play every three days. So in fact it’s about things like video footage, how to train the brains.’
Rangnick spoke for half an hour and everything about his immediate aims is clear. As for the long-term, it sounds vaguely muddled.
Appointed as an interim coach until the end of the season, the plan is for the former RB Leipzig and Schalke manager to then become a consultant at the club. Nobody outside of Old Trafford has been told what that means.
Rangnick admitted his prime passion is for coaching and was happy to leave the door open for United to extend his time in managerial office.
‘Right now I feel and think and will very much want to work as a coach, head coach and team manager.’ he said. ‘This is what I’ve done in, I would say, 90 per cent of the past 25 years in my career.’
Rangnick is expected to move into a consultancy role at the club at the end of the season
There was no detail about what Rangnick’s consultancy would comprise or whether it would prevent him doing work elsewhere. When the question was asked, he ducked it. When it was asked of United, they declined to get into ‘contractual’ matters.
There are three possible scenarios. The first is that Rangnick succeeds between now and May and remains as manager, as Solskjaer did. The second is that he succeeds and then makes way for a new coach. But why would United want to tear up a formula seen to be working?
The third is that he fails and also moves upstairs with his credibility with the United fanbase all but shot. There is no clarity about United’s future and if this is nagging away at the back of supporters’ minds then it is perhaps with good reason.
Rangnick spoke of the benefits felt by Manchester City and Liverpool of having Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp in charge of team affairs for a number of years. He only has six months to put in place the structure and playing style he admits is so important.
There is a potential scenario like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer where he turns from interim to permanent manager
‘Pep is there for more than five years now at Man City, Jurgen for six years,’ he said. ‘Time-wise maybe they are a little bit ahead of us, how they want to develop, but I am still more than happy with the quality of the players that we have here and I am sure that we can get there.
‘The club has had no continuity in signing new players and sticking to the DNA of the club. In the future, the board members and myself have the same opinion. It’s important not to have many changes in management.’
United last won the Premier League under Ferguson in 2013. The search for continuity is understandable when viewed in the context of the managers who have followed. United clearly feel one of the game’s most respected and logical minds can help with that.
Under Rangnick it is not ambitious to expect improvement. When Klopp arrived he promised to ‘Bring the Noise’. Rangnick merely wishes to Calm the Chaos.
The short-term already feels a little clearer, the long-term not so much.
Rangnick will manage United for the first time as they welcome Crystal Palace on Sunday