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Ralf Rangnick leaves Manchester United disappointed but still disarmingly honest

Ralf Rangnick leaves Manchester United disappointed but still disarmingly honest
Unlike some of his charges, Rangnick is ready to shoulder some of the blame for a disappointing time at Old Trafford

Ralf Rangnick may not have brought much to Manchester United but he has at least lent a disarming honesty. Supporters who did not appreciate results and performances could at least appreciate a willingness to tell it like it is, though a number of his players probably didn’t. If some of his predecessors at Old Trafford – a certain supposedly special Portuguese individual, in particular – played the blame game, Rangnick believes in looking in the mirror first.

His verdict on his time at Old Trafford was not an attempt to duck responsibility. “We could all have done better, including myself. We all have to be as self-critical as we can be,” he said. A few minutes earlier, he had reflected on what he branded his biggest disappointment: a failure to generate the required team spirit. Rangnick proved neither a motivator nor a unifier. As he lamented United’s lack of a winning mentality, it was tempting to draw a comparison with the last German pressing evangelist to pitch up mid-season in the north-west. Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool became, in their manager’s words, “mentality monsters.” United have been frail and fragile, a team Rangnick believes never really recovered from their Champions League exit to Atletico Madrid, whose last game was a 4-0 capitulation at Brighton.

Even victory at Selhurst Park would mean Rangnick bows out with the lowest win percentage of any United manager since Dave Sexton; lose or draw and it would the worst since Frank O’Farrell. During Sexton’s time at Old Trafford, Rangnick was a student in Sussex. It can feel a shame that, four decades on, a lifelong Anglophile has had so little impact when he finally made it to England to manage.

Rangnick will willingly admit the target was Champions League qualification. He has been reduced to urging United to hold on to a Europa League spot to prevent an undignified slide into the Conference League. He has often described Manchester City and Liverpool as role models. Now he has cited Eintracht Frankfurt, who claimed a Champions League place by winning the Europa League. As Rangnick noted, Frankfurt finished in the lower half of their domestic league, an example United would not be advised to copy.

He leaves a scant legacy to his successor, Erik ten Hag, having been sidelined in much of the hiring process. They have communicated via WhatsApp but Rangnick hopes to finally meet and talk in person, with the Dutchman due at Selhurst Park on Sunday. His consultancy role could borrow from his excellence as a sporting director, improving the recruitment he has rarely been slow in criticising.

“We spoke about the about the different areas I could be of help,” he added. “It is not too difficult to work out where that could be. We showed in the last 15 years, with Hoffenheim, Salzburg and Leipzig, clubs not as prominent as Manchester United, it’s possible to identify, develop and sell players; this is possible and this is what is most important, that the club finds players what the next logical step is in their career.” As opposed to, say, the ageing, the injury prone, the overpriced and those who simply do not fit together.

They formed much of Rangnick’s squad. He argued he at least bequeaths Ten Hag a pre-season to shape a campaign; a man with a long-term vision proved less adept as a short-term trouble-shooter. “My last two tenures with Leipzig, we had an average of 2.0 points per game; we finished third and second in those two periods,” he noted. “Here, unfortunately, although we were on a positive pathway in the first three or four months, we could not keep that permanently and that’s why I’m absolutely disappointed.”

His record currently stands at 1.60 per game; were it 2.0, United would be sandwiched between Tottenham and Arsenal, still in the battle for fourth. Instead, they will finish with their lowest points tally in the Premier League, having conceded more goals than ever before. If he has hit rock bottom, it would at least mean there is only one direction of travel for Ten Hag to take.

“I am positive we will be able to bring this club not just on the right track but to the top,” Rangnick said. “If there is a good thing about that poor season, it is that it is pretty obvious in which areas we need to just make sure it is that it is pretty obvious in which areas we need to just make sure this improvement can happen.”

Those areas involve the transfer market, the team spirit, defence, midfield and attack. The chances are Rangnick will be brutal in his briefing to his successor. He may have served United better as an analyst than a manager. “I made this experience and it is still an experience I would not want to miss,” he said. For once, perhaps he wasn’t being honest. He might not miss managing Manchester United.