Ralf Rangnick said one word again and again at Old Trafford on Friday as he was presented as Manchester United‘s new interim coach: control.
On the pitch, the team have had very little of it this season, and even when they’ve won it’s often been chaotic, either having to come from behind or find a last-minute winner. Usually from Cristiano Ronaldo.
But since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, there has often appeared to be confusion off the pitch, too. Managers coming and going. Different ideas implemented and then scrapped. Players bought and then sold. If there’s been a plan, it’s not always been obvious.
Rangnick, the 63-year-old German, says he is here to bring back control. Initially during games to help United recover from a disastrous start to the campaign. Then, with a two-year consultancy position set to start in the summer, his focus will turn to what happens behind the scenes.
As Gary Neville put it, he has a six-month contract to coach the team and a two-year contract to coach the club. And United are a club in need.
Rangnick’s first job is to prepare the team for Crystal Palace‘s trip to Old Trafford on Sunday. Coming just three days after the 3-2 win over Arsenal on Thursday night, he will be short on time. And on Friday, he was keen to remind supporters they should not expect some kind of gegenpress revolution. There will, though, be changes.
“The players have to go together with me,” said Rangnick, who took his first training session on Friday afternoon. “They have to follow not only my instructions but they have to buy into the idea that I can offer them how we should want to play in the future. That is what it’s all about.
“It has to happen step by step. It cannot be done within one or two days like this. It will not work like that.”
Watching from the directors’ box on Thursday, Rangnick was impressed with United’s performance in the 20 minutes after half-time against Mikel Arteta’s side. He gave the impression he thought the rest was a bit too fraught for his liking — even if it was a good watch.
“The game was exciting for the fans, but even for myself, as the future coach, those are not the kind of games that we need every day because football, for me, is to minimise the coincidence factor and have control and gain control of a game,” Rangnick said.
“This is football, what it’s about. The way that they played for 20 minutes [in the second half] in their half, when they close down Arsenal in their box and then you could see the potential that is in the team.
“I think to gain control on games in the future has got to do with playing proactively, no matter if we have the ball ourselves or if the other team is in possession of the ball.
“It’s about helping the team to play together, It’s not about playing pressing or counter-pressing for pressing sake, it’s about control. This is the major target.”
Rangnick believes he can do it with the players he has available and a question about the January transfer window was batted away in a polite, eloquent manner. He was comfortable enough to joke about reports he will receive a bonus if he can help United land Erling Haaland and revealed he had telephoned Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before taking the job.
Solskjaer was the fourth permanent manager to take over following Ferguson’s departure more than eight years ago and the squad Rangnick inherits bares the mark of all of them. And that, he says, is not a good thing.
“There have been changes in management and therefore it was also difficult for the club to gain continuity in regard to signing new players and sticking to the DNA of the club and I think this is vital in modern football that you do that,” he said.
“For me it is not that unusual that there were so many changes and I think the board members and myself have the same opinion that for the future it’s important we develop in the future and there will not be that many changes in management.”
That is, of course, easier said than done.
If nothing else, Rangnick sat in the news conference theatre underneath the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand early on Friday and laid out a plan for United, beginning with Palace and ending with what he hopes is a return to those glory days under Ferguson.
The clarity of thinking will be a comfort for fans who have watched the chaos unfold in the eight years since the Scot departed. Next for Rangnick is to put it into practice.