Manchester United to remain in limbo as uncertainty lingers over Rangnick | Manchester United
A The draw at Newcastle was not the start of the end of the Ralf Rangnick era and a rambling victory over Burnley was not its glorious rebirth either. Games against teams in the Premier League’s bottom quarter aren’t quite how Manchester United should judge themselves – not unless they lose them 4-1, in which case it’s probably time for a change.
Optimists, however, might see signs of progress on Thursday: in the energy and drive of Scott McTominay, in the continued sharpness of Edinson Cavani, in the way Jadon Sancho rushed from the flank for the second goal and the way Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t wave his arm frustrated enough.
Body language, oddly enough, dominated post-game discussions. There is evidence from sports psychologists that it makes a difference – but then it is much easier to look happy and motivated when you win; the real test will come the next time United are dominated by Newcastle or struggle to break Norwich. Monday’s game against Wolves, whose last seven games have only had four goals at each end, may offer more meaningful insight.
Under Rangnick, United have taken 13 points in five Premier League games and are sixth, five points behind fourth with one game down. To that extent, their season has been relaunched. But other than Arsenal, whose away form against top teams is excruciating, they haven’t faced a top-four challenger and, other than a shaky West Ham, they won’t do so until early March. At the moment, it feels like United are in limbo, waiting for the real challenges to come.
But limbo seems to be the club’s policy at the moment. It was telling that Newcastle’s performance sparked such dissatisfaction – both from that body language and the subsequent grunts; much must come from the feeling of uncertainty. This isn’t the first time the United board has come up with a solution that leaves no one clear what the plan is – and they are directors, we know, with a tendency to react to events. Lacking their own footballing expertise, they drift where public opinion takes them; Rio Ferdinand clapping his hand on a desk in the BT Sport studio can change the whole story of Manchester United.
Appointing Ole Gunnar Solskjær as interim manager to detoxify the club after José Mourinho’s sacking made sense. Giving him the job on a permanent basis three months later did not work, although the initial results had been good. To wait until the end of the season would have given the club two more months of evidence on which to base a decision and would have cost nothing; it’s not like Solskjær is going to rush in and accept an offer from someone else. United ended up winning just two of the 10 remaining games this season, a streak that would likely have led to a different nomination and possibly spared United the two lost years that followed.
Solskjær as a temporary manager made sense; he was a popular club legend and that gave the board time to strategize. Rangnick as an interim may make sense, but only if he’s allowed to use that second half of the season to get a feel for the club, assess the squad and determine how he can shape it.
But is that what his role as a consultant means? No one seems to know. If Rangnick makes the hiring decisions, appoints a coach to pursue a vision that he largely dictates, then this research period could be immensely helpful. But if so, what is the role of Director of Football John Murtough and Technical Director Darren Fletcher, both appointed in March?
Rangnick is not Solskjær. He is not a living embodiment of the club’s most glorious period, not someone to pay homage to Sir Alex Ferguson and remind players of the club’s best traditions. He’s a technocratic underdog with his own clear vision of how the game should be played.
Prior to joining United, he had coached just 88 first-team appearances in the previous decade, preferring to take on a supervisory role in the background – something he has enjoyed tremendously at RB Leipzig for. He was open that he didn’t like the pressure from frontline management at Schalke – and, big club as they are, the scrutiny is nothing compared to that at United.
His football requires intense physical and mental effort. If gamers think he’s gone in six months, reduced to a distant character making the occasional phone call to Richard Arnold, Ed Woodward’s designated successor as CEO, he’s probably pretty boring. Then again, if this is how the new United are going to be, finding out which players find the Rangnick method boring is a useful process.
But there is also a problem of waiting. What is United’s goal for the rest of the season? If this is an investigation period before the start of the Great Reconstruction, then it is unreasonable to place too much emphasis on the results; fourth place can be a draw, but it cannot be a target. But it’s also understandable that after eight years of drifting away there is impatience among the fans, who have to travel through Manchester and see City, a club they’ve patronized for decades, a better-endowed, better-run club. and better trained.
Rangnick could be the start of the process that will close this gap. But no one should be under any illusions about the amount of work to be done. Solskjær’s management was a symptom of the club’s poor decision-making and, due to his status, a mask for it; that was not the cause of the problems.
But the danger is that a lack of clarity blocks the revolution from the start, that, against better sides than Burnley, the frustration that was so evident in St James’ Park turns into a more general indiscipline that undermines the Rangnick Project. almost before it started.
The uncertainty of Solskjær’s guarding period was helpful; Rangnick’s uncertainty – interim coach then ill-defined advice – risks being doomed to failure.