Manchester United ′should listen closely′ to Ralf Rangnick: former colleagues on United boss | Sports | German football and major international sports news | DW | 06.12.2021

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Manchester United 'should listen closely' to Ralf Rangnick: former colleagues on United boss

Ralf Rangnick got off to a winning start in his new role as Manchester United head coach. Ahead of his first game, his former colleagues told DW about the 63-year-old's personality, tactics and love of English football.

Ralf Rangnick pointing and shouting

Ralf Rangnick will lead Manchester United against Crystal Palace on Sunday

New Manchester United head coach Ralf Rangnick got off to a winning start on Sunday as his team beat Crystal Palace 1-0 in the Premier League. But it wasn't the first time that Rangnick had stood on the touchline at Old Trafford.

On May 4, 2011, he watched his Schalke team lose 4-1 to United in the Champions League semifinal. Neither club have come close to returning to that stage since.

"If United had proper structures and a uniform system in place including youth, they could get back to where they belong," says Horst Heldt, the Schalke sporting director at the time who brought Rangnick to Gelsenkirchen.

"That will be a key part of Ralf's work in Manchester. I don't think any other club has spent as much money as Manchester United in recent years, for so little gain."

Rangnick 'can change the image' of United

After failed experiments with David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United have turned to the 63-year-old Rangnick to help revitalize a sleeping giant.

"He is polite, intelligent and hungry for knowledge, but he's also a strong, demanding character," Heldt tells DW. "Don't underestimate him. United should listen closely to him; he can change the image of the club in future."

Particularly under Solskjaer, United's lack of tactical finesse was frequently exposed.

"Modern football at the highest level is about being able to play in various different styles and being able to adapt quickly in-game," explains Heldt, who has also worked as a sporting director at Stuttgart, Hannover and Cologne.

"Top coaches in elite football have to be able to do everything. It makes a difference if Manchester United are playing against Norwich City or Manchester City, or whether a team is 2-0 up or 0-2 down. Can they afford to play more possession football, or do they need to break teams down?

"The top teams today — Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea — have such big squads that they should be able to play all sorts of styles. United should be in that class, but I watched United in the derby against City and that was no derby performance; it was horrific.

"Ralf will develop a system to suit the players at his disposal. He's excellent at recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of a team and getting the most out of them."

Ralf Rangnick on the touchline at Old Trafford in 2011, coaching Schalke in the Champions League

Rangnick coached at Old Trafford when Schalke faced United in the 2011 Champions League semifinal

Rangnick: 'Top attitudes, top mentality'

Those who have worked with Rangnick all praise his meticulous attention to detail and his insistence on top quality personnel across the club.

"Ralf Rangnick is the man for the long term and he has an incredible eye for the system behind team," says Uwe Kemmer. The former Schalke board member experienced Rangnick as a fan during his first spell in Gelsenkirchen in 2004-05 and close up as a club official in his second spell in 2011.

"The physios, the conditioning coaches, the assistants, the video analysts — every single person that Ralf brings in is top. Top attitudes, top mentality."

Another source close to Schalke says: "I have never experienced someone who can analyze problems so quickly and offer solutions. Rangnick completely turned Schalke on its head."

Ralf Rangnick and Horst Heldt talking

Former Schalke sporting director Horst Heldt said 'United should listen closely' to Rangnick

Rangnick's burnout: 'The body is drained'

In September 2011, Rangnick's second spell at Schalke was unexpectedly cut short when he stepped down after suffering from a mental burnout, a psychological condition which wasn't as appreciated then as it would be now.

"Ralf is so meticulous and obsessed with details, and I've often asked myself if I should have noticed the problem earlier," admits Heldt.

"I didn't associate his anger at losing matches with an illness, but rather as a sign of competitiveness. He hates losing and, even when he wins, he immediately moves on to the next game or the next training session."

Kemmer recalls having a beer with Rangnick after a 5-2 thrashing of Inter Milan in the San Siro in 2011 — a historic triumph against the defending European champions which set up that semifinal against United.

"He was complaining that the pressing hadn't been coordinated enough in the 83rd minute!" Kemmer laughs. "That was the problem; he always wanted too much. He's too German, or too Swabian; I asked Horst [Heldt] to let me take him to carnival in Cologne to lighten him up!"

Schalke's team doctor at the time, Thorsten Rarreck, spoke of "psychovegetative exhaustion syndrome," and said: "The body is drained, he's physically at an end. After a break, he'll come back stronger."

Ralf Rangnick

From Red Bull to Red Devils: Rangnick was previously coach and sporting director at RB Leipzig

'Rangnick will blossom in Manchester'

And he did, beginning a seven-year association with Red Bull, first with RB Salzburg in 2012 before joining RB Leipzig in 2015. The broader issues with Red Bull's involvement in football are well documented but, for Rangnick, this was the blank canvas he craved to implement his ideas.

"Ralf is a coach who normally likes to build from the ground up with his fundamental principles and his philosophy," explains Heldt. But is that possible at a club with the size and tradition of United?

"Schalke is also a massive tanker and he had to quickly convince a team of his ideas, a team which hadn't been assembled with those ideas in mind. But he had the team on board within weeks, it was a huge success," says Heldt of a squad which included top stars such as Spanish striker Raul.

Despite making his name at new clubs like Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig, derided as plastic constructs by many German football fans, those who know Rangnick insist he is a traditionalist at heart, with a particular soft spot for England.

"It's always been his aim to make a traditional giant great again. He loves the full stadiums, the atmosphere, fans everywhere," says former Schalke director Kemmer.

"He's a massive fan of English football in general," adds another Schalke source. "Like many Germans, he was socialized with an image of English football which is probably a lot more positive than it actually is: the fan culture, the chants, the humor, the irony, that way of life.

"Ralf Rangnick loves all that. He will blossom in Manchester."