Wreck-it Ralf: Did Rangnick destroy Manchester United?

June 26, 2022

He was thrown by the board in the middle of a self-imposed fire, only to be taken out once he figured how to put it out

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It is Match-day 1 in the 2021/22 Premier League season and Manchester United have thrashed Leeds 5-1. A Paul Pogba masterclass and Bruno Fernandes hat-trick are what have made the difference. Raphael Varane is unveiled to the exhilarated fans, and Jadon Sancho is finally seen in Red and White colours after a two-year-long operation to sign the winger. Old Trafford is in euphoria, as the name of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can be heard amongst the chants of the booming Stretford End. A better start to the season could never have been imagined, and the staggering return of Cristiano Ronaldo at the end of August has made things seem too good to be true.

37 games and 8 disastrous months later, it is the final game of the season: Match-day 38, and a disunited United have lost to Crystal Palace, finishing 6th in the league, and barely qualifying for Europa League football. With a starting XI remarkably different from the one that dismantled Leeds, it is beyond belief that the team playing before our eyes is the mighty Manchester United. From being labelled "title contenders" to scraping for a top-6 finish, United end with the season being labelled their worst ever in the premier league era. Notably, the man on the touchline is not the beloved Solskjaer, who was dismissed months ago, but rather a ferocious-looking Ralf Rangnick.

The appointment of the German as an interim brought along with it heaps of excitement, as he was reputed to be the prominent figure who influenced modern coaches such as Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel, Julian Nagelsmann, and Ralph Hasenhüttl. Rangnick was also considered the brains behind the "Gengenpress", a vit1al tactic in football whereby the team hastily regains possession by applying constant pressure on the opposition. One notable factor which, according to Rangnick, convinced him to choose United over the others was the 2-year consultancy role he would be offered after the season concluded. This would be a point which would be remarkably ironic in a couple of months' time. Nevertheless, many supporters believed the German possessed all the needed attributes to clean the "mess" made by Solskjaer, and then hand over the office keys to the permanently appointed manager at the end of the season.

The fan base was of the belief that they had experienced the pinnacle of disappointment under Solskjaer and thus nothing could get worse from there, yet somehow and in some way, it did. With a meagre win percentage of 37.9%, the club's worst since Frank O' Farell in 1971, and being defeated effortlessly by rivals City and Liverpool, the club had truly hit rock bottom. Rangnick himself was nonchalant in admitting that Liverpool were "six years ahead" of the club. Despite the pathetic run of games and lacklustre displays, the supporters had come to realise that perhaps it was not the manager's fault, but rather the players'. As a matter of fact, Rangnick had earned the respect of a great chunk of fans due to his fearless criticisms of the board and brutally honest press conferences. Transparency and truthfulness were something the fans were in dire need of during the miserable time, and Rangnick provided that. He was not scared to admit the lack of enthusiasm from the figures at the top and even mentioned the need for heavy recruitment in the transfer windows, acting as a double-edged sword for the board. Thus, although Ralf had taken the duty to recover the sinking ship, it was a ship which was inevitably bound to sink in the first place.

As has been the trend with "post-Ferguson managers", the issue once again routes back to the men pulling the strings from above. Almost every manager since Sir Alex, except Solskjaer, has openly admitted that they never received the appropriate financial backing from the Glazers. What's paradoxical is that United still hold one of the most expensive squads in Europe, signifying the poor recruitment strategies of the club, an example being the outlandish signing of Harry Maguire for £80 million. The upshot is that the "business-minded" Glazer family, topped with the poor transfer policy, is what has caused the modern downfall of Manchester United.

Rangnick now departs the club without getting what he joined for in the first place, the two-year consultancy. The reason for his departure remains a conspiracy, but football enthusiasts would be quick to assert that his loudmouth was the reason. The club in its statement claimed that he left to concentrate on his managerial role in the Austrian national team, but that seems deceptive, given the minimal workload a national manager has in a year. Besides, his role was merely advisory, something which could be done from anywhere around the globe. Some fans believe the root cause was the new manager, Erik Ten Haag, who in his press conference asserted his dominance by saying that he would be the one calling the shots. Thus, the fact that Rangnick left the club in a state arguably worse than it was in before and did not fulfil his promised consultancy role is rather shady.

However, a manager who was honest with the fans and fearlessly exposed the directorate, deserves some credit. Hence one could look at Rangnick as the man who was thrown by the board in the middle of a self-imposed fire, only to be taken out once he figured out how to put it out.

– Yahya Ali is anIslamabad-based freelance contributor


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