Ronaldo scored twice against Arsenal to take his tally to 12 for United since his return to the club. Questions have been asked about how Rangnick – one of the architects of the German “gegenpressing” philosophy – plans to accommodate the five-time World Player of the Year. But said the adaptation process worked both ways.
“You always have to adapt your style or your idea of football to the players you have available, not visa versa,” he said.
“Having seen Cristiano yesterday in the second half at the age of 36, an amazing top professional. At his age, I’ve never seen a player who is still that physically fit. He’s still a player who can easily make the difference. So yes, it’s about how we can develop the whole team, not only Cristiano. We play in the most competitive league in the world so we need all the players on board. What I saw from Cristiano yesterday, he is more than willing to do that, to put his input into the team. His team-mates will have to do the same.”
Rangnick said he had had long conversations with Solskjaer, Carrick, owner Joel Glazer, football director John Murtough and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
“We haven’t spoken about that [the consultancy role] in detail in all the conversations we had with John and also with Ed but especially with John,” he said. “I also had a long phone call with Joel Glazer for more than half an hour. I also spoke with Ole last Sunday before the Chelsea game for almost two hours. He was very generous to spend one and a half hours on the phone with me telling me his insight and details about the team.”
Asked where he hoped United would be come the summer of 2024, when his consultancy position is due to end, Rangnick said: “In the ideal world we will be in the top four regularly, not only in the top four but playing for titles. This is also something that’s in the DNA of the club, it’s about winning titles, winning the league, winning cups, being as successful as you can in the Champions League.
“This is also an issue for the new year that we’re still in the Champions League and depending on the draw hopefully we can go further in that competition and in two and a half years the DNA of the team and the club is clear and you have to be as successful as you can be.”
Analysis: Control will be key to Rangnick’s planned transformation
By James Ducker
The gospel according to Ralf Rangnick is an illuminating one but there was one word to which Manchester United’s new interim manager kept returning on Friday morning as he spelt out his hopes for the remainder of the season: control.
There were six mentions of the word in the opening 10 minutes of his first address to the media and seven references to the word in one answer alone to a question posed by the club’s official television station’s about his footballing philosophy.
Rangnick had already pored over the crushing defeats to Liverpool, Manchester City and Watford and picked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s brains for a couple of hours last weekend by the time he took his seat in the directors’ box at Old Trafford on Thursday night.
But, while he recognised there was a chaotic sort of thrill for supporters in an entertaining 3-2 victory over Arsenal, it was, ultimately, another disorderly performance that served only to remind the 63-year-old German of the “massive challenge” he has taken on.
“The game was exciting for the fans but, for myself, those are not the kind of games that we need every day because football is to minimise the coincidence factor and gain control of a game,” he said.
Rangnick has little interest in wild-west football, where the pendulum swings constantly and control is an elusive concept — Russian roulette with a ball. For him, this United leave far too much to chance. He was too kind to state explicitly that a sandcastle has better foundations than the ones Solskjaer left behind, and he was clear that he sees huge potential in an “outstanding, talented” crop of players, but turning United from a reactive side to a proactive one will be no small task. Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on Sunday is assignment No. 1.
“In football, it’s all about control,” he said. “If you want to win games, you have to have control, no matter if you have the ball or the other team has. This is one of the major targets in the next couple of weeks.
“I saw the game against Liverpool, against Manchester City, at Chelsea and even against teams like Watford the team didn’t have control. In order to get control they need to be a little more proactive with or without the ball.
“I think it’s important to develop the team in those two areas, not that we will have much time on the training ground because we play every three days. So, in fact, it’s about video footage, train the brains and encourage the players to do the right things”.
That phrase “train the brains” will inevitably evoke memories of Louis van Gaal’s doctrine, which was fine in principle but translated into sleep-inducing football on the pitch at United.
Rangnick, one of the high priests of the German “gegenpressing” philosophy popularised by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, prefers a more high-octane brand of football and it was telling that he kept referring to the need for United to play in the opposition’s half and “try and keep away from their own goal”.
Rangnick knows United’s strengths lie firmly at the top end of the pitch, and inevitably any discussion about the attack will lead to a conversation about Cristiano Ronaldo.