Back when he was co-writing coaching manuals, Ralf Rangnick was sent videos of the great AC Milan side of Arrigo Sacchi.
He studied the Rossoneri’s pressing and positioning intensely.
Too intensely, in fact, as his VCR broke down because the tapes were being paused and rewound so much.
Three decades on, Rangnick now finds himself in a similar situation to Sacchi, with news of his move to Milan having been greeted with suspicion and scepticism.
Rossoneri striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic even asked in an interview with the Gazzetta dello Sport, “Who is Rangnick? I don’t even know he is!”
There are two key differences, though, beetween Rangick’s arrival and that of Sacchi.
Firstly, when Sacchi took charge of Milan in 1987, he inherited a squad that already contained Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Mauro Tassotti and Roberto Donadoni and was then strengthened that very summer by Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten.
After convincing the players of the genius of his revolutionary approach to the game, which was founded on a high defensive line with a tight offside trap and compressing the field of play to put intense pressure on opponents, Sacchi won the Scudetto in his first season at San Siro before going on to claim back-to-back European Cups with one of the finest sides the club game has ever seen.
Nobody is expecting Rangnick to have transformed Milan into European champions by the end of the three-year contract he has just agreed with the Serie A side. The current squad just isn’t comparable.
However, Rangnick is under arguably even more pressure than Sacchi because of the other key difference between their respective starts at San Siro.
Unlike Sacchi, Rangnick will effectively be handed the keys to the club.
When former Germany and Inter full-back Andreas Brehme was asked about his compatriot’s imminent arrival in Milan back in May, he told the Gazzetta: “We also need to see which role he’ll fill. Rangnick must choose: will he be a technical director or coach?”
He will be both and, maybe even more. According to widespread reports in Italy, Rangnick will be responsible for coaching the first team, scouting and signing players, the club’s medical department, and various other roles.
In short, he will have total control.
It is an unprecedented move; one which has already caused no end of controversy. And Rangnick must take some responsibility in that regard.
It was he who confirmed on May 3 that Milan had approached him before the coronavirus-enforced suspension of football. Unsurprisingly, his comments were not well received by the club’s current technical director, Paolo Maldini.
“I have some advice for him,” the Rossoneri legend told ANSA. “Before learning Italian, he should review the general concepts of respect, as there are colleagues here who, despite the many difficulties of the moment, are trying to finish the season in a professional way, putting the good of Milan to their professional pride.”
Maldini made a fair point. Rangnick really should have maintained a dignified silence until his arrival was made official or at least until it had been communicated to Maldini and current coach Stefano Pioli.
After all, the decision to move for Rangnick had already prompted the resignation of Zvonimir Boban, who had effectively been running the sporting side of the club with Maldini.
“The worst part is that this destabilising event is happening during a moment when the team is improving and you can see Stefano Pioli’s hard work,” the Croat told the Gazzetta in March.
“Not even warning us was disrespectful and inelegant. It was not the Milan style. At least not what we remembered the Milan style as being.”
By that stage, Boban had already made his disgust known to CEO Ivan Gazidis and parted company with the club just a few days later.
Maldini is now expected to follow suit, having been informed by Gazidis last week that Rangnick would effectively take the legendary defender’s job.
The former Italy international has been offered an ambassadorial role but given he has refused such positions in the past, it now seems likely that Maldini will leave Milan.
There are plenty of people who think the former captain has been poorly treated, and not just because he is such a likeable character.
The work he had done since returning to the club as a technical director is arguably just starting to pay off.
Maldini and Boban were rightly criticised for the disaster that was the tenure of Marco Giampaolo, whom they had to sack after just seven matches of the 2019-20 campaign.
However, their chosen successor, Pioli, has done a remarkable job, taking Milan from 12th in the Serie A standings to fifth at the time of writing. Indeed, Pioli’s Milan have beaten second-placed Lazio and leaders Juventus in their last two games, scoring a sensational seven times in the process.
Consequently, some fans are now demanding to know why Gazidis moved for Rangnick, given Pioli was doing such a good job with a squad that Maldini and Boban had undoubtedly improved with the low-cost signings of Theo Hernandez, Ismael Bennacer, Simon Kjaer and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
It is amid this backdrop of acrimony that Rangnick will take on the biggest and most difficult role of his career to date. Luckily, he does have some experience in bringing calm to chaotic environments. Continue reading