A new era is beginning at Manchester United, though even the man at the helm of it cannot be entirely sure when it will start. Ralf Rangnick’s appointment as interim manager was confirmed on Monday morning but whether he will be in the dugout for the visit of Arsenal to Old Trafford later this week is unclear.
Rangnick is awaiting work permit clearance before travelling to Manchester from Germany and must return a negative result from a PCR test on arrival. That all has to be achieved before Thursday’s evening kick-off in order for the 63-year-old former RB Leipzig head coach to take his place in the dugout.
Even then, Rangnick would have had barely any time to directly prepare for Arsenal’s visit with his new players. Michael Carrick is prepared to continue in his caretaker role until United’s interim manager is cleared to work in this country. Rangnick’s first game may only come against Crystal Palace at Old Trafford this Sunday.
For all that uncertainty over his actual start date, what is clear is that once Rangnick left United’s Mayfair offices following his meeting with club officials last week, he was the indisputable first-choice to take charge until the end of the season.
Though far from the only prospective interim coach spoken to about the post, the interview panel of executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, football director John Murtough and technical director Darren Fletcher were taken by the clarity of his tactical vision and his plans for its implementation.
United’s decision-makers were left with the impression that Rangnick would be ideally equipped to make the most of the players at his disposal. That is despite questions over whether appointment ‘the godfather of gegenpressing’ is one suited to some influential members of the squad, particularly the infamously press-reluctant Cristiano Ronaldo.
Though this could be viewed as a departure from the approach taken under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, continuity will be provided by the Carrick and the Norwegian’s coaching staff, who are set to remain in place. A ‘small number’ of Rangnick’s staff are expected to join them, though sources have informed The Independent that paperwork on their appointments still needs to be finalised.
There are also no changes to the internal reporting structure, with both Rangnick and Murtough reporting up to Woodward.
Despite that, Murtough was the official quoted in the statement announcing the appointment rather than the outgoing Woodward or his expected successor managing director Richard Arnold, with United’s football director describing Rangnick as “one of the most respected coaches and innovators in European football”.
Murtough is understood to have been key to both the interim process and Rangnick’s appointment itself, having forged a working relationship with Rangnick on a visit to RB Leipzig two years ago to learn from the structure in place at the Red Bull group. That relationship will be critical if the German’s two-year consultancy role is to prove worthwhile.
As The Independent reported following United’s defeat in the Manchester derby earlier this month, the former Schalke 04 manager was only willing to consider an interim role if it came with the potential for a position beyond the end of the season.
Club sources believe that Rangnick will be able to offer valuable resources and insight to a football department which has undergone significant restructuring within the past year, most notably with the appointments of Murtough and Fletcher to their present positions in March.
His track record in recruitment, as head of the operation which uncovered the likes of Sadio Mané, Dayot Upamecano and Erling Haaland, is a particularly exciting element of the consultancy role.
A glimpse of the potential for reform that Rangnick’s appointment promises was provided on Monday by Lokomotiv Moscow, the club that the former University of Sussex student has left in order to fulfill his long-held ambition of managing in England.
“A scout department and a block for medicine and innovation was created in the club in a short time under the leadership of Rangnick,” the Russian Premier League club revealed in a statement announcing his departure. “A system of advanced video analytics was introduced, a coaching staff was formed and high-tech information systems were launched.”
Rangnick only joined Lokomotiv in the summer, but had already “attracted experienced specialists to key positions” and “formed a team of professionals, which will continue patient and consistent movement in the chosen direction”.
United were perhaps a little too patient and consistent in their chosen direction under their previous manager. Rangnick’s track record suggests he should soon have them facing the right way, once he eventually gets through the door.