Ralf Rangnick's 'open-heart surgery' warning: What he said to Man United

Ralf Rangnick is not likely to be remembered well for his time as Manchester United manager — at least, not in terms of what he achieved at the club.

The 65-year-old became United interim boss in December 2021 after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked amid a dreadful run of results. Rangnick was placed in charge for the remainder of the 2021/22 season, after which he was supposed to take on a consultancy role to help the club get back on track. In the end, he left for a job in international football.

Rangnick was a strange choice for the temporary manager job given his relative lack of recent experience in coaching. He is better known for his work as a football executive, notably for Red Bull’s sporting portfolio, including Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig. Even Cristiano Ronaldo openly questioned why a man not renowned as a coach was appointed by a club in desperate need of a strong figure to take charge of the first team.

On the pitch, things didn’t go too well: United won 12 and lost eight of their 31 games under Rangnick in all competitions, and they finished in sixth place in the Premier League on 58 points, marking their worst ever finish in the competition.

However, results were just one aspect. A large part of the reason Rangnick was hired was for him to give his input into how to improve things at Old Trafford and close the gap to Liverpool and Manchester City. He did just that during the season, most notably in April 2022 when he called for the club to undergo significant changes.

So, what did he say, and did they listen?

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Rangnick made it clear in April 2022 that he felt United needed significant work — open-heart surgery, as he described it — to help to solve their problems.

Speaking before a Premier League game at Arsenal, which ended in a 3-1 defeat for the Red Devils, the German was asked what United needed to do to become challengers again.

“You don’t even need glasses to see and analyse where the problems are,” he said. “Now, it’s about how do we solve them.

“It’s not enough to do some minor amendments — cosmetic things. In medicine, you would say that this is an operation of the open heart. If this happens and everyone has realised that this has to happen and if people want to work together then it makes sense, and I believe it doesn’t take two or three years to change those things. This can happen within one year.

“For sure [strong leadership is needed]. This is something that not just one single person as a manager can do. With all respect to Jurgen [Klopp] and Pep [Guardiola], I’m sure that they didn’t do all the things themselves [at Liverpool and Manchester City]. There were also other people involved in those two clubs, people in certain positions, no matter what area it was, in order to rebuild and build something we want to build here. In all areas, you have to have top people and they have to work together in a very close, reliable way.

“I still see where we could develop. We have perfect training conditions, a great stadium, massive fan support, probably the best I’ve ever experienced, apart from Schalke.”

Rangnick is said to have listed a number of players who could have helped make swift improvements to Man United.

Privately, this list would likely have been extensive, but Rangnick confirmed six names in an interview with Bild last year.

He said the squad needed improvement in “many areas” and mentioned some examples of signings he felt could have brought about a quick upturn in performances.

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“We were already discussing players like Josko Gvardiol and Christopher Nkunku from RB Leipzig. Those were names that were realistic,” he said.

“We also talked about Alvaro Morata, Luis Diaz, Dusan Vlahovic and, as I said, [Erling] Haaland when they were still on the market.”

As it turned out, United signed none of these players. Gvardiol joined Man City this year for around €100 million ($107m), while Nkunku signed for Chelsea on a six-year deal in June 2023.

Morata is at Atletico Madrid, Vlahovic is still with Juventus, and Haaland, of course, is breaking records for Man City. Diaz, meanwhile, signed for Liverpool in January 2022.

When Rangnick took temporary charge at United, questions were asked about how Ronaldo would be able to perform the high-pressing football required. While he continued to score goals for the Red Devils, Ronaldo was not able to bring about a positive change in results during Rangnick’s time at the club. Eventually, he left in late November 2022 after giving a scathing interview in which he criticised aspects of the club including new manager Erik ten Hag.

In that interview with Piers Morgan, Ronaldo suggested he never had much faith in United’s decision to appoint a man better known as a football executive than a manager. “If you’re not even a coach, how are you going to be the boss of Manchester United? I’d never even heard of him,” the Portugal star said.

After taking over as Austria head coach, Rangnick was asked about the comments and simply said “it’s not my job to judge that”.

Rangnick is currently the head coach of the Austria national team.

Although he was initially supposed to take on a consultancy role at United after his time as interim manager ended, Rangnick appeared to be pursuing other options during the closing games of the Red Devils’ awful 2021/22 season. Speculation emerged he was in talks to become the new Austria coach, although it was initially thought he could still commit to his consultancy work even if he took the job.

However, after his appointment by Austria, it was decided that he would sever ties with United once Ten Hag took over at Old Trafford.

Rangnick has guided Austria successfully through qualifying for Euro 2024.

Given the cycle in which United find themselves when it comes to hiring and firing managers, it’s safe to say the man in charge of the men’s first team is not the club’s only — or biggest — problem.

Many fans fear the removal of Ten Hag would be a pointless exercise, as his potential dismissal this season would mark the fifth managerial change in fewer than 11 seasons since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure.

However, there may come a point where United’s executives feel they must take action. These are the latest odds on the candidates to become the Red Devils’ next permanent manager.

Ralf Rangnick ‘open heart surgery’ warning: Ex-boss’ Man United comments and player signing recommendations

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