In hindsight, perhaps Manchester United were being overly optimistic when they appointed a man with just two seasons of coaching experience in the last decade to turn their fortunes around. But Ralf Rangnick, the architect of the Red Bull empire, was the perfect candidate on paper to finally sort things out off the pitch: his planned move into a consultancy role was meant to be part of a newer, smarter United, one that could bridge the gap to Liverpool and Man City.
Except Rangnick is nowhere to be seen at Old Trafford. The official line is ‘mutual agreement’, and perhaps we will never know exactly who broached the conversation, but the upshot is that the Austrian is now focusing full-time on coaching the national team. It’s not even back to square one: it’s worse, given the wasted months of Rangnick’s ill-fated interim reign.
It is interesting to ponder how different this summer might have been if Rangnick did have a place among the backroom staff. As coach, he reportedly made repeated suggestions that Cristiano Ronaldo should be sold in January — these were not heeded, and the situation has now come to a head. The club seem determined to hang onto him, while he seems determined to leave.
A player wanting out is not a situation unique to Manchester United — even if the lack of Champions League football increases the chances of discontent. Indeed, despite being among the best teams in the world, Liverpool had to face something similar this summer, with Sadio Mané seeking a move to Bayern Munich. But it is the way the situation has been handled at Old Trafford that shows just how wide the gap is.
Aside from some much-needed haggling over the price, Liverpool were quick to let Mané move on, having already identified and bought a replacement. This was a player who shone in the second half of the season, as Jürgen Klopp’s team came within two games of an unprecedented quadruple. The decision was clear: everyone has to be pulling in the same direction, and nobody is irreplaceable, not even club legends.
Then there’s the Manchester United approach. Ronaldo was the top scorer last season, so an initial reluctance to let him go is understandable, but his overall impact on the team was questionable. For all his issues, Rangnick saw that. At 37 years old, he simply does not press. Even so, the Old Trafford hierarchy are clinging on to him like a lifeline.
At first, it seemed as if this was primarily down to lack of interested suitors. Ronaldo is convinced he deserves a Champions League club, and most of them are too smart to shell out such eye-watering wages on a player well past his prime. Atlético Madrid fans have voiced their extreme disapproval at the mere prospect. But the latest twist reflects even more poorly on Manchester United.
The club are not just unable to shift him, they are entirely unwilling to do so. According to the Mail, Ronaldo has approached the club to ask them to rip up the last year of his contract, and still they are refusing to cut him loose. This is a simply inexplicable decision.