Sunday, June 26, 2022

Rangnick is leaving United as an agent the club declined to consult

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It may not seem like a spectacular achievement, but Ralf Rangnick’s stint as a Manchester United agent might only be behind Michael Carrick’s tenure as caretaker manager during their season. Finally, United went unbeaten in the six days between revealing Erik ten Hag signaling he had taken the lead and confirming Rangnick’s departure from his second job. That is, if he ever really started it.

He’s leaving by mutual agreement and that seems to be one of the few things Rangnick and United both agree on. Thus ends one of the strangest interludes in the club’s history, but with a sense of what could have been. As long as Rangnick remained engaged at Old Trafford, there was a chance United could draw on his expertise, that a club with a terrible record in the transfer market – as he was seldom slow to point out – could create some sort of far-sighted offers for up-and-coming talent that Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig helped. Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel could breathe a sigh of relief that United are less likely to compete with them for their goals. United could at least be spared the image of someone on the payslip apparently being paid by them to manage Austria.

But the finality means United part ways with Rangnick without playing to their greatest strengths; One or the other player in recent years may know how that feels. They hired a sporting director as their manager and told him that instead of tapping into his knowledge of running a club, they wanted him to focus on coaching. The evidence of the last six months is that if Rangnick was ever a world-class manager, now he isn’t. He was always just an effective manager with players that suited his style of play. United had few of these.

He has a track record of manager selection, so United sidelined him when recruiting Ten Hag. Rangnick managed not to meet or speak to his successor at a time when many others had, and their interactions were limited to a few WhatsApp messages. Instead of informing Ten Hag, Rangnick felt separated from him. A lack of connected thinking was a recurring theme at Old Trafford; They couldn’t even bring two managers together during a smooth transition.

The Rangnick interregnum should be a test opportunity. He gave the board his recommendations on what to do with the squad; Now that he’s leaving, will they ever be heeded, or will the Rangnick dossier be discovered on the side of a filing cabinet at some point in the future, untouched by those for whom it was intended? Certainly some of United’s underachievers may prefer the advice of an outspoken speaker to go unseen. Because as critical as he was in public, Rangnick’s private views of United were more strident.

If Rangnick’s own credibility has been damaged by his managerial failures and miserable results, he may also have made the mistake of telling the truth to those in power. Or simply to be better qualified for their job than two of the internal positions. Certainly Rangnick’s resume trumps that of football director John Murtough and technical director Darren Fletcher; there are people who are close to German who find both devastating. They may prefer to leave Rangnick to United’s past.

It’s harder to say if Ten Hag is doing the same. But his excellence at Ajax came at a club with structure, with the likes of Edwin van der Sar and Marc Overmars (disregarding the reasons for his departure off the field) providing ballast in the back. Recruitment was not solely dependent on the manager, nor did it waver between the conflicting tastes of very different head coaches, while being influenced by the club’s fondness for the famous. That’s where Rangnick could have made a difference through coherent thinking, through long-term planning, through identifying talent and buying an idea.

It had been clear for some time that United would not miss Rangnick, the manager, but in the years to come they could find themselves missing his strategic sense. Instead, he leaves as the advisor they chose not to consult.

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