Since the departure of legendary coach Alex Ferguson in the summer of 2013, Manchester United’s disharmony has become as common as winning titles before. Ferguson, who retired with the 20th Championship club, and his unique record at United, has raised expectations that his successors have all failed so far.
Everyone approached it their own way: Louis van Gaal regularly attacked the media out of bitterness over the lack of success during his time in Manchester. No less controversial Jose Mourinho, who took over Van Gaal’s position at United in 2016, attacked the players in a similarly sharp tone. The recently released Ole Gunnar Solskjaer tried to avoid all sorts of blame in order not to jeopardize his status as a crowd favourite. Instead, during his time as head coach, fans rebelled, urging the Glazers to fire them – due to insufficient investment in new players.
Only club management around recently resigned permanent coach Ed Woodward and his internal successor Richard Arnold seemed to be mostly unrepentant – until the signing of Ralf Rangnick, who took over Solskjaer in December 2021 and will remain interim coach until the end of the season.
Rangnick, 63, rarely misses an opportunity to openly criticize the Manchester board for its failings. With their last Premier League game in play, United – with just 58 points from 37 games so far – are in danger of having their worst season in at least 31 years. Back in 1990/1991, in the early days under Ferguson, United finished sixth in the championship with 60 points.
The club is (still) in this rank – despite the last five defeats in a row, with some pathetic performances and results (1:4, 0:1, 0:4, 1:3, 0:4). The internal handling of the season’s catastrophe, sealed by the Champions League Round of 16 and the apparent slippage from the top-flight positions in the league, now leads to the crucial question: Who is responsible for the continued decline?
Club chiefs have already answered that unwelcome question themselves, as announced when Rangnick signed, by signing a new coach for next season: Erik ten Hag, 52, of Ajax Amsterdam. The Dutchman, who previously made a name for himself at Bayern 2, has signed a three-year contract with United with an option for another two years.
The bosses are constantly getting new coaches – Rangnick says: This is because the team is poorly formed
Of course, Rangnick assesses the situation differently. He sees the reason for the dubious state of the team not in the training site, but in the distorted composition of the players’ lineup – and therefore in the area of responsibility of the club management. Rangnick recently complained that “every part of the team” desperately needs reinforcements, and “only two or three attackers” are needed due to a “lack of flexible strikers”. Already in the winter he warned of becoming active in the transfer market. Despite his firm suggestions, the club’s response was “no” – there was no “player” who would help United.
With his targeted criticism, Rangnick attacks the chiefs on what may be their most sensitive point: athletic expertise. After the club paid around three-quarters of a billion euros in fees to newcomers within five years – without enough return on their titles – the pressure on the Woodward/Arnold duo has steadily increased. In the end, they gave in to him and created two new jobs at the club. In order to lose as little influence as possible, they promoted youth manager John Murtaugh to football coach, and former player Darren Fletcher became head coach, connecting the team to the board room.
United have also signed a two-year advisory contract until 2024 with Rangnick, who has made long-term involvement a condition of his temporary coaching job. Apparently, the board’s goal was only to refute the public accusation of resisting advice. Because rather than discuss future strategic direction with Rangnick and use his expertise, it increasingly looked as if the administration’s circle around President Joel Glazer was deliberately turning the German away from future planning.
The question is: How much influence should Rangnick’s agent at United have in the future? The mandate to change the entire club, as was previously granted at Hoffenheim and Leipzig, could mean that Mortog and Fletcher could become redundant in the hierarchy. On the other hand, it is possible that Rangnick will not be robbed of a position of low content, despite his good salary. That is why he recently received an unexpected offer to become the national coach of Austria. With the promise of taking over the UEFA national team in parallel with the planned advisory role at Manchester, he has skillfully avoided the risk of becoming merely a management assistant at United.
Rangnick now competes with Austria in the Nations League
After the end of the season, Rangnick will play four tough Nations League matches with Austria before qualifying for Euro 2024 begins in Germany. When building his team in Austria, Rangnick has the privilege to decide for himself who to nominate him – unlike Manchester, where his ideas, so far as coach, must always align with the interests of best player Cristiano Ronaldo in order to avoid them. Amazing differences to take a risk.
Rangnick and his famous assistant Lars Kornetka, who could not come to United, can be trusted in Austria to develop the national team into fear of candidates in RB-Pressing style. This new role also underscores Rangnick’s independence from United – which could also affect his prospects at Manchester.
With club bosses behaving in a distant way towards him, Rangnick recently reached out to Ten Hag, who once worked with Kornetka at Bayern Munich. Because of the job in Austria, Ten Hag didn’t have to worry that United’s powerful agent Rangnick would want to become a coach there himself. Rangnick says he and Ten Hag agreed to talk about “everything” together after the season ended.
In this conversation, he is likely to reveal United’s shortcomings to his successor – and make a clear proposal for transfers that will remedy the shortcomings. According to reports, it is up to Erik Ten Hag to what extent he is willing to use telling Rangnick in Manchester in the future.