FRIDAY'S BIG STORIES

You Rangnick?

To Manchester United's many crimes we can now add the following: ruining a perfectly good day of Europa football. There we were, all ready to pay attention to [checks notes] "Tottenham Hotspur", and bang! The noisiest club in the world has a new manager. A new interim manager. Almost.
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It's going to be Ralf Rangnick, according to all the sensible papers. A bit of sorting to do with his current employer, Lokomotiv Moscow, but nobody's worried about that. (When have Manchester United ever cocked up a done deal?) And then he'll take charge of the dugout for the rest of the season, before moving upstairs into a consultancy gig.
Assuming it happens, it's all very, very strange. That's not a comment on Rangnick's qualities, manager-wise or consultant-wise. Plenty of people far cleverer than the Warm-Up are convinced of those, and we're not going to argue. What's strange is that Manchester United, after years of corporate inertia, seem to be learning from their mistakes? Seem to be — you may want to sit down here — thinking about the future?
This is, let's be clear, almost certainly the most interesting thing United could have done in this situation. This isn't just "We need a safe pair of hands for the rest of the campaign". Rangnick is the guy you get in when you want to entirely rewire a football club from top to bottom. It's as if United's boardroom have realised, after several years of intense conversations about precisely where on this tractor the club crest should go, that nobody in the room has any idea about, you know, the sport.
As with any managerial appointment, the mind naturally walks over to the imaginary whiteboard and uncaps the imaginary pen. What's the team going to look like? Who's going to be in? Who's out? Given that Rangnick is the high priest of intense counter-pressing, and is on the record as saying that young players are easier to work with, you have to assume that this is good news for United's stockpiles of bright-eyed and eager youngsters. The Jadon Sancho/Mason Greenwood/Marcus Rashford/Amad Diallo era begins now.
Which means, consequently, that it's very odd news for Cristiano Ronaldo. The Warm-Up can't have been alone in assuming that the interim manager would be, essentially, a Ronaldo whisperer, brought in to keep Ronaldo smiling and scoring and strop-free until the end of the season. See if that will get the team back into the top four, then see where to go from there.
In fact, perhaps that's the best way to think about this appointment, about it's fundamental weirdness. Rewind a day or two and ask yourself: given everything you think you know about Manchester United, will they appoint the best manager for Cristiano Ronaldo, or the best coach for Jadon Sancho?
Maybe that's unfair. (It's not.) Playing the kids is, after all, more or less the only part of the famous Manchester United DNA that anybody's been able to sequence. Thomas Tuchel, who was given his first coaching job by Rangnick, has been all sorts of impressive at Chelsea, but we're betting the ease with which Chelsea's youngsters have progressed into the first team has made a particular impression at United.
It can be hard to remember, given the ending, but the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjær was a resounding success ... to begin with. United were looking for somebody to come in and pull back the curtains, open the windows, let out the toxic fug that had been building up under José Mourinho. Not literally. The mistake was in assuming that this clean-up job could somehow be transformed, via the power of wishing really really hard, into something long-term. That the caretaker could become the architect. Those are two very different jobs.
Or, to put it another way, it's not that every decision made by United's hierarchy is bad in itself. It's just that they get easily distracted by shiny things. The reports are that Rangnick, when negotiating with United, insisted that his consultancy role come with some actual power, which suggests that he, at least, is aware of the need to think beyond the short-term and the oh, hey, he seems nice, let's give him a three-year contract.
Back to the imagination. The ideal outcome for this is, presumably, that Rangnick is able to inculcate this squad into the mysteries of gegenpressing over the next six months. At least the basics. Then he moves upstairs and a sympathetic coach comes in to continue that work, while he retools the rest of the club into an organisation that produces and purchases players for that system, or whatever new refinements of that system we're dealing with by then. And in the end United come out looking something like Borussia Dortmund but, crucially, with the money to keep all their players. And to buy Borussia Dortmund's as well.
That sounds positively magical. In fact it sounds, if you'll forgive us getting carried away for a moment, quite a lot like the "Come in and sort this club out" job that Matt Busby signed up for all those years ago, given a new spin for this world of half-spaces and superclubs. But it also sounds entirely incompatible with everything United have been since Alex Ferguson left, or maybe even since the Glazers moved in: this cynical and twitchy exercise in brand-centred nostalgia-fracking.
Something's got to give somewhere, and whether it works or collapses in a heap of recrimination, it's going to be fascinating to watch. In the meantime, let's see how this "Tottenham" got on last night. Hmm, they appear to have forgotten to put the final score on this full-time tweet. How mysterious.

Outfoxed

Are Leicester City officially In Crisis? We're saying: not yet. But they are certainly crisis-interested, perhaps even crisis-adjacent. But any team in this position wants to see one thing, and one thing only: an opponent that's having an even worse time of it.
Enter Legia Warsaw! Where Leicester are 12th in the Premier League, after last season's fifth place finish, Legia, the defending Polish champions, are languishing in 17th place. That's relegation trouble. That's completely bizarre.
Or so we thought, until the game started, at which point it became pretty clear that Legia simply cannot defend. A moment's pinball, and Patson Daka was through and all alone. One-nil. A corner, and off goes the goalkeeper, and there goes the ball, and the former is nowhere near the latter. Three-one.
By far the most organised thing about Legia was the supporters, who progressed smoothly from flares to fighting and will now presumably move on to fines and stadium closures. As for Leicester, it would be a stretch to say they controlled this game, but James Maddison's performance suggested that he's getting back to something like his best.
Legia's collapse in form may bode poorly for their season, but it's done all sorts of interesting things to Group C. Leicester are now top but have the hardest final fixture, away at Napoli, with the Italians and Spartak Moscow just one point behind. Any of the four can go through; any can go out. The Europa League. It's a wonderful thing.

HAT TIP 1

A new managerial appointment means new long reads, and who better to turn to than the UK media's foremost explainer of German football, Raphael Honigstein of the Athletic. It's all here: telling anecdotes from Rangnick's early adventures, chance encounters of great importance, admiring quotes from important contemporaries. Liquid long read.
After he was released by SSV Ulm 1846 at the age of 25, Rangnick turned out for his home town side FC Viktoria Backnang as player-manager. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say he took over the running of the first team. "My father [a newspaper layout editor] and I published the stadium program. I put tape straps on players because I knew a bit about medicine from my studies. I once threw a crate of beer out of the dressing room to make a point, banned smoking within two hours of a game and introduced warm-downs.

HAT TIP 2

Tracey Crouch MP's report on the future of English football landed yesterday, and has generated almost as much conversation as the United manager job. We particularly liked this piece from Football365's Ian King, which balances optimism and critique, and treats Christian Purslow's comments with the contempt they deserve.
The response from the Premier League has been lukewarm, but this was to be expected. They are, after all, the apex predators of English football, and why would anyone sitting atop the food chain see anything particularly wrong with the laws of the jungle? It should be expected that there will be significant lobbying to water down these proposals, but the fact that it hasn’t already been dismissed out of hand is notable. This is a level of intervention that will make even the biggest clubs sit up and take notice.

RETRO CORNER

One goal for each year of Zlatan Ibrahimović's career. What a lovely idea. And what a joy to watch his haircut develop from the loose, devil-may-care floppiness of his youth, to today's tightly controlled, ultra-professional ponytail. Some of the goals are quite nice too.

COMING UP

Get your weekend started with West Brom against Nottingham Forest, or Colchester United against Newport County. Or don't. We're not the boss of you. Run free!
As long as you're back here for Monday, when Tom Adams will bring you news of what could be Michael Carrick's last game as Manchester United's interim to the interim.
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