What we know now is that Milan have reportedly struck a deal with former RB Leipzig manager Ralf Rangnick, labelled the ‘professor’ by football’s high and mighty in the Bundesliga.
Yet, what may not be so evident is the implicit link he already has with the club which stems from as far back in time as the 1980’s.
The unlikely attachment originates from Rangnick’s relationship with construction engineer Helmut Gross, someone who built bridges during the day before managing amateur football teams in the evenings. This has parallels to the background of Rangnick himself.
The pair met in the late 80’s around the time that Gross, who was the first to utter the words of zonal marking, took charge of VfB Stuttgart’s youth department. They both became besotted with Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan side of Dutch trio Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard and the impermeable defence of Baresi, Costacurta, Tassotti and Maldini.
During this period where Milan dominated the world, winning back to back European Cups after earning their first Serie A title for nine years, and Rangnick and Gross found themselves sat around the most expensive video player they could lay their hands on. They watched Milan games over and over again, feeling the frustration as their machines wore out time after time.
Via the glare of the video players and Gross’ influence, Rangnick began to build his own philosophy. Much like Sacchi, he was a ‘failed’ professional footballer, plying his trade for a string of lowly clubs. Perhaps he took solace in Sacchi’s words to those who doubted his management due to his lack of playing honours: “I never realised that in order to become a jockey, you have to have been a horse first.”
His philosophy consisted of the whole team shifting towards the ball when out of possession, this gained him recognition when he was in the early stages of his managerial career in Regionalliga Sud when he steered the ships of Reutlingen and Ulm respectively.
With the latter, he guided them to the 2. Bundesliga in his first full season in charge where he soon had Ulm mounting a push towards the German top-flight, earning him the title of ‘professor’ before Rangnick signed a deal to move to VfB Stuttgart, which soured relations with Ulm.
Ralf Rangnick talking about the methods he uses in training & “The 8 seconds rule” pic.twitter.com/gkQgyxuCiD
— Karim (@Futball_Karim) March 5, 2020
His time at the Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion did not prove as successful as he would have hoped. His gegenpressing style, most notably adopted by Jürgen Klopp, saw Stuttgart sat in 17th place when he was sacked.
The Backnang-born coach then had spells at Hannover 96 and a successful albeit brief stint with Schalke 04 before finding somewhat more of a permanent residence at 1899 Hoffenheim starting in June 2006.
Again, his technical yet so simple ideas had Hoffenheim flying, winning promotion to the 2. Bundesliga for the first time in the club’s history before securing back-to-back promotions. The professor was back at the elite level once more.
The Achtzehn99 faithful then witnessed an incredible opening half of their maiden season in the Bundesliga where they racked up 35 points in just 17 games, ensuring their safety early on. The second half of the campaign was less exceptional picking up just 20 points which saw them end seventh.
After six years consolidating Hoffenheim as a Bundesliga club, Rangnick resigned in fury over the sale of key man Luiz Gustavo to Bayern Munich as he felt the Kraichgau club could not match his extraordinary ambitions.
Another, even briefer stop at Schalke was in line before Red Bull Leipzig came calling in June 2012. This time, Rangnick occupied the sporting director role for Leipzig alongside sister club RB Salzburg.
Before too long the visionary found his way back into the dugout for the 2015-16 campaign where he added yet another promotion from the German second flight to his ever-growing CV when Leipzig finished second. It was then announced that current Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl would take over the reins and Rangnick faded into the background once more.
The yo-yo relationship Ralf Rangnick held with Leipzig saw him return to the hot seat for the 2018-19 season in only the clubs 10th season of operation and third term in the top tier. He oversaw another successful year in which Timo Werner starred with 16 league goals to help the club finish third behind only Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
However, failures on the European stage to advance beyond the group stages of the Europe league saw the 61-year-old take a new direction. He is now employed by Red Bull as head of sport and development soccer, which also incorporates other Red Bull clubs in New York and Brasil with the goal of discovering one talent every year in each location.
The move to Milan could add another string to the bow of Ralf Rangnick who is not afraid of attempting the improbable and the adventurous. As a visionary, a technician, a professor he could well be the perfect fit to take Milan in a new, much-needed, forward thinking direction.