COMMENT: They say you make you’re own luck in this game. Fortune favours the brave – n’all that. And no-one has epitomised that better this past week than Ralf Rangnick… Manchester United‘s latest ‘will he? Won’t he?’ candidate for their ever fluid technical director’s post.
Whether by fault or design, he has a bite. With a few choice words. A carefully placed note. Rangnick has managed to reel in United, with it emerging last week that one club rep, on orders of their vice-chairman exec Ed Woodward, spent an afternoon with the former Red Bull Leipzig coach in Germany. No offer was tabled, it was more a feeling out exercise, but the interest is clear. Rangnick is a candidate for the job at United – and to make history. He would become United’s first ever director of football. A prospect that is attractive to the German.
But that’s not to say this is all a done deal. Far from it. Woodward’s rep will have returned with a list of conditions from Rangnick. A list not dissimilar to what the now 61 year-old discussed in an unexpected (at least for those who pay attention to football’s news cycle) interview with one major English daily a fortnight ago.
Without actually spelling it out in bright red ink, Rangnick made it clear he was interested in talking to United. And to the point where he essentially informed Woodward, via this interview, what would get him to the discussion table.
“I am happy where I am but if any club wanted to speak to me, the question would have to be: ‘Can I be somebody who can influence areas of development across the whole club?’ Otherwise you are only getting half of what I am capable of,” Rangnick declared.
“If, after that, you can work together in a trustworthy and respectful way, then you are more likely to be successful.”
A bit of digging. A couple calls. And this column can give you a picture of where this whole thing sits. Rangnick has long harboured an ambition to work in the Premier League. And when we say work, that’s more as a manager, a coach on the training pitch day-to-day, rather than in an office. The German sees the Premier League as now the home of the world’s great coaches, lamenting recently the loss to the Bundesliga of Jurgen Klopp, from Borussia Dortmund to Liverpool, and Pep Guardiola, from Bayern Munich to Manchester City.
“The fact is we no longer have such people in the Bundesliga, the pace is a bit more leisurely, the game has slowed down. This has also contributed to the fact that in recent years no world-class player has emerged from the Bundesliga,” Rangnick opined.
But that’s not to say taking up the position as technical director at United is beneath him. Indeed, far from it. While it was he who turned down the same job at RB Leipzig, Rangnick has been invigorated by the greater responsibility and demands required as Red Bull’s overall technical chief. Stepping aside as coach of RBL and working with his successor Julian Nagelsmann wasn’t enough. But he is being fulfilled by the new posting handed to him by Red Bull, where he is in charge of the drinks brand’s four clubs around the world. And by his own admission, Rangnick has been seeking a fifth this year – with a focus on England. But in the meantime, he’s already overseen the promotion of RB Bragantino, less than a year into their partnership with the Brazilians.
“I’ve experienced a lot in football, but it’s unbelievable that something like this can happen,” said Rangnick just days ago. RB’s boss referring to the radical changes they had made to an ageing Bragantino squad to drive them to promotion to Brazil’s top-flight. “We want to make the squad with every transfer window closer to a correct RB-team.”
A hint to what United can expect – and perhaps why they acted so quickly after that interview a fortnight ago. Rangnick’s attitude essentially dovetailing into United’s ‘new’ approach to the transfer market: Reducing the age of the squad, buying for the future – and with a conscious effort of not blocking the pathway of the club’s academy talent. All team building principles Rangnick also abides by. Only what will be whirring around his head today, will be the exciting prospect of seeing these players fulfill their potential under him.
With RBL and before then with Hoffenheim, Rangnick built a reputation – both as a football director and coach – as someone who could uncover a young, raw talent, see him develop, before selling for a massive profit. With TSG, he signed and sold the likes of Demba Ba and Roberto Firmino. With RBL, he’s identified and brought through Timo Werner and Joshua Kimmich. But it was with VfB Stuttgart where he almost pulled off what would’ve been the greatest transfer in Bundesliga history.
At 17, one Ronaldo Nazario was a step away from signing for VfB. Then youth coach Rangnick identified and pursued the teen – and even had the Cruzeiro striker pose with a Stuttgart shirt. But the €5m demanded for his transfer was just too rich for the Germans and Ronaldo would eventually move to PSV Eindhoven.
“Stuttgart was then the first club that was interested in me,” Ronaldo would later confirm.
But that frustration only acted as a motivator for Rangnick, who is now regarded as an expert when it comes to working the South American transfer market. A region United have struggled to get their arms around since the days of the Da Silva twins, Rodrigo Possebon and Desportivo Brasil.
Rangnick fancies the move. And United clearly now have an interest. But he’s not going to have the run of the place as he did with RBL. And he’s not going to have the responsibilities as he now has as RB’s football boss. It’s going to get down to compromise – at both ends of the table.
How much power is Woodward willing to grant Rangnick? And in turn, how much is the German willing to give up to fulfill this ambition of working in England?
With that interview, Rangnick created this opportunity for himself – and Woodward has bit. But we’ve been down this ‘will he? Won’t he?’ road before.
Woodward has Rangnick’s conditions. Now it’s about the fine details. And compromise. Just don’t hold your breath, United fans.