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OH, please let there be a lap of honour at Old Trafford in the early hours. Let them clap empty seats, pretending that someone in a Manchester United jersey is still present (which they’ll probably have to do with Paul Pogba anyway).
Even the name is a misnomer. There’s no honour among teams fighting for sixth place. So it’ll be a lap of appreciation after the Brentford game, the last one at home, ending the most entertaining pantomime since fellow Lancastrian Sir Ian McKellen played Widow Twankey.
For the uninitiated, Widow Twankey is a pantomime dame, a camp, over-the-top character, with a heavy emphasis on hair and costume, but very little substance. The Theatre of Dreams has been blessed with so many Widow Twankeys this season.
And in the small hours, they’ll plod around a gloomy stadium. Leading the most unwanted walk of shame since Cersei Lannister was stripped naked and paraded through King’s Landing will be a beaming Ralf Rangnick, waving to half-empty stands like a giddy toddler on school sports day.
Has there ever been a more inept, unsuccessful and yet strangely defiant coach in the English Premier League than the baffling German? Even now, near the end of his brief, disastrous reign, it’s still hard to ascertain if he’s simply incompetent or a psychological genius, less a manager and more of a Machiavellian trickster.
Rangnick’s Red Dilettantes have comically underperformed for months, a strangely hypnotic spectacle, like watching the Royal Shakespeare Company acting out one of the Ah Boys to Men sequels every weekend. It’s obviously awful. But we keep watching for the car crash value.
The 63-year-old has managed only 10 wins in 26 matches – the worst record in his 37-year career. Should United drop any more points in the final three games, they’ll finish with their lowest total in English Premier League history.
Rangnick has achieved a single victory in his last seven matches. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer cobbled two wins in his last seven matches, but was fired anyway.
But it doesn’t matter for the gilded Rangnick, the only football manager hired not to be a manager, but to compile a dossier, a near mythical document that should eventually be leather-bound and placed alongside the Magna Carta and the New Book of Tang, such is its apparent value.
When Erik ten Hag eventually opens this masterpiece, it’d better glow like Vincent Vega’s briefcase in "Pulp Fiction" or we’ll all be disappointed.
Most managers, regular mortal types, are hired to do "The Job". Rangnick was hired to do "The Dossier". Apparently, this dossier is a cerebral document beyond our tiny minds to assess all that is wrong with United (everything), what needs to be changed (the owners), which players should stay (David de Gea), which players should not stay (anyone not called David de Gea perhaps), what infrastructure is required (a rebuilt stadium, a new training ground and a retirement home for Phil Jones) and a tactical template that doesn’t feel like a blindfolded manager playing pin the donkey.
Apparently, this dossier is so profound that it requires the impregnable Thor Rangnick to stay on as a consultant even after he becomes the national manager of Austria, where the football association presumably hasn’t watched United’s defeats by Arsenal, Liverpool, Everton, Manchester City and Wolves.
But be warned. This dossier is horrific reading, the last will and testament of a dying club. How do we know this? Because Rangnick keeps telling us how bad things are, after every hopeless draw against the likes of Watford and Burnley.
There’s no discernible pattern of play, no structure, no physicality or collective enthusiasm and no indication whatsoever to suggest that Manchester United are being managed in any coherent way, according to the manager of Manchester United.
For some, this is a brave, outspoken example of speaking truth to power, a United manager finally telling it how it is, savaging those overpaid lightweights on the pitch and ridiculing the scouting halfwits in the boardroom.
To anyone else, Rangnick has the air of a conceited fireman, standing outside a blazing building, leaning on his firehose, and lambasting the flammable materials as another neglected storey collapses behind him.
Rangnick has the air of a conceited fireman, standing outside a blazing building, leaning on his firehose, and lambasting the flammable materials as another neglected storey collapses behind him.
Even Gary Neville appears on board with the rhetoric. According to the United pundit, Rangnick’s two-year consultancy was an "information gathering" mission, putting the aforementioned dossier together on the good, the bad and the Pogba.
Remember football managers? They’re so 2020. The Red Devils are in the spy business now.
While Manchester City are lumbered with Pep Guardiola and Liverpool are stuck with Jurgen Klopp, United got James Bond, double oh heck, licensed to kill any chance of Champions League football.
After 21 games in the English Premier League, Rangnick has won only nine, drawn seven and lost five, ending up with a points per game average (1.54) that’s only marginally better than Solskjaer’s numbers (1.41). He has written off the season, the players and the club and yet largely escapes censure because he echoes supporters’ frustrations.
Curiously, Rangnick’s tactics are little different to those planning to boycott the last 17 minutes of the Brentford game to mark 17 years of Glazer ownership. Criticise the status quo. Savage the incumbents. Blame a toxic culture.
But fans can’t address those problems. Rangnick can. And he hasn’t even come close.
If he really was hired to surreptitiously spy on the dysfunctional club on behalf of his eventual successor, then United ended up with Austin Powers.
Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 26 books.
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