Control, control, control: Ralf Rangnick’s mantra regarding what Manchester United are missing was also an apt characterisation of a 63-year-old who having just strode into a behemoth global football club oozed calm and clarity during his first media conference as their interim manager.
The big poser, of course, is how long this will last should United struggle? But, for the moment, Rangnick illustrated why the club trust him. Arriving five minutes before the advertised 9am start, the German was dry-witted, smart, deferential and, most pertinently, displayed a forensic eye regarding his new side after their impersonation of a rabble over much of the last two months.
Unlike Louis van Gaal, a predecessor whose bow before the media in summer 2014 featured him criticising United for being too commercial, Rangnick’s strategy was touchy-feely, illustrated when dedicating his opening remarks to the gathered fourth estate.
“Thanks for coming early; this is the earliest press conference of my life – I am looking forward to working with you,” he said, before discoursing on precisely why United are listing, 12 points behind the leaders, Chelsea. “I have watched the latest games – not only last night’s game [the 3-2 win over Arsenal] but also the games against Watford [4-1 loss] and against Chelsea [1-1] on TV. Before I knew I would be contacted in the following days I watched, out of interest, the games against Liverpool and Manchester City [5-0 and 2-0 losses, respectively].
“It’s pretty obvious the team has an abundance of young, talented players and enough experienced players. The major target in the next couple of days and weeks is to bring more balance into the team. Yesterday we conceded two goals, we needed three goals to win and if you look at the total number of goals conceded, it is almost two on average per game.
“This is my approach: to help the team to get more balance, more control of the game. Yesterday’s game was exciting for fans, but for myself, as the future coach, those are not the games that we need every day because football is about minimising the coincidence factor and having control and gaining control.”
If this was Rangnick as hard-nosed head coach, there was a sight of “the godfather of pressing” as jester when fielding a question regarding whether he is on a lucrative bonus to sign Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland.
Performing a mock flick-through of a notebook, Rangnick said: “Let me have a look – OK, £10m for Erling Haaland, £10m for Kylian Mbappé, £10m for Robert Lewandowski and £10m for Joshua Kimmich. I mean this is nonsense, obviously. There are no such clauses in my contract and it doesn’t make sense to have speculation on different players.”
Yet as a former RB Salzburg and RB Leipzig director of football (he also managed the latter) Rangnick could not resist offering a glimpse of his continent-wide contacts in a comment that did not reject the notion of a move for Haaland one day.
“Erling Haaland is a fantastic striker. I was together with the people at RB Salzburg and I was a little bit involved in his move from Molde to Salzburg and therefore I know what kind of player he is,” Rangnick said. “In the meantime the whole world has realised how good the player is. Two years ago it was only very few people who believed in this kind of development [from him].”
In dark-blue suit jacket, round-neck sweater, white shirt and glasses, Rangnick’s endearing act of gentleman and scholar came in an Old Trafford press room where many visiting managerial greats have sat post-match, and some predecessors, including Sir Alex Ferguson, Van Gaal, José Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjær have held court.
There was, however, an intriguing moment where the sure-footedness lapsed and he stumbled slightly. His is a coaching career that began in 1983 at FC Viktoria Backnang and has taken in 15 tenures, plus a move “upstairs” to be the top-ranking football executive at Leipzig, Salzburg, New York Red Bulls and, latterly, Lokomotiv Moscow.
Yet he has not managed a team for more than a single season for a decade (Hoffenheim) and was in a quandary when pondering whether he preferred the heat of matchday or the calmer desk-led role he is contracted to fill at United from June.
“Yes, I can work in both positions,” Rangnick said. “If somebody asked me in which way do you see yourself more, I don’t know. Right now I feel and think and will very much want to work as a coach, head coach and team manager for the team. This is what I’ve done in, I would say, 90% of the past 25 years in my career.”