'Rock and roll football and no square passes' - what Man Utd fans can expect from Ralf Rangnick
The decision to appoint Ralf Rangnick, initially as interim manager and then in an advisory role, is an indication that Manchester United are attempting to establish a clearly defined playing style.
The term Gegenpressing has become a buzzword for modern German coaching, particularly since Jurgen Klopp brought his methods across to the Premier League in 2015.
In order to work, the strategy requires players to apply pressure on their opponents high up the pitch and in an aggressive and co-ordinated manner with the aim of forcing mistakes or turnovers.
It is a proactive, energetic style of play, designed to unsettle opponents and then hit them on the counter-attack, while they are vulnerable.
Rangnick, who began his coaching career in the early 1980s, is credited as one of the architects of Gegenpressing and regarded as a mentor for a generation of Bundesliga coaches, including the current poster boys of German management: Klopp, Thomas Tuchel and Bayern Munich’s Julian Nagelsmann. After outlining his methods on German TV in the late 1990s, Rangnick earned the nickname The Professor.
“Our idea is clear, it’s very, very similar to my coaching friend Jurgen Klopp,” he told the Coaches’ Voice YouTube channel. “Our Red Bull football is heavy metal, rock and roll, it’s not a slow waltz. We hate square passes, back passes, just having the ball ourselves doesn’t make sense.”
Speaking about his second spell in charge of RB Leipzig (in 2018-19), Rangnick explained that 60 per cent of the team’s goals scored that season came less than 10 seconds after they had won the ball from their opponents.
Although Rangnick hasn’t previously worked in England, his sphere of influence can be found in the Premier League too. According to stats website FBREF, Liverpool are second for attempted pressures in the final third; Southampton, managed by Ralph Hasenhuttl who worked with Rangnick at Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig, are fifth; Chelsea, coached by Thomas Tuchel who played under Rangnick at SSV Ulm, are sixth. Manchester United, meanwhile, are 17th.
Much has been made of Cristiano Ronaldo‘s reluctance – or at the age of 36 his inability – to lead the press from the front this season and it will be fascinating to see whether he buys into Rangnick’s deeply-ingrained philosophy. Talks between Rangnick and AC Milan broke down last January, in part due to the club’s signing of a 38-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
So intense are Rangnick’s demands, that at Hoffenheim and latterly Red Bull’s stable of clubs including Salzburg and Leipzig, the vast majority of players signed were aged 23 or under. A young Roberto Firmino was his final recruit at Hoffenheim, while more recently Sadio Mane, Joshua Kimmich and Erling Haaland have passed through one of Red Bull’s clubs.
Rangnick’s track record for identifying young players in his role as a sporting director and nurturing their talent as a coach should stand United in good stead given the age profile of their squad.
Marcus Rashford, 23, Mason Greenwood, 20 and in particular, Jadon Sancho, 21, should all benefit from his expertise. Given he played in a highly-structured Borussia Dortmund side, it is no surprise that Sancho has struggled in a team lacking any clear patterns of play going forward. Donny van de Beek, 24, is another who may benefit.
Rangnick will inherit a talented, if unbalanced, squad at United. The club has failed to address its glaring weakness in defensive midfield for a number of transfer windows.
Unlike Klopp, who has been wedded to a 4-3-3 system throughout his time at Liverpool, or Tuchel, an advocate of a 3-4-3 formation, Rangnick doesn’t have an established system that he uses from club to club. Instead, he will set United up around who best fits his strategy.
His style should be tailor-made for Bruno Fernandes, Van de Beek, Sancho and Rashford. Whether it will suit Ronaldo is another matter.