Ralf Rangnick’s revolution at Manchester United is barely a month old yet his fingerprints can already be seen wherever you look at the club.
Two Premier League matches and a week of training may have fallen victim to a coronavirus outbreak, but not a second has been wasted in the hands of Rangnick. Areas of improvement have been pinpointed; swift and decisive decisions have followed.
One of Rangnick’s first acts was to bring a sports psychologist to Old Trafford, with Sascha Lense, a close confidant during his tenure at RB Leipzig, joining United’s backroom staff.
Lense’s appointment threw up a number of pertinent questions, from the benefits of employing a sports psychologist, and the overall objective, to the willingness or reluctance of players to get involved.
But above all else, the burning question is why wasn’t a sports psychologist – a position of unquantifiable importance to Rangnick and one he predicts will be commonplace across all sports in the near future – in situ at Manchester United in the first place?
Monday 27th December 7:00pm
“I wouldn’t say I was surprised,” Rangnick exclusively told Sky Sports. “I know from Germany there are quite a few clubs who do not work with a sports psychologist. But, for me, it is absolutely logical.
“Every club has different experts for goalkeeping, for physical performance, for different areas of the field – defence, midfield, offence. The team of experts at some teams is probably bigger than the number of players in a squad.
Man Utd results under Rangnick
“If you then consider the brain, the head, the way players, staff members or coaches think is the most relevant one, then for me it is only logical to have the best possible expert from that area in your staff.
“This is what it’s all about, to help the players think the right things and not think the wrong things. To develop players, the brain should help the body perform at the highest possible level.
“This is part of the jigsaw, of the puzzle. It’s important any top club, and Manchester United is one of the biggest clubs in the world – have the best possible people, and they should at least have all those little pieces available.
“It shouldn’t be the case that in certain areas we don’t have anyone. I strongly believe that every club in the future should have someone in this department.”
It would be disingenuous to pin Manchester United’s misgivings under Rangnick’s predecessor, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, or in the entire post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, on the absence of a sports psychologist at Old Trafford, but for it be overlooked, especially in this day and age, suggests a lack of foresight on the part of previous regimes.
While this appointment isn’t going to turn United into title contenders overnight, what it does do is provide Rangnick’s players with the tools to shoulder the lofty expectations that come with playing at one of the biggest clubs in the world, and focuses, first and foremost, on the personal rather than the professional.
“Players at this level are under pressure to deliver and perform at the highest possible level,” Rangnick added. “At times they might need help and might need somebody to speak to.
“That should not always only be the manager or head coach. It’s important for the players to know there is a neutral person, an expert, to whom they can address in situations where they might need a helping hand, or even somebody to just listen to them.
“In Germany, we had the case of Robert Enke, who committed suicide when he was still the German national team goalkeeper. If you look at this aspect of the game, it’s important to have somebody in your staff.”
As for Lense himself, the 43-year-old has settled in as much as feasibly possible at United’s Carrington training complex, which has only just reopened after being closed down for eight days due to a Covid outbreak.
“Sascha watches every training session, he’s part of every meeting, he’s part of the staff and he speaks regularly with players,” Rangnick explains.
“Of course, it is not obligatory, we do not force players to speak to Sascha, but they know he’s there. He’s a smart and decent guy, and he’s top in his job, I know that because we worked together at Leipzig for three years. The players will find that out very soon, if they haven’t already.”
Rangnick’s sentiment about Lense could quite easily be applied to his tenure at Manchester United.
The first footsteps have been taken and a long road of discovery lies ahead, but his early moves in the Manchester United hotseat speak of a manager with a firm grasp of the bigger picture, if we hadn’t realised that already.
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