Ralf Rangnick Is Soccer’s Most Intriguing Free Agent

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Ralf Rangnick Is Soccer's Most Intriguing Free Agent

Although the German relationship with Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig, the teams with which Rangnick is most closely connected, is still unsettled, no one holds his lack of career against him. “If you look at the Bundesliga, the vast majority of coaches didn’t play at the highest level,” he said.

However, despite his justification, he has little desire to cast a sense of fate into his story. The way he tells it, his ascent is shaped by chance. There was the day when he as a player won the man of the game in a game in which he only marked the opponent’s star. “I was wondering,” he said, “what did you actually do today, besides spoiling it for him?”

There was a time when the amateur team he was coaching was asked to play a friendly against Valery Lobanovsky’s Dynamo Kyiv. “I was sure that I had made a mistake, that I had named one player less,” said Rangnick. “Because it seemed to me that they definitely had more people on the pitch.”

And at the end of the 1990s Germany made the decision to invest heavily in its youth system, combined with its failure on the international stage at the European Championships in 2000, which created the conditions under which its football brand – and coach without illustrious background – could thrive.

This interpretation of his own story is important when it comes to considering the future of the game he helped create. It is possible to read the history of football as a battle of ideas in which any strategy that gains importance is sooner or later first neutralized and then countered by a new one.

Or it is also possible – like Rangnick – to see it less as a history of conflicts between systems and more as a history of the community between them. For him, he simply built on the work of Arrigo Sacchi, the great manager of AC Milan, and Lobanovsky.

What comes next will not turn the orthodoxy he helped build upside down in his head, but build on it. He is particularly fascinated by the way teams use set pieces. A third of the goals come from corners, free kicks and throw-ins, he said. Yet a third of the training time is not devoted to their practice. He doesn’t think the urgent era is the end of the story. It’s just another beginning.