Man United players were ‘difficult’ for Ralf Rangnick to ‘sort out’, says Mike Phelan – as former assistant coach questions why club appointed the German as caretaker boss

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Mike Phelan thinks it was ‘difficult’ for Ralf Rangnick to ‘sort out the players’ at Manchester United – and questions why the club appointed a caretaker manager rather than a permanent one. 

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Once Alex Ferguson’s trusty assistant, he was part of the coaching staff under Rangnick – one of the few constants during a tempestuous six months for the club.

While United’s appointment of Rangnick on a short-term basis in December 2021 has long been criticised for a lack of clarity and direction, few characters so close to the club have spoken so honestly about the situation – barring Cristiano Ronaldo. 

Whereas Ronaldo hit out in a Piers Morgan interview saying he hadn’t even heard of Rangnick, Phelan insists he ‘respects’ Rangnick and paid tribute to his hard work. 

‘I thought it was difficult. Not difficult from the point of Ralf being the manager, but the circumstances of him being the manager. It wasn’t easy with it because Manchester United – does it need a caretaker manager?’ he said in an interview with Sky Sports. 

Mike Phelan (pictured) says Ralf Rangnick had a 'difficult' situation at Manchester United and questions why the club appointed somebody on a short-term basis

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Mike Phelan (pictured) says Ralf Rangnick had a ‘difficult’ situation at Manchester United and questions why the club appointed somebody on a short-term basis

Rangnick endured a tricky six months at Old Trafford after replacing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Rangnick endured a tricky six months at Old Trafford after replacing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer 

‘It needs a proper manager – and I’m not saying Ralf wasn’t a proper manager, but he came in under this caretaker role having been one at a smaller club. I always thought it would be difficult for him to establish momentum, to sort out the players in a short space of time.’

Rangnick had previously served in multiple managerial roles at big German clubs but but was more noted for behind-the-scenes roles in the years before joining United.

He was appointed as ‘manager of sports and development’ at Lokomotiv Moscow after resigning from Red Bull, but later in 2021 joined United.

After his short-term managerial stint, he was supposed to stay on in an undefined ‘consultant’ role, though he does not fulfil that now due to managing the Austrian national team. 

Phelan said: ‘I don’t know what conversations he had to get the role but he tried really hard. It didn’t work out in the interest of both parties.

‘He was fantastic as a guy in the environment he was in before becoming manager – he does that director of football role really well, he was successful at that. Coming in as a manager, he had done that role before, but he was stepping into something turbulent.

Cristiano Ronaldo expressed disappointment at Rangnick's appointment in an interview with piers Morgan, saying 'this guy is not even a coach'

Cristiano Ronaldo expressed disappointment at Rangnick’s appointment in an interview with piers Morgan, saying ‘this guy is not even a coach’ 

Rangnick's reputation in Germany is much better, as he managed a number of high-profile outfits there and brought about success through innovation

Rangnick’s reputation in Germany is much better, as he managed a number of high-profile outfits there and brought about success through innovation 

‘I have a lot of respect for Ralf, it was a difficult position to take on. But he really did try and worked immensely hard. He had his frustrations along the way, as a lot of us did. But he’s back in the international game and he seems to be doing really well. And I’m pleased.’

Rangnick’s stint at United was widely perceived to be a failure after he took over from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, as he won just 11 of 31 games as the club went on to record their worst points total in the Premier League era. 

However, he inherited an extremely difficult situation both on and off the pitch, and is still regarded as hugely influential by football insiders, often credited for developing the Gegenpressing system which Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel have found success with.  

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