Ralf Rangnick aims to be an Old Trafford control freak as Manchester United players prepare to ‘train the brains’
The gospel according to Ralf Rangnick is an illuminating one, but there was one word to which Manchester United’s new interim manager kept returning yesterday as he spelt out his hopes for the remainder of the season: control.
There were six mentions of the word in the opening 10 minutes of his first address to the media and seven references to the word in one answer alone to a question posed by the club’s official television station about his footballing philosophy.
Rangnick had already pored over the crushing defeats by Liverpool, Manchester City and Watford, and picked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s brains for a couple of hours last weekend by the time he took his seat in the directors’ box at Old Trafford on Thursday night.
But while he recognised there was a chaotic thrill for supporters in an entertaining 3-2 victory over Arsenal, it was, ultimately, another disorderly performance that served only to remind him of the “massive challenge” he has taken on.
“The game was exciting for the fans but, for myself, those are not the kind of games that we need every day because football is to minimise the coincidence factor and gain control of a game,” he said.
Rangnick has little interest in wild west football, where the pendulum swings constantly and control is an elusive concept – Russian roulette with a ball. For him, this United leave far too much to chance. He was too kind to state explicitly that a sandcastle has better foundations than the ones Solskjaer left behind, and he sees huge potential in an “outstanding, talented” crop of players. But turning United from a reactive side to a proactive one will be no small task.
“In football, it’s all about control,” he said. “If you want to win games, you have to have control, no matter if you have the ball or the other team has. This is one of the major targets in the next couple of weeks.
“I saw the game against Liverpool, against Manchester City, at Chelsea and even against teams like Watford, the team didn’t have control. In order to get control, they need to be a little more proactive with or without the ball. I think it’s important to develop the team in those two areas, not that we will have much time on the training ground because we play every three days. So, in fact, it’s about video footage, train the brains and encourage the players to do the right things”.
That phrase “train the brains” will inevitably evoke memories of Louis van Gaal’s doctrine, which was fine in principle, but translated into sleep-inducing football on the pitch. Rangnick, one of the high priests of the German gegenpressing philosophy popularised by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, prefers a more high-octane brand of football, and it was telling that he kept referring to the need for United to play in the opposition’s half and “try and keep away from their own goal”.
Rangnick knows United’s strengths lie firmly at the top end of the pitch, and inevitably any discussion about the attack will lead to a conversation about Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo scored twice against Arsenal to take his tally for United since his summer return to 12 goals. Questions have already been asked about where he will fit in the plans of a manager who wants to press, but Rangnick was clear that the adaptation process works both ways.
“You always have to adapt your style or your idea of football to the players you have available, not vice-versa,” he said. “Having seen Cristiano [against Arsenal] in the second half at the age of 36, he is an amazing, top professional. At his age, I’ve never seen a player who is still that physically fit.
“He’s still a player who can easily make the difference. So, yes, it’s about how we can develop the whole team, not only Cristiano.
“[Cristiano] is more than willing to do that – to put his input in the team.”
As polite as he is particular and with a strong command of English, Rangnick looks like a man who cannot wait to start work in a country with whom he has had a fascination since first pitching up at the University of Sussex in 1979 and turning out for non-League Southwick. It was interesting that he picked up the phone to Solskjaer and also tried to convince Michael Carrick to stay and revealing, too, that he is not yet sure whether the consultancy role envisaged for him at the end of the season will mean working exclusively for United or not.
He also suggested that it would be difficult to add players of the required quality next month and implied that may be dependent on trimming a squad which, diplomatically, he described as “definitely not too small”.
If United play with anything like the clarity with which Rangnick talks, improvement should be a give n.
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