Ralf Rangnick has only been in his job five minutes at Manchester United but already he is under more stress than most managers in world football.
The German was hired to replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on a temporary basis and tasked with improving results.
But United’s biggest problem over the past month hasn’t necessarily been poor performances but rather the growing discontent behind the scenes.
Rangnick has walked into a mess at Old Trafford where a number of high profile players are unhappy and looking to leave.
The toxicity among a few has now seemingly infected the entire dressing room where even the previously reliable players are struggling for form and confidence.
Recent reports claim that the dressing room has been split down the middle, with the Portuguese-speaking contingent; Cristiano Ronaldo, Fred, Bruno Fernandes, Diogo Dalot and co. at loggerheads with some of their teammates.
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In addition to this, there have been internal leaks, with players revealing details of private club problems to the media.
Rangnick has briefly opened up on the predicament he faces, admitting the sheer size of United’s bloated squad makes it impossible for him to keep everyone happy and that certain individuals want to leave.
“Only 10 outfield players can play, with three subs, so then you have quite a number of players who don’t even play or are not even in the squad,” said Rangnick.
“Those players are unhappy about the situation, it’s obvious, clear. I tend to explain to players every two or three weeks why they are not playing and that’s an issue in our team and other clubs.”
Every man and his dog has an opinion on how Rangnick can improve the atmosphere at United, with former Red Devils centre-back Rio Ferdinand among those to offer his take.
Ferdinand has suggested Rangnick oust the individuals who no longer want to be at the club and who are causing trouble.
And he’s even suggested the ‘good eggs’ help Rangnick by letting him know which individuals are causing problems.
“You’re going to get players who are going to be bad eggs and if they don’t play, they want to make it uncomfortable for everyone and want to come in and change the atmosphere in the dressing room,” Ferdinand said on his Vibe with Five YouTube show.
“They will be a bit aloof, not saying ‘hello’ to people, not being punctual. Those players – get out.
“You go to the manager and you tell the manager: ‘That geezer, he’s a disgrace in our changing room, he’s ruining it and he’s going to get beat up at some point.'”
On the mistakes the Man United hierarchy has made, which has made Rangnick’s job even more of a challenge, Ferdinand added: “Man United’s biggest mistake in recent years is allowing certain players and certain people externally, who are part of some players’ circles and networks, to disrespect the club publicly.
“They haven’t slammed the door shut in their face and really put those people in the place they should be. You can’t allow that.
“The minute you allow that once, allow someone to step out of line, then other people in those people’s circles start to think, ‘Well, he got away with it so I’ll say my thing now. I don’t mind leaking because there are no repercussions and I won’t come under any kind of fire at the club because of that.’
“No, you nail that person immediately and that’s the mistake the hierarchy at the football club in recent years have done poorly. They have let stuff slide too much, they have got to be drilled those people.”
Former United star Lou Macari recently echoed Ferdinand’s comments, agreeing certain individuals need to be “kicked out”.
Macari, speaking on MUTV, said: “Anyone kicking off in the dressing room, kick them out of the club.
“Get rid of them and I’m talking about the players doing that by the way. 70,000 United supporters can’t be wrong every week. These players have to start showing something.
“You’ve got the money and the lifestyle, what more do you want? I’m getting annoyed. I should be watching 11 happy players enjoying the game but I’m not detecting that.
“I don’t see 11 happy players and they are second to most balls. Where’s the aggression gone?”
Rangnick has not responded to either former Man United player publicly, but he did send a message to the Red Devils supporters ahead of Monday night’s less-than-convincing 1-0 win over Aston Villa in the FA Cup.
In his programme notes, the German called for calm and pointed out that Rome wasn’t built in a day.
“When I took this role as Manchester United interim manager, I knew there would be a lot of work to do. It’s not possible to just walk into a new club midway through the season, say a few words and everything is instantly straightforward,” said Rangnick.
“We have a lot of players who are top quality individuals with so much talent but we need to work together in order to make progress.”
After the match, Rangnick again reflected on the positives, but he was quick to point out problems are still very much present at United and he has a huge job on his hands.
“I think we showed a reaction after the Wolves game, that is what everyone expected from us,” said Rangnick. “We knew it would be very difficult against Villa. In the first half, I thought we did well. It could have been 3-2 or 4-3 to us at half-time.
“In the second half we were on the counter-attack and we could have made more of those situations. We took the wrong decisions at times but when we changed to a diamond in midfield we had more control.
“In the last 20 minutes, we had more control. We fought well as a team together when it was important. In the end, it was a good win. That was our goal, to proceed to the next round.”
One saving grace for Rangnick is that the January transfer window is open, but it is up to him to make the most of it.
While in the past, United have benefitted from bringing players in, they would likely improve going into the second half of the season this time around by taking Ferdinand and Macari’s advice on board and offloading players.
The Red Devils have a staggering 36 senior professionals on their books, with seven of these out on loan.
Rangnick has taken training for 26 players while at Old Trafford and, according to The Athletic, has found motivating all of them a challenge as almost a third of the squad knows they will play no part in the match following the training session.
Streamlining his United team will enable Rangnick to focus on the select few who want to be at the club. He also won’t be overwhelmed by different personalities when trying to get across his philosophy.
United performances will likely continue to be flat until Rangnick takes the important step of offloading certain players. Right now, it’s the only option he has to reunite the dressing room.