Inside Ralf Rangnick’s chaotic rise to Man United boss – burnout, touchline scuffles, divorce & row with Playboy

MANCHESTER United fans are in for a rollercoaster ride with new boss Ralf Rangnick if his past escapades are anything to go by.

The 63-year-old German, who is replacing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at the helm, has fallen out with star players, referees, management – and even his childhood sweetheart.

Rangnick has been hired as an “interim” manager, but if he brings the club the success they so desperately crave he could stay on beyond the end of the season.

Even if he does start winning there is a risk the so-called "tactical genius" could suffer another burnout.

The man credited with inspiring Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp and Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel has a reputation for not sticking with clubs.

Six months into his job as head coach at Schalke in 2011 – having resigned from TSG Hoffenheim after reportedly clashing with owner Dietmar Hopp – Rangnick quit due to extreme burnout syndrome.

He then took a 10-month sabbatical before lining up a role as sports director at Red Bull Salzburg.

Five years ago – by which point Rangnick was sports director at RB Leipzig – rival fans put up a poster which read "Ey, Ralf we're eagerly awaiting your next burnout.” 

Around the same time he was secretly suffering from marital heartache.

Rangnick split with wife Gabriela – his childhood sweetheart whom he'd met at school when he was just 17 – in 2017.

The couple were together for over 40 years, share two grown-up sons, Kevin and David, and seemed to have the perfect relationship.

News of their separation was only made public a year later, with Rangnick insisting no one else was involved and it was amicable.

The former couple even bought a house together in Mallorca for the family to use at the end of 2017.

Rangnick said: "Each of us deserves the chance of a new life and a new partner. Gaby and I have known each other for 42 years. She was 15 and I was 17 when we met at school.”

Playboy row

Rangnick's famously closed about his personal life. In 2018, an interview with him was due to appear in Playboy Germany, but it was pulled after his agent cut it extensively – the first time the magazine decided not to print an authorised article.

Rangnick acknowledged the fact it had been heavily edited, arguing the interview went off topic.

He said: "I should have got up after half an hour and said, 'You know what, we don't need to do an interview like that with Playboy.' We had agreed other things in advance."

While he and his wife parted on good terms, the same can't be said of Rangnick when it comes to the majority of his ex-clubs – and on occasion his players.

Man Utd’s prima donna stars had better curtail their bling lifestyles if they want to get on the right side of the disciplinarian.

Last year he blasted his RB Leipzig players after they flew in a top British barber, Sheldon Edwards, to cut their hair – before they lost a game 2-0. 

Rangnick said he was "stunned", adding: "That is decadent and not a far cry from a golden steak."

That is decadent and not a far cry from a golden steak

Record signing Paul Pobga, who changes his hairstyle almost as often as he changes his shirt, has been warned.

Premiership referees won’t get an easy ride, either. 

In echoes of Sir Alex Ferguson, Rangnick makes his feelings clear to the men in the middle.

Touchline scuffle

In 2017 he was fuming when his Leipzig side were denied a penalty during a cup clash with Bayern Munich.

At the half-time whistle he stormed from the VIP stand towards the referee team around Felix Zwayer, brandishing his phone to show video evidence it was the wrong decision.

It angered Bayern star Mats Hummels and a scuffle ensued between the pair, who were eventually separated by Bayern goalkeeper Sven Ulreich.

While Solskjaer was known for his mild-mannered approach, Rangnick does not shy away from making his feelings known.

The first signs of his temperamental tendencies appeared in 1996 when he quit amateur side SSV Reutlingen after falling out with management.

Rangnick was then accused at VfB Stuttgart of overzealously trying to convey his ideas and concepts to the club.

In particular, the suspension of the player Krassimir Balakow in autumn 2000 attracted a lot of flak.

At Hannover 96 he repeatedly clashed with president Martin Kind and sporting director Ricardo Moar.

During his first stint at FC Schalke 04 he fell out with the club's general manager, Rudi Assauer.

Despite his position becoming untenable, in December 2005, before a game against Mainz, he set off on his own lap of honour around the stadium – infuriating the board who sacked him the next day.

Tough upbringing

Born in 1958 in Backnang, a Swabian part of Germany, Rangnick didn't have the easiest start in life.

He said: “I come from a refugee family. My parents met in Saxony in 1945/46. My mother had just come from Breslau [Poland], my father from Königsberg, before the cities were destroyed by the Allies. 

“We had nothing. I earned my own money and used it to finance my studies. From the age of 18, I basically no longer burdened my parents financially. Apart from that, this teacher/coach gene crystallised in me early on.”

Fears of failure and sleep disorders shaped his childhood, and have made him sensitive when dealing with his players' personal issues.

Rangnick said that a serious illness of his mother was decisive: "I had to take on responsibility early in my life, was already in a kind of adult role as a child.

"I was an only child, my father went to work in the morning and often gave me the message, 'Please take good care of mum'.”

Since then Rangnick has put people and family first: "If I find a player has big personal problems or is urgently needed at home, that takes priority."

I was an only child, my father went to work in the morning and often gave me the message, 'Please take good care of mum'

In 1977 Ralf studied to be a teacher of sport and English at Stuttgart University.

During a study trip to the University of Sussex in England, he played amateur football for the West Sussex club FC Southwick in the 1979/80 season which proved to be a painful experience.

Rangnick recalled that during his second game: “I had direct experience of being tackled from behind.

“I broke three ribs and one of them punctured my lung. I was in hospital for three weeks in Chichester on a ward with 60, 70, 80 year olds and I was out of action for four months.”

He took a very academic approach to coaching and was nicknamed the “professor” after using a blackboard to explain his tactics during an appearance in the ZDF sports studio in 1998.

Rangnick is considered to be the pioneer of counter-pressing – the fast-paced, quick-thinking control game that has made it all the way to the Premier League and into the English vocabulary thanks to Klopp, also a native Swabian.

Rangnick himself speaks more of the "rock 'n' roll football" he wants to play, a term used by the Liverpool manager. 

He devotes much of his spare time to analysing games, often sitting for hours watching back footage or discussing tactics with coaching staff over a glass of wine.

That tough work ethic could spell problems for United’s rivals.

Just as long as Rangnick doesn’t put so many hours in that he burns himself out again.

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