Ralf Rangnick is set to be appointed as interim Manchester United manager until the end of this season.
He succeeds Ole Gunnar Solskjær, who left the club this month, and after his first six-month period of responsibility, the German will take on a consulting role at the club for another two years.
But what attracted United to Rangnick and vice versa? What kind of manager is that? Is he likely to be a success, and what will his role after this season entail?
And what will his appointment mean for Cristiano Ronaldo?
To answer these questions, the BBC spoke with St. Louis SC sports director Lutz Pfannenstiel, who worked with Rangnick in Hoffenheim, former Leicester defender Christian Fuchs – who played under him at Schalke – and European football journalists Raphael Honigstein, Guillem Balague and Julien Laurens.
‘The best man on the market’
Rangnick’s appointment comes at the end of a thorough recruitment process carried out by United, who were impressed during an initial conversation with the German earlier this week.
The 63-year-old has built up an impressive coaching reputation during his time in Germany, mainly through periods in Stuttgart, Hanover, Hoffenheim, Schalke and RB Leipzig.
He would join a club that is in eighth place in the Premier League, after losing to Solskjær, whose last match was a 4-1 humiliation at Watford and their fourth defeat in five league games.
Honey stone: He had a similar offer of a temporary job from Chelsea not so long ago and he said “no, it’s not something for me”. In this case, there are three different things.
First, it’s Manchester United, and it still has a special sound. There is a romance, especially for an Anglophile like Rangnick, who studied and lived in England and loves the Premier League.
Secondly, it is six months. It’s more than two – thirds of the season where a lot of football is still to be played.
Third, United have effectively told him, “we may only want you as a short-term manager, but we want to leverage your football knowledge beyond that”. This comes at a time when the structure of United is changing a bit, with a new CEO coming in and an openness to bring in more football expertise from the outside.
We all look at what Thomas Tuchel has done in an even shorter time at Chelsea. He has no experience with English football, coming in January, and just by giving a team that was completely helpless some structure, he wins the Champions League.
I think United will have thought ‘can we get a Tuchel-type guy to give us an instant boost, instant structure?’. The team is better than their current results and achievements.
Pan steel: Ralf is a great expert, really one of the best coaches or managers Germany has produced in the last 15-20 years, I would say.
Everything he did so far was successful and he was always very aware that if he gets the opportunity to work for a big club in England he will do it.
So when you look at this interim head coach, I think he’s the one who can really get everything stabilized to really get United back on track. I guess he was the best man on the market.
Laurens: I’m stunned and I’m still not sure. He is one of the greatest thinkers in football in the last 20 years and inspired all the great German coaches.
But he’s a builder, that’s what he does, and you do not do that in six months.
For a quick fix, I would not put him in that role. He will give his opinions on players and methods, but will not be able to interfere, as he did in Leipzig. I was a little surprised. I can see why he took that job – you can not say no to United, whoever you are.
He knows English football but has not managed or played here before.
‘Urgent, high intensity and always exciting to watch’
Rangnick’s trophies as manager are modest, but his influence on the game is enormous, not only as a coach and football director, but as a thinker of the game.
His greatest achievements have been in building sides from the bottom up – especially in Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig.
He is often mentioned as the originator of the modern press game, with Tuchel, Julian Nagelsmann, Ralph Hasenhuttl and Jurgen Klopp among those he has influenced.
Pan steel: His football is very direct, lots of pressure, lots of counter-pressure, lots of high-intensity football – something that is always exciting to watch.
If you look back at how Hoffenheim played, especially how RB Leipzig played, then I think that is what you can expect – some really, really high push-up football, where they push and stress the opponent, and force the opponent to to make mistakes.
He is very clear, very direct and most importantly, everything he does with a clear goal. He’s not a guy who jokes around all day. He wants things done – that’s the way he wants to approach them. Ralf has always been successful – and I believe he will always be successful because he is as intense as his football will be on the pitch. He expects a lot from the players, but he also expects a lot from himself.
I think it fits really well with the players Manchester United has and the style that fans love to see at Old Trafford. I think Ralf can be the next German to really make his mark and his legacy on a club’s future.
Fox: He has a very clear philosophy about how he wants to play, the idea of training and pushing – and that will never change.
He seeks to have a personal interaction with you. I was in Vienna with the Austrian national team, we had a few beers and talked for a long time about Hoffenheim’s philosophy.
But then he said ‘at the moment you are not the player for me’.
He was very forthcoming, very straightforward, and I appreciated that. Two years later he said ‘I want to sign you now’.
He thought I was not ready, but it is all credit to him for being very straightforward and very realistic. He said ‘keep playing, keep learning’ and two years later he said ‘now you’re ready’.
These are the little things – the positioning, when to push forward and all the things that can affect your game massively. Under him I came to Schalke, a big club and the expectations were high right away, but he made me feel comfortable and appreciated. This kind of man-management is very important in the game.
He knows what he wants and he will demand of these players to stick together and work hard together.
‘It will be difficult if Ronaldo is a no to him’
United will be the first true elite European club that Rangnick wants to lead.
He joins them after a summer of investment, where they added a number of high-profile players to a squad already filled with international matches with a great reputation, the most notable being the five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo.
Honey stone: He has always been good at dealing with people, but some people can not handle that someone wants you to change very quickly. They find it annoying and threatening, exhausting to find someone who pushes you all the time. Some players react really well and go to the next level because they needed that push.
The problem for Rangnick has more been the people upstairs, because for these guys, once you’re in a certain position, it’s about keeping your job instead of doing your job. These types have been threatened by someone who says ‘this is not good enough, we need to change that’.
Balague: It looks like it’s a temporary job, and it looks a little dangerous. If you are creating a new structure, Ralf is someone who has a clear idea of what to do.
He can not stand people who do not want to change, and I feel that there are many of them in United. You have to be nice to people and move people along. Is he cute now?
Something that has been lacking in United is the lack of clarity in decisions.
Honey stone: He does not want as much authority as a guy who comes in on a three-year deal, but at the same time you can do whatever you want because you have to be away anyway. He may be more ruthless in a way.
It will be difficult if Ronaldo, for example, is a no to him. It could be a difficult thing to find out – how does Ronaldo fit into Rangnick’s form of football? Maybe he can. Maybe the idea can change, maybe Ronaldo can change? It will be one of the most fascinating parts of this story.
But Ralf has learned to deal with people, even if they are not on the same wavelength. The journey, the excitement of six months at Manchester United, with the top four, the Champions League and the FA Cup still to play about, will have its own dimension.
‘Organization, structure and planning, the future is really brilliant’
Since 2012, Rangnick has served in a number of high-profile sporting director roles, most notably with the Red Bull stable of clubs and especially RB Leipzig, where the club rose from the fourth tier of German football to challenge for the Bundesliga title.
He is currently head of sports and development at Lokomotiv Moscow.
Honey stone: I’m not sure if the future role will have real power. I do not think United are set on it.
But he is at a point in his career where he has established his own consulting firm and works with clubs, federations and sports directors.
I think he is at a time when he will use what he has learned and give it to the one who needs it. They pay him for his advice, and if they do not like it, he moves on. I think he’s out of the cliché of the guy who comes in and needs full control.
Pan steel: We like to call him in Germany the football professor. Everything he does is very well thought out, the way he puts structures in place in every club is something amazing.
If you look at the way Red Bull Salzburg was built, or how RB Leipzig was built from a gym up to the professional team, the youth development … it’s all with a lot of thought, a lot of science in itself. His organization, his structure and his planning, the future is truly brilliant.
Looking at the way he planned his career after concluding his contract in Leipzig, he still wanted to be more on an advisory side, and that was what he did in Moscow.
When I know Ralf and his career and how the football world works if he comes in and does an incredible job and everyone is happy, I think the plan to become a consultant for the next two years after this season can easily come true a long – also time employment.
Anything is possible and I think it’s about results and success.