It is becoming an unwelcome tradition at Old Trafford. With every significant defeat for a diminished Manchester United there is a revolving cast of club legends ready to convene a fresh inquest.
“How Ralf Rangnick was chosen to be manager of this club, I don’t know,” Paul Scholes said on BT Sport on Tuesday night in the wake of their demoralising Champions League exit, re-opening the wounds first inflicted by Manchester City a fortnight ago.
“Getting a proper coach for this team is a massive thing.”
If Rangnick didn’t possess a steel-plated certainty about the merit of his work, he might pause for contemplation about his decision to take over at Old Trafford.
Handed a squad that was thrown together with scant regard for the art of team-building – a fact compounded by the hierarchy’s unwillingness to supplement his squad in the January transfer window – Rangnick was always on a hiding to nothing. But in time, and long after the ordinary run of results he has overseen is forgotten, his time in charge may well be appraised differently.
Aside from his searing honesty in his public proclamations, Rangnick’s greatest gift has been to undress the idea that there is a quick fix available to the club. It is why Manchester United’s next move – one that should now be fast-tracked with the last sliver of hope of silverware extinguished – is so critical.
The big question that overshadows the club right now is whether they have people with sharp enough expertise in key roles to make the right call.
It shouldn’t matter that results have been mediocre. In his role as advisor Rangnick, who has seen the problems in vivid technicolour, should be leant on heavily to help identify a coach who can deal with the issues around personnel, discipline and character in the dressing room.
The first home truth is that a huge overhaul in playing staff is required.
It sums up the lack of joined up thinking that frontrunners Erik ten Hag and Mauricio Pochettino offer little consistency in terms of style of play or philosophy from Rangnick.
As exclusive analysis for i by data company Analytics FC shows that while the two main contenders are similar in terms of style, they have little in common with the interim boss.
“You’d think this interim period with Rangnick in charge would include some sort of preparation and foundation-building ready for the next coach to come in, but that’s not likely with the disparity in on-field principles that Pochettino and Ten Hag have in contrast to Rangnick,” Jeremy Steele, CEO of Analytics FC, says.
“It isn’t the only thing that matters. There are advantages of having Rangnick work closely with the players. He can identify the players who have a negative influence in the dressing room or who don’t have the character, work ethic or quality to take the club forward.”
They should know. Analytics FC now offer a coach identification service to clubs across Europe. It centres around the notion that many executives are missing the things that could help them make a truly game-changing appointment.
“The bit that football misses a little bit is that performance of teams is impacted far more by quality of player than it is by quality of head coach,” Steele adds.
“The hard part is stripping that out of your analysis and finding out which coaches impact their teams the most, regardless of strength of squad. Essentially you need a head coach that adds value.
“There’s a managerial merry-go-round in the UK because clubs aren’t brave enough to go out and find a manager who adds value. They want coaches that are known to placate the fanbase or get the pressure off the board.
“Our data model is about stripping it back and working out who adds value where, who does well compared to their budget, who adds defensively, who adds attacking value and recommending off the back of that.
“The biggest issue is differentiating between coaches who add value and those who would have done well anyway [because of the strength of the teams they joined], who are often frontrunners for jobs.”
Analytics FC provided i with a list of the 10 most over-performing coaches in the big five leagues in Europe. None would be in United’s thinking.
Top 10 overperforming coaches in Europe
- Gianpiero Gasperini (Atalanta)
- Pepe Bordalas (Valencia)
- Bo Svensson (Mainz)
- Patrick Vieira (Crystal Palace)
- Ivan Juric (Torino)
- David Moyes (West Ham)
- Andoni Iraola Sagarna (Rayo Vallecano)
- Unai Emery (Villareal)
- Julien Stephan (Strasbourg)
- Vincenzo Italiano (Fiorentina)
“At those elite clubs, it would be a difficult sell to take an over-performing coach. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t but it’s a fact of life. So what they need to do is concentrate on style of play because the biggest impact a head coach will have on the club is style of play,” he says.
“If a club has one already, they need to be matching otherwise they’re going to have to rip up their entire squad and spend a lot of money building it from scratch.
“We’ve had projects where clubs have known exactly how they play and said: ‘We want to match this style’. That makes it easy for us to filter according to data and find them that person.”
To that end, Steele believes Ten Hag and Pochettino are “good bets” for the club.
“Both play similar styles of football, both play good football and have had success,” he said. But appointing either will not be enough.
What is required is for United to coalesce around a unified vision of style of play, recruitment and approach. Everything, in short, that has been missing recently.