ARTICLES Opinion

Who is Ralf Rangnick? His philosophy, tactics & suitability at Manchester United 

According to The Athletic via David Ornstein and Laurie Whitwell, Manchester United are close to appointing former RB Leipzig manager and director of football, Ralf Rangnick on an initial six-month contract before retaining him for two years in a consultancy role.

Rangnick is currently working as Head of Sports and Development at Russian club Lokomotiv Moscow however Ornstein reports that his appointment will be finalised soon as he is released from his contract. As the man at the helm for the next six months, the question on everyone’s lips is just who is the man dubbed “Godfather of modern German coaching”.  

Philosophy

At the heart of Rangnick’s footballing ideals is the combination of a high-press and counter-pressing scheme, named “Gegenpressing” and it is this implementation on German football which has seen him become so enamoured with.

In his own words, Rangnick describes Gegnpressing as a very proactive style of football, going on to explain how his teams operate.

He told ESPN: “We like to press high, with a very intense counter-pressure. When we have the ball, we do not like any square or back passes.

“It is a fast, proactive, attacking, counter-attacking, counter-pressing, exciting and entertaining [style of] football.”

These will go down well with the United faithful as quick front footed football is the demand of every fan of the club. Rangnick’s football ideals have resonated with coaches across German football with Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel, Julian Nagelsman and Jesse Marsch all heaping praise on him as a chief inspiration for their approaches.   

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So how does Rangnick’s philosophy translate to the pitch?  

Tactics  

The formations preferred to Rangnick usually consist of two striker systems with the German fielding 4222/442 variations as well as a 352 on occasions across his last two managerial roles with Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig. Without the ball, Rangnick looks to press the very high up the pitch to force turnovers which can transition seamlessly into counter-attacks as close to the opposition goal as possible.  

Rangnick sides look to press the man in possession with at least a numerical advantage of one other player. This is facilitated through ‘traps’ where the opposition is lured into passing the ball to certain areas of the pitch where the ball carrier can be smothered from the blindside and forced into giving up possession.

Besides pressing ‘traps’ Rangnick also deploys pressing ‘triggers’; which are specific actions from the opposition to which his sides press is activated. Similarly, to Klopp’s Liverpool.

An example of this would be a pass to the fullback seeing a collective shift across the pitch, with the team occupying the ball side area of the pitch they shut down all available passing options and look to force a turnover on the ball carrier. With pressing intensely, they stop the opposition from being able to switch the ball and exploit the space left by the shuffle over.   

Pressing, counter-pressing and counterattacking are all seamless aspects to Rangnicks football as he drilled his side on being able to finish attacks in under ten seconds of winning the ball back. Square passes are frowned upon and avoided as the German sets up timed sessions in which he uses a stopwatch which all players can hear the ticking of, to enforce his 10-second rule and make it second nature to his players.

Going forward Rangnick looks to use overloads and quick vertical passes to cut the opposition open, as opposed to structured positional play. Parallels can be drawn with Sir Alex Ferguson who looked to hurt the opposition similarly.  

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Suitability

Whilst the club will hope Rangnick can steady the ship in the coming months as interim manager, it is the consultancy role that should be looked at with excitement in the years to come. 

Rangnick is more a theorist than a coach and it is his application of what he calls “the 3 K’s —Kapital, Konzept and Kompetenz” — money, concept and competence which have seen him draw great success in his director of football role with the Red Bull football brand. 

Rangnick in his consultancy will hope to mirror the principles he brought to RB Leipzig and Salzburg; promoting his style of football through a top to bottom coaching blueprint which will see youth teams at the age-group level train the same systems and concepts up to the first team and in turn signing young, promising talented players who fulfil the technical and physical demands of said style of play.   

Rangnick’s pending appointment is interesting for the exact reason that he represents one of the first ‘outsider’ appointments that United have made on a technical level since the departure of Sir Alex.

The club hierarchy has briefed for the last couple of years that they want to return to the ‘United DNA’ of fast attack-minded football with an emphasis on signing and curating its young players. Up until now however that plan has lacked any routes and with the arrival of Rangnick, the club can finally take a step toward modernising itself, taking formation behind a man who is blooded and proven in all aspects of what the United DNA entails.    

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