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Home   /   Ralf Rangnick and Thomas Tuchel – the professor and the apprentice
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The announcement of Ralf Rangnick’s appointment as Manchester United interim head coach is imminent with The Athletic breaking the story earlier today.

Thomas Tuchel and his well oiled machine at Chelsea FC have been dominant in the Premier League this season off the back of an impressive Champions League winning campaign earlier this year. Chelsea FC sit top of the Premier League table with a comfortable 3 point cushion between themselves and Manchester City.

Defensively astute and creating chances in abundance, Tuchel has found a balanced formula to gain results at the highest level in England and in Europe.

The German tactical mastermind labelled as ‘The Professor’ had a huge role in the rise of Thomas Tuchel and his coaching career. During Tuchel’s playing career, he made 68 appearances for third tier side SSV Ulm between 1994 and 1998. The pair began their relationship as Rangnick took over as head coach at Ulm in 1997 and overlooked Tuchel’s final days as a professional footballer. Tuchel was left devastated when chronic cartilage damage sustained from a knee injury forced him into early retirement at just 25-years-old.

“It was a dream that crashed and I did not know what to do. It was even painful to go into a stadium and watch games because it did not feel right to not be a part of it.”

Thomas Tuchel recounting his unsuccessful playing career to Chelsea FC’s official website

Rangnick’s coaching path for Tuchel

As one door closed, another opened for Thomas Tuchel. In 2000 during Ralf Rangnick’s tenure as VfB Stuttgart head coach, Tuchel reached out for a coaching role at the club. Rangnick gave Tuchel the opportunity to take over as the head coach of the Under-14 side.

This helping hand from one of Germany’s best was the starting point for Tuchel’s route to the very top. 

He earned his stripes nurturing German talents such as Sami Khedira and Mario Gomez at youth level, before turning his hand to Mainz U19’s in 2008 – winning the U19 Bundesliga at the first time of asking.

Thomas Tuchel’s Stuttgart A-Juniors 2004/05 – Sami Khedira pictured top left

From Mainz to Dortmund in the Bundesliga, Tuchel’s foundations as a coach had clear influence from Rangnick’s high-octane attacking style of coaching. Overachieving massively at Mainz securing a 5th place finish in his second season in charge (2010/11) – Tuchel never conceded to negative football even though his side were clearly lacking in quality.

Speaking to German newspaper die Zeit the Bavarian explained: “There’s definitely a style that’s been attributed to me; pace going forward, attack-minded football.” He went further to define the qualities he wanted his team to have with key preferences of ‘an active playing style’ and ‘bold defending’. It wouldn’t be ambiguous if these quotes were from a well versed 2021 UCL-title-holding Thomas Tuchel. It is clear to see these attributes have been ever-present in how he wants his team to play.

Scoring goals and winning games was the philosophy for Tuchel’s Die Schwarzgelben. Thomas Tuchel never lost a match at home in the Bundesliga during his entire stay at Borussia Dortmund (27 wins, 7 draws, 0 losses) and smashed several club records. One being for the most goals scored in a Bundesliga season in which Dortmund netted 84 times in 2015/16.

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An active playing style – a Rangnick trademark™

Thomas Tuchel is fond of his ideology. Much like fellow German and predecessor at Dortmund, Jurgen Klopp.

Active in all phases of play: creating a multitude of opportunities, strong defending and the press from the front.

In February 1983, Ralf Rangnick was a sixth-division manager at FC Viktoria Backnang when he was inspired by Dynamo Kiev in a friendly match. After having the privilege of playing top teams before, Rangnick understood how his players could get out-witted and beaten by the quality of the opposing side.

However, he always experienced breathing space and periods where his team could play their game.

In the friendly against Kiev, Rangnick saw strategy and pressing tactics like he had never seen before.

“A few minutes in, when the ball had gone out for a throw-in, I had to stop and count their players. Did they have 13 or 14 men on the pitch? Kiev were the first team I had ever come up against who systematically pressed the ball.”

Rangnick on Backnang’s friendly vs Kiev

After this lesson in the early stages of his career, he adapted and developed this style of pressing into the teams he managed. During explaining his philosophy on national television at his time at Ulm, he mentioned the evolution of tactical pressing. His side SSV Ulm produced a different breed of football for the German fans to indulge and Rangnick’s team went on to win the Regionalliga Süd Championship later that season.

The story of Rangnick discovering this type of press leads on to its presence in modern day football. Many football fanatics disagree over the founder of the gegenpress but ‘The Professor’ usually gets a mention in the conversation. Tuchel himself claims Rangnick as an inspiration from his time at the ‘Stuttgart school’ – a term coined from the youth coaching experience at the club.

“He taught me the ball-orientated game, that was formative,”

Back in the big time

Ralf Rangnick taking over as interim head coach of Manchester United is good news for their fans that are desperately waiting for a fresh start after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s departure. Not only Tuchel but a whole network of Rangnick’s previous co-workers have gone on to lead successful coaching careers after working under his philosophy.

Zsolt Low (assistant coach at Chelsea FC), Marco Rose (head coach at Borussia Dortmund) and Markus Gisdol (head coach at Lokomotiv Moscow) are a few names of Rangnick’s previous associates.

But what does this mean for Manchester United?

A seasoned veteran and tactical fundamentalist head coach in Rangnick is what Manchester United need. Turmoil is an overstatement but an immensely poor start to the season requires a coach to steady the ship. Rangnick knows a fair few faces to join his staff and help him in doing so. Solskjaer’s faults and mishaps have been labelled under the umbrella term of ‘inexperience’ and with Rangnick at the wheel, these errors should be erased.

Of course, the question remains to whether the job is too big for Rangnick – who has never experienced coaching in the Premier League in his 38-year managerial career. Mauricio Pochettino tied down to Paris Saint Germain and Zinedine Zidane never looking up for grabs – United turning to a trustworthy interim to search for a top 4 finish may be a smart move come May.

Rangnick might be employed to keep the seat warm for someone else but the potential for him to impress is there for the taking.

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June 2024