Sunday, 16 January 2011

Why Ralf could be the man to lead Liverpool out of Roy's misery

At the time of writing, Roy Hodgson is still manager of Liverpool Football Club.

Unfortunately for Roy, his continued presence is more closely linked to his team’s performances leaving those connected to Liverpool in need of a stiff drink and a period of shut-eye to forget these very real nightmares, than his own success.

By the time that Liverpool walk onto the Old Trafford pitch on Sunday, the feeling is that they will see a different, less frequently rubbed face in their dugout. Whether that face is the same one that will manage the club for the foreseeable is a different matter.

Kenny Dalglish will understandably be cited as a potential replacement, in a temporary capacity at the very least. In a previous article, Mike has outlined the various problems associated with such a move. If he does well, how do you move him out? If he were to be moved out, would fans clamour for Dalglish at the first sign of trouble in the new regime? Dalglish is a great man to have involved in the club but his role within the managerial structure continues to pose questions.

The murmurings from FSG would suggest that they would ideally like to appoint a manager for the long-term who would be capable of working in tandem with their strategy. If this is the case, a little known German could be the way forward.

When Ralf Rangnick quit his post at German side Hoffenheim, most Liverpool fans wouldn’t have noticed. Why would they? A manager of a side who aren’t particularly well publicised quits over a transfer dispute and the Kop is supposed to rise in anticipation? It’s unlikely.

Several informed analysts took a deeper interest in the 52 year old. Although perhaps feeding off the ‘anyone but Roy’ attitude that has grown throughout Hodgson’s reign, the summaries of Rangnick’s credentials from those with a knowledge of German football seemed to promote something more substantial than fantasy.

When looking at the style of Rangnick’s management at Hoffenheim, his methods seem to interlink nicely with FSG’s strategy for Liverpool.

Despite fairly unsuccessful spells at Stuttgart and Schalke, Rangnick’s spell at Hoffenheim was spectacular. Arriving at a third division side based in a German village with a population of just over 3,000, Rangnick utilised the wealth of the club’s billionaire owner to propel Hoffenheim into the Bundesliga. In their first season in Germany’s elite division, Rangnick’s side finished 7th, a position that may have finished higher had it not been for a major injury to striker Vedad Ibišević. This was followed up by an 11th place finish last season, providing two very reasonable finishes for a side that only turned professional in 2007.

With a substantial budget, Rangnick could have built a team in any style that he felt appropriate. Significantly, he opted to play attacking football. A 4-3-3 system with two natural wingers provided a platform upon which to play fluent, quick football. Rangnick’s sides played scintillating football and backed their ability to play the ball on the floor. Although there is no saying that he would adopt the same formation in English football, his mentality is very much offensive. Ian Holloway has showed that attacking football can work in the Premier League. Rangnick would promote a similar style.

Following the negativity of Hodgson, the free-flowing football exhibited by Rangnick’s sides would be a welcome relief. Even if results were not to be immediately in line with the hopes of fans, there would be a greater tolerance if it was clear that the manager’s ideology was an attractive one.

Rangnick is also accredited with a transfer strategy that focuses upon the recruitment of young players with the intention to develop them through first team exposure. What with a youthful recruitment strategy, an eye for a bargain and a desire to play attractive football, comparisons with Arsene Wenger are inevitable. Nicknamed ‘The Football Professor’ – reportedly due to his tactical explanations using only a blackboard on German TV – Rangnick should expect this. However, such comparisons are not to be taken lightly. Wenger is a manager who has succeeded in English football to the highest degree. If Rangnick offers potential to do the same, he could be a shrewd appointment.

The usual concerns when appointing a foreign manager often regard communication. Having studied in England in his youth, Rangnick has no such problems. A fluent footballing style and the ability to convey it to his players would mark the German out as an impressive candidate. The fact that his agent has already stated his client’s interest in the Liverpool job, were it to become available as it surely will, highlights an ambitious streak that must appeal to the Anfield hierarchy.

FSG are seeking to rebuild Liverpool both on and off the pitch in order challenge at the top in the years to come. If they are looking for a manager to build a squad with potential to develop, obtaining value for money and providing football that the fans will enjoy, they could do a lot worse than to employ Ralf Rangnick.

Although there will be demand for a Dalglish return or the hiring of a ‘big name’ manager, Rangnick provides a feasible alternative. It is easy to see ways in which Rangnick and FSG could be compatible. If John Henry and his team see Rangnick in the same way, Liverpool’s future will be an exciting development.

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