Cristiano Ronaldo didn't know who Ralf Rangnick was but Austria's coach has restored his reputation

Thu, Jun 27, 2024
Soccer News (AP)

Cristiano Ronaldo didn't know who Ralf Rangnick was but Austria's coach has restored his reputation

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) - Cristiano Ronaldo said he'd never heard of him and Manchester United fans have few fond memories of his short-lived spell as manager of the Premier League club.

But Ralf Rangnick is rewriting his legacy at Euro 2024 with his Austria team emerging as one of the surprise packages of the tournament.

Topping a group that included France and the Netherlands, the Austrians have announced themselves as contenders for the European Championship and advanced to knockout phase on the opposite side of the draw to Spain, Germany, France and Portugal.

Not bad for a coach whose previously solid reputation took a hit after an unsuccessful six months as interim manager of United through 2021-22, which included a run of just three wins from his last 14 games and heavy losses to Manchester City, Liverpool and Brighton.

"This guy is not even a coach," Ronaldo said in his explosive interview with Piers Morgan in November 2022. "If you are not even a coach, how are you going to be the boss of Manchester United?"

While Rangnick's previous job had been head of sports and development at Russian club Lokomotiv Moscow, his coaching credentials had been long-established in Germany, where he earned the nickname the "Professor".

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So effective was Rangnick's brand of soccer - dubbed "gegenpressing" (counter pressing) - that it was widely-regarded as having influenced a generation of German coaches including Jurgen Klopp, Julian Nagelsmann and Thomas Tuchel.

"He had a huge influence on all of us at this time," Tuchel has said, having played under Rangnick earlier in his career.

Rangnick's success has largely been with smaller clubs, winning promotions with Hannover, Hoffenheim and Leipzig.

Perhaps it is no surprise then that he is excelling with an Austrian team which wasn't considered among the favorites leading up to the Euros. But the signs of his impact were clear during the qualifiers as Austria booked its place at the Euros as runner-up and one point behind No. 3-ranked Belgium.

"You can see a clear development since the coach joined the team," midfielder Marcel Sabitzer said.

Bayern Munich clearly shared that opinion when targeting him as a successor to Tuchel at the end of the season. Rangnick opted to stay on at Austria and has only enhanced his reputation at the Euros.

While his team suffered defeat to France in its opening game, the 1-0 loss was only curtesy of an own goal. Austria then recovered to beat Poland 3-1 and the Netherlands 3-2. That's earned Rangnick's side a meeting with Turkey in the round of 16 on July 2.

"It's incredible to finish top of the group that was the hardest possible based on UEFA coefficients," Rangnick said. "We started with an unlucky own goal against France, dealt with all the pressure put on us to win against Poland, and then to end as group winners is something very special."

As well as his coaching career, Rangnick also has a reputation for his work as an executive, having identified numerous emerging players and coaches during his time as sporting director of Leipzig.

United had planned to keep him on as a consultant at the end of his spell as interim manager and tap into his soccer expertise.

It would have been fascinating to see what sort of an impact he would have had at the 20-time English league champion after saying the team needed an "open heart operation" and as many as 10 new players.

Ultimately plans for the consultancy role were scrapped after Rangnick accepted the Austria job in '22.

He hasn't looked back since.

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James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson

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AP Euro 2024: https://apnews.com/hub/euro-2024

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