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Criticism of Ralf Rangnick appointment is no more than lazy punditry

As Ralf Rangnick takes charge of Manchester United on an interim basis, his doubters have become writing him off before he’s even taken charge of a game.


It is human nature to fear the unknown but, for British football pundits, we are past the point of not knowing being a problem. Experts who sit behind a desk in a TV studio or put their names to ghost-written columns no longer need to adhere to a standard of practice when it comes to research and making opinions robust to criticism.

Football is beautiful precisely because it fuels debate. Not everybody thinks and feels the same and that is not only okay, it is actively encouraged. But expertise has to be earned; no career in football at any level, as a player and a manager, guarantees a good pundit. That comes from thoughtfulness, intelligence, critical thought and, most crucially, balance.

Such is the modern world and its reliance on social media are content promotion, outrageously cold takes that can be condensed in a short clip for Twitter or an article headline are desirable. The aim isn’t for well thought out opinions, it is for any sort of interaction; clicks, views and comments. They all increase the bandwidth of a particular opinion, and that converts into money for whatever organisation, broadcaster or publication is putting out there.

After a while, though, it becomes tiresome, predictable and easily deciphered. There are so many pundits who make baseless claims attributed to their own thoughts, which are widely criticised, but carry on doing so because they get spoken about. That will not last forever.

A majority of football fans tune into the TV, radio or newspaper columns in order to be challenged, to have their perspective altered and to learn something from somebody with greater knowledge than them. That is the definition of ‘expert’, after all, and if they aren’t being provided with that level of analysis, they’ll turn off.

But too often, the same takes are coming from the same people. Take Harry Redknapp as an example. In January he spoke openly about concerns that Thomas Tuchel would struggle at Chelsea because he lacked of experience at the elite end of the game and hadn’t worked in England before.

His time developing his style of play, akin to that of Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, centred around high pressing and incredible intensity in Germany with Mainz and Borussia Dortmund was ignored. His winning of trophies with Paris Saint-Germain was dismissed rather condescendingly. Effectively his message was that, given the limited quality in Ligue 1 and the incredible riches in Paris, anybody could do it.

Of course Redknapp had a horse in that particular race. His nephew, Frank Lampard, was the man Tuchel was replacing. But his immediate impact at Stamford Bridge, changing the fortunes of the team and giving them the freedom to reinvigorate their push for the top four and end the season with the Champions League final victory over Manchester City in Porto, was more than enough evidence that he was the right man for the job.

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Doubting Tuchel wasn’t the issue here. It was his justification that was the problem, making it painfully obvious that he had not paid nearly enough attention to Tuchel’s teams or the way he worked to comment on his chances at Chelsea. For anybody immersed in the Premier League, marvelling at how competitive, physical and ferocious it is, comparing it to other leagues in Europe or indeed around the world is often a futile endeavour.

Without sufficient knowledge of football in Italy, Germany, Spain or anywhere else, there is a blind belief that anybody coming to England faces a battle to assert themselves. It is plain and lazy entitlement, an assumption that football abroad is not worthy of a conversation alongside the game here.

Of course, because the likes of Redknapp haven’t actively looked elsewhere, their views never change, despite so many examples — Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino, Antonio Conte and Klopp — succeeding in spite of falling down against the criteria set out by the ill-informed, xenophobic rhetoric.

Ralf Rangnick, the former Schalke and Hoffenheim boss, as well as a sporting director for Red Bull and their cohort of clubs, has been hired as interim manager at Manchester United after the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Once again, the doubters are out in force and Redknapp is chief among them. Rangnick’s biggest crime is not working at the level of a club like Manchester United before, as well as having no experience of trips to Turf Moor and Molineux, as if that is a genuine point against him.

His commitment to ‘gegenpressing’ has seen him lauded as a trailblazer in Europe, both as a coach and a sporting director. Like Marcelo Bielsa, he is said to have ‘disciples’ who have followed his lead in terms of that style, including Klopp, Tuchel and Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl, though this idea has been heavily oversimplified by media narrative in recent days.

He doesn’t have a track record of leading top clubs from the touchline, this much is true, but Ralf Rangnick is known for rigorously improving players with incredible detail. After the emotional connection but lack of substance from the Solskjaer era, that is exactly when Manchester United need, and he can set them off on the right path in the short term before taking up a consultancy role in the summer.

At this point, throwing tired cliches about Premier League experience as justification for doubting a new arrival in England should be classed as wilful and complicit ignorance. There are reasons why Ralf Rangnick is a risk for Manchester United, and pointing them out is completely fair, but only by people who know and understand how he works and what he has done in the game.



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