On November 21, 2021, Manchester United ended the reign of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer following a 4-1 defeat in the hands of Watford, who would later be relegated to the Championship. His sacking was followed by the hiring Ralf Rangnick, a widely renowned football coach, working as the sports director at Lokomotiv Moscow. Before his Moscow assignment, Rangnick worked as a coach and sports director for RB Leipzig, among a host of German clubs.
There was genuine excitement and hope surrounding Rangnick. He had worked wonders with Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig in transforming their footballing model. Moreover, Rangnick had mentored Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel, Ralph Hassenhuttl, among others with his Gegenpressing style being used worldwide. However, the German football coach found himself in an unfamiliar environment of managing one of the world’s biggest football clubs - even on an interim basis.
After six months at Manchester United, his time can only be summed up in two words – spectacular failure. The interim experiment was so bad that it reached its inevitable conclusion, as Manchester United announced that Rangnick would not be taking up his consultancy role from 2022 to 2023. The news was not a big surprise, given the buildup to it.
Rangnick was brought in when the confidence in a star-stacked team was low, the team was performing poorly, and players were performing well below their standards or potential. As a football coach with a relatively good resume, he was brought in to steady the ship, improve the team’s performance, and ensure that players bubble in confidence and perform well above what they showed under Solskjaer. However, that was not the case as the players’ confidence sank, performances got worse, and the team cohesion faltered, so much so that reports suggested some players had left the players’ WhatsApp group.
Given the performances in league games, Champions League, and FA Cup, it is evident that players did not respond enthusiastically to the German’s methods. They perceived him as a stop-gap who was not worth the efforts and, thus, hardly responded on the pitch. While the first game against Crystal Palace offered a tantalizing glimpse of what could have been under Rangnick, players later complained of inadequate preparation and lack of intel and insight on opponents. This aspect limited their approach on match days.
During the final phase of the season, United bowed out of cup competitions. Their league title chances were far from realistic, and they were left to dreadfully fight for a Champions League spot. During the run of games in the final stretch, United lost their last six away games, marked by a 4-0 thrashing by Brighton. The dreadful performances and results meant that Rangnick-led men scraped into the UEFA Europa League when the indignity of the Conference League stared at them, courtesy of a West Ham loss on the last day.
The Rangnick reign was nothing short of a disaster for six months, as he could not maximize the talent at his disposal. Even though the players have their fair share of the blame for the disastrous performances and results, when the books are written, history will have it that a commander could not marshal his troops for a successful mission.