When Ralf Rangnick walked into Manchester United a little over six weeks ago, the German inherited the most mismanaged club in the Premier League. Mighty Manchester United have experienced a rapid decline. From English powerhouse to an aspiring “Top 4” club, with UCL money as the sole trophy the Glazers desire.
Manchester United’s greatest periods of sustained success were all under the stewardship of three guardians of the Club. Ernest Mangnall (1903-1912), Sir Matt Busby (1945-1969) and Sir Alex Ferguson (1986-2013). Following the retirement of Sir Alex, the footballing reigns were passed to a suit in the form of Ed Woodward and the club has suffered ever since.
In part two of this series, we’ll explore the “United Way” and why bringing Ralf Rangnick to Manchester United at this moment is exactly what the club needs. For now, we’ll expand beyond the board’s litany of errors to why they may have stumbled into the perfect man to clean up the mess.
“The United Way”
If you ask a Manchester United fan what the Club’s philosophy is, you’ll likely hear the big three: Playing Youth, Exciting / Attacking Football & Success.
Sir Matt Busby championed the importance of investing in youth and the Academy during United’s original heyday beginning in the 1950’s. This investment led to the discovery of enormous talents in the form of Duncan Ferguson, Bobby Charlton and George Best. Ferguson championed a similar strategy from the beginning of his successful reign (Class of ’92) to the very end (the most used starting XI in the ’13 Premier League winning season contained four players from the United academy: Rafael, Evans, Cleverly & Giggs).
Attack! Attack! Playing exciting, attack-minded football has been imbedded in United’s DNA since our very first League title. After all, it was Mangnall’s stroke of brilliance poaching City’s prolific striker Sandy Turnbull and winger Billy Meredith in 1907 that propelled a United offense to our first two league titles and FA Cup. This philosophy continued under Sir Busby with Law, Charlton, and Best and was embraced for decades by Sir Alex.
Success. What Manchester United fans crave most of all. Silverware. Now this does not necessarily mean constantly winning trophy after trophy without breaking a sweat. No, what United fans demand from their team is that it must consistently aspire for success. Aspiring for Top 4 is antithetical to the “United Way”. We must always strive for excellence, titles and once again setting the standard for footballing excellence in England.
The Importance of Being Pragmatic
While the above is well accepted as the “United way”, I believe United’s guiding footballing philosophy during it’s greatest periods of sustained success was on it’s ability to be pragmatic. For those wordsmiths out there, here’s the “official” definition from OG Kush Merriam-Webster:
“dealing with the problems that exist in a specific situation in a reasonable and logical way instead of depending on ideas and theories”THE dictionary
This may sound like a simple concept, but the success of Mangnall, Busby and Ferguson was all rooted in pragmatism. Mangnall built a solid defensive side with difficulty scoring, so he took advantage of a penalized Man City side, poached their best attacking players and won the league. Busby and Ferguson invested and relied on the youth academy; both were extremely successful because of it. After all, there is an abundance of footballing talent in Britain and it’s a model for extended success.
The Glazers and Ed Woodward have shown over the past decade that they do not possess the astuteness of the great men mentioned above. Their managerial hires and many player signings have failed because their own poor decision-making.
The appointment of Ralf Rangnick is a departure from the past. Bringing in the experienced German makes too much sense.
The Clever German
From his approach to dealing with dissatisfied players, to in-game management, Ralf is showing he’s no dumb-dumb like Woodward or Matt Judge. Take one example, how Rangnick dealt with two players both looking to leave the club: Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba. Both players want out, but under difficult considerations borne out of the club’s own incompetence. For the interim manager, one is useful and one is a distraction.
On Paul Pogba
Here’s how he’s talked about Pogba:
“My contract as a manager is also expiring in the summer. For us we have the same goal. We have the same ambition to be as successful as we can possibly be in the next three or four months…But there is a difference in how players deal with their current situation. If they handle that in a professional way, an ambitious way, I will play players although they have a contract expiring in the summer.”Ralf Rangnick on Paul Pogba January 18, 2022
Paul Pogba is out of contract this summer and wants to leave Manchester United. However, he is highly motivated to remind the world how talented he is as he looks for a new club. A highly motivated Pogba is useful to Rangnick, Manchester United and our shared goal of qualifying for the Champions League. His messaging around Pogba this week is incredibly astute.
On Tony Martial
Here’s how Rangnick talked about Martial:
“He didn’t want to be in the squad,” Rangnick said simply. “He would have been in the squad normally, but he didn’t want to. That is the reason why he was not travelling with us yesterday.”Rangnick’s remarks after the 2-2 Aston Villa draw
Rangnick was forced to clean-up the mess after all of the blowback from Martial’s camp. The reason he did so was because Martial is on a long-term contract no other club will entertain. Rangnick had to back-peddle because the front office can’t sell an unhappy and unmotivated Martial. However, Rangnick’s statements are exactly what this club needs now.
With stories of anywhere from 11 to 17 players wanting out, those who are part of the problem need to be exposed. Rangnick’s handling of Pogba and Martial in the press is far more clever than the nasty schoolmaster Mourinho or buddy-buddy Ole approaches.
Back to Basics
There are a litany of reasons why Ralf Rangnick is a great appoint for Manchester United at this moment. We’ll continue to cover these in subsequent posts, but from the moment Rangnick arrived, there has been a thoughtfulness and candor that has been missing for a long time.
Here’s to hoping Manchester United listen to the man’s advice so he can steer us into a brighter future. More next week.