Ralf Rangnick describes it as his “football epiphany”. It was February 1983 and, aged 25, he was serving as player-manager of Viktoria Backnang, a small-town workforce in Germany’s sixth tier, when Valeriy Lobanovskiy’s Dynamo Kiev turned up for a mid-season pleasant.
Lobanovskiy’s facet have been considered the strongest within the Soviet Union and it was no shock they simply swatted their novice opponents apart. But the style through which they did it made an enduring impression on Rangnick, a bewildered determine in central midfield.
“A few minutes in, when the ball had gone out for a throw, I had to stop and count the opposition players,” he recollects in Raphael Honigstein’s ebook, Das Reboot.
“That was the first time I felt what it was like to come up against a team who systematically pressed the ball.
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“I had performed towards massive skilled groups earlier than – and in fact we misplaced these video games as nicely – however they a minimum of gave you a little bit of respiratory house, the possibility to ‘put a foot on the ball’, as we used to say.”
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Lobanovskiy’s facet afforded Rangnick and his team-mates no such luxurious. “I felt constantly under pressure for the entire ninety minutes,” he added. “It was the first time I sensed: this is football of a very different kind.”
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Dynamo Kiev returned to the city for coaching camps every season underneath Lobanovskiy, and Rangnick, who was learning for his teaching badges on the time, attended each session, pen and notepad in hand, to research the best way they performed and how they did it.
Lobanovskiy’s relentless, organised urgent ways would type the premise of Rangnick’s personal philosophy, one he would later implement at a string of golf equipment together with Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig, serving to to revolutionise German football, encourage a technology of coaches together with Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel, and, finally, take him to the Manchester United hotseat.
Back within the 80s, nevertheless, his concepts have been deemed radical.
Bundesliga sides on the time have been a mirrored image of the nation’s massively profitable nationwide workforce. “They lined up with a sweeper, and man-marking was the preferred system,” says Rangnick in Das Reboot.
Rangnick pictured whereas in command of Hoffenheim in 2008
There was little room for manoeuvre and little need for it both. But Rangnick felt German football was at risk of getting left behind. He studied Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan in addition to Lobanovskiy’s Dynamo Kiev, observing the potential of a zonal marking system, coupled with high-intensity urgent.
Sacchi’s Milan, winners of back-to-back European Cups in 1989 and 1990, confirmed the facility of collective brilliance over a reliance on people. Rangnick was additionally impressed by the very fact Sacchi, like him, was not a distinguished former participant.
A gathering with Zdenek Zeman, a Czech coach with an identical profile who was implementing comparable ways at Foggia, additionally in Italy, served as additional inspiration. Zeman emphasised to Rangnick that his gamers wanted to be the fittest within the division so as to make the method work. “I realised that a bit of pressing isn’t enough,” mentioned Rangnick. “It is a bit like being a bit pregnant – it’s nothing.”
Rangnick started to apply these learnings whereas in command of quite a few lower-league golf equipment, having fun with notable success throughout a spell at Ulm 1846, whom he guided to the Bundesliga in 1999 with a hungry, energetic facet which included a younger Tuchel – a minimum of earlier than he was pressured to retire with a knee damage aged 24.
All the whereas, Germany’s quarter-final exit to Croatia on the 1998 World Cup had prompted introspection within the nation. Were Rangnick’s issues about German football, with its devotion to the outdated sweeper system, in truth nicely based?
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It actually appeared that method however the resistance to change continued, fuelled by a high-profile tv look from Rangnick in December 1998 through which he was requested to clarify his ways. The bespectacled coach was broadly disparaged as a “professor”.
Rangnick, although, saved going. He was handed the manager’s job at Stuttgart on the again of his achievements with Ulm. But having guided them to an eighth-placed Bundesliga end in his first season in cost, he was sacked with them within the relegation zone in his second.
He gained promotion again to the Bundesliga with Hannover after that, arising towards a Mainz facet managed by Klopp, who had performed underneath Wolfgang Frank, one other early advocate of zonal marking and urgent ways, earlier than transferring into administration, however a subsequent spell in command of Schalke proved much less profitable.
Rangnick’s spell there broken his repute additional within the eyes of his critics and prompted him to pursue a job the place he would have extra management, and extra freedom to implement his concepts.
It led him to Hoffenheim, a third-tier membership with no notable historical past however a rich and formidable proprietor in software program mogul Dietmar Hopp, who needed to harness Rangnick’s strategies so as to rework the membership right into a pressure of German football.
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Rangnick embraced the problem, describing Hoffenheim as a “blank sheet of paper”.
He was in a position to put his concepts into apply on the pitch and additionally given management over recruitment, insisting they solely signal gamers aged 23 or underneath, the thought being that, in addition to retaining resale worth, they’d be extra receptive to new concepts and be bodily able to assembly the off-the-ball calls for of his urgent ways.
Hoffenheim have been derided as a “test-tube club” by some however their rise to prominence was speedy underneath Rangnick. Back-to-back promotions led them to the top-flight two years after Rangnick’s appointment in 2006 and they duly took the Bundesliga by storm.
“That’s the kind of football we want to play one day,” mentioned Klopp after his Borussia Dortmund facet have been dismantled by Rangnick’s Hoffenheim in September 2008, shedding 4-1. Joachim Low, Germany’s nationwide workforce coach on the time, described their 2-1 loss to Bayern Munich a couple of months later as “perhaps the fastest Bundesliga match ever”.
By that time, German football was lastly embracing Rangnick’s method of taking part in.
Rangnick gained the German Cup with Schalke in 2011
His time in command of Hoffenheim was adopted by a second spell at Schalke, throughout which he gained the German Cup, the primary main trophy of his profession, and guided the membership to a Champions League semi-final, the place they have been defeated, maybe fatefully, by Manchester United.
Rangnick’s subsequent managerial task got here at RB Leipzig, the place he had an impression comparable to the one he had at Hoffenheim. In the primary of two spells as head coach, in 2015/16, he gained them promotion to the Bundesliga whereas additionally fulfilling director of football duties for Red Bull’s community of golf equipment.
In the second, in 2018/19, he helped set up the membership on the top-end of the Bundesliga, a lot as he had at Hoffenheim. By then, over in Bavaria, Pep Guardiola’s spell in command of Bayern Munich had accelerated the event of coordinated gegenpressing ways in German football.
Rangnick and his contemporaries, as soon as considered as a “fringe movement of modernists”, as Honigstein places it in Das Reboot, had grow to be mainstream. “Rangnick may never have won the championship,” added Honigstein, “but he has won the argument.”
Four many years on from his “football epiphany”, the query now could be how his strategies will take maintain at Manchester United.
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