Rangnick seems ready to break with the past: Neil Humphreys
United need a manager without historical baggage
At least the pantomime squeezed out one final performance before Ralf Rangnick turned up yesterday morning (Singapore time).
There was one last episode to laugh at, the one where the coaching staff auditioned for a Jason Bourne movie.
They stared pensively at big screens at Stamford Bridge. They pressed fingers against earpieces and muttered stuff like, “send in the operative, the tanned one from Portugal”.
Everyone had a theory on such covert behaviour. They were contacting the godfather of modern coaching in Germany. Interim manager Michael Carrick had gone rogue.
Technical director Darren Fletcher had a special earphone. Perhaps he was listening to Spotify. It was anyone’s guess. Nothing’s off the table when it comes to United.
An entire debate sprang from those earpieces, emphasising both the ramshackle state of the Theatre of the Absurd and United’s global, magnetic power. Even earpieces warrant international chatter.
Who was on the other end of those earphones? Was it Rangnick? A shrink? A Grab driver? Who made the big decisions?
In the end, the mode of communication proved irrelevant. The shadowy decision-maker was less important than the outcome. Cristiano Ronaldo was dropped. That’s the key point to ponder as Rangnick settles in for the rest of the season.
Ronaldo’s axing for the 1-1 draw at Chelsea felt like a conscious, collective effort to put the head before the heart. The Portuguese striker, like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before him, served those seeking a portal to the past, but he simply doesn’t fit.
He didn’t fit Carrick’s shortterm campaign to stop Chelsea’s rampaging midfield with three screening players. And he will not fit Rangnick’s long-term plan to press high and expect all forwards to provide the first line of defence.
The German has never made a secret of his aversion to indulged superstars, preferring to build teams around a tactical formula rather than the unique strengths of an individual, no matter how talented.
He’s in good company. Thomas Tuchel, Pep Guardiola and Juergen Klopp share a similar view and have the trophies to prove it.
Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes chased Chelsea fullbacks with varying degrees of success, but there was no mistaking the intent or the new directive, wherever it came from. Ronaldo can no longer be indulged.
It’s a poignant plot twist, an unfair one even. Ronaldo retooled his body and conserved energy to remain relevant at the elite level. But elite rivals reshaped themselves to leave him looking increasingly irrelevant.
The 36-year-old still has 10 goals in all competitions, more than twice as many as Fernandes and Mason Greenwood (both on four each). But he was a beneficiary of a club still pandering to the past as much as their striker.
When United faced serial pressers like Liverpool and Manchester City, Ronaldo’s impact was negligible. The beleaguered club were already moving away from two revered favourites. Solskjaer and Ronaldo just didn’t know it at the time. They do now.
Only Ronaldo can decide if he fancies a similarly premature exit or hangs around as an impact substitute – arguably the most lethal one in world football – or seek regular game time elsewhere.
He can’t have it his way at United, not any more. Between the earpieces and the coded interceptions, the message came through clearly.
The identity of the man behind Ronaldo’s benching matters less than the identity of the club seeking resurrection. United cannot cling to the coattails of a fading past any more than they can rebuild around an ageing gunslinger.
Ronaldo may still play a key role for his beloved club, just not the part of a leading man. Rangnick has arrived and he’s ready to move on.