Richarlison was on the left wing, juggling the ball over his head like a performing seal. Meanwhile, Manchester United stood and watched. Just like their interim manager. Ralf Rannick arrived with a reputation as the godfather of gegenpressing but it was hard to imagine a team coached by fellow evangelists, whether Jurgen Klopp or Mauricio Pochettino, Ralph Hasenhuttl or Marcelo Bielsa, being so passive. They would have harassed and harassed.
But United have never looked at a Rangnick team. Perhaps they never could, given the illogical element of selecting a strategist defined by a collectivist philosophy for manage a group of individuals ill-equipped to supportwith an overabundance of supposed stars and too few selfless workers.
Rangnick helped define a school of thought but his United lack identity. He inspired a theory that captured football’s Zeitgeist, but he may have passed his prime. Now, as the Rangnick project enters its final throes, his appointment ranks as another confusing piece of United thinking.
Admittedly, his message did not get through. “For us as coaches it’s hard to understand why we haven’t created more chances,” Rangnick said. as he reflected on the 1-0 loss to Everton. While much of the blame for this lies with his players, the feeling is that he didn’t endear himself to many at Old Trafford. A few of United’s behind-the-scenes staff think he doesn’t even know their names. Whether tactically or psychologically, he didn’t have much of an impact.
Perhaps it was not suitable for the big names on the pitch and the smaller ones behind the scenes. He is a man with long-term ideas chosen for a short-term task, a director of football chosen to be the manager. He wants high-energy football and has United’s low-effort players. They managed to run 10 km less than a Everton team playing their third match in seven days. As Rangnick would say to anyone, even Burnley scored three goals against Everton. United had none.
But then goals have been relative rarities under him. United have just 29 in 22 games in all competitions. When Fred limped off at Goodison Park, he retired the third top scorer of Rangnick’s reign. Under the German, Marcus Rashford went 11 games without a goal. Cristiano Ronaldo has scored in just two of his 13 appearances in 2022. Bruno Fernandes’ tally for him is four in 19 appearances, Paul Pogba’s is one in 12.
With the exception of Jadon Sancho and Anthony Elanga, Rangnick has gotten less from United forwards than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. They failed to play 4-2-2-2 and a strikerless system with Fernandes and Pogba up front. They have hardly been prolific with more orthodox tactics.
It is a reflection of them, and of him. It is the most famous populace in football. He neither organized nor galvanized them. As the prospects of Champions League football is going backwards – and Rangnick said bluntly on Saturday that if United play like this they don’t deserve it — and, with less to play for, it seems even more of a placeholder, Rangnick doesn’t need to defend them now. Not when the season ends in disappointment. He said uncertainty about what follows should not be an “alibi or excuse” for underperformance.
It will be instructive if he criticizes people in his final weeks. Rangnick has already given United’s board their verdict on the current squad and has volunteered to give their opinion on their successor (although the biggest surprise would be if a highly paid consultant who coached them and would remain on the payroll did not talk to the next manager).
But he was supposed to buy time at United and book a season in the Champions League for a world-class manager, not a trip to the Europa League or Conference League backwaters. There is something sad that Rangnick, the great Anglophile, was so ineffectual. Visionary in Germany, in England he was part of mediocrity and malaise. United were second best behind an Everton side with 17 defeats in their previous 22 games.
Rangnick could end his tenure as United’s second-best manager this season, ahead of Solskjaer but behind Michael Carrick. And maybe there is something fundamentally united in the fact that the caretaker is better than the interim, which in turn is better than the so-called permanent manager.
Gegenpressing godfather Ralf Rangnick failed to give Manchester United a passive identity
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