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Euro 2024 preview – Austria: Ralf Rangnick was ridiculed during his short spell in charge of Manchester United but he has brought optimism to the ‘Wunderteam’ despite injuries and a horror draw

Ralf Rangnick has bounced back from his time at Manchester United, where Cristiano Ronaldo questioned his methods.

Ralf Rangnick became a caricature at failing Manchester United but it only took 20 games in charge of Austria for Bayern Munich to come calling – and for the 65-year-old to turn them down.

It is very easy, then, to say a man who was first established as a sporting director at the Red Bull clubs is far along the redemption path having been framed as a disaster during his time at Old Trafford. It did not help that Cristiano Ronaldo, sulking his way through a second spell that ended in unholy acrimony, claimed: “This guy is not even a coach.”

The Wunderteam were also struggling when Rangnick arrived but this is a partnership that has worked handsomely for both parties so far.

Austria have lost only one of their past 16 games heading to Germany, a record that suggests they can do something of note over the next month, and the so-called Red Bull philosophy (a label Rangnick rejects) of hard pressing and fast transitions is alive and well.

But much of the optimism from a qualifying campaign in which they finished a point behind Belgium, losing just once against the Red Devils, has dissipated.

David Alaba’s absence is a blow. The star player ruptured his cruciate ligament when in action for Real Madrid in December but will still be with the squad in Germany, named by Rangnick as non-playing captain.

The same injury has robbed Xaver Schlager, schooled in the Red Bull model at Leipzig, of his spot in midfield. And Rangnick being talked up as Thomas Tuchel’s replacement in Bavaria has proven an unwanted distraction, regardless of his commitment to remaining.

He remains very well-liked in Vienna and not just because of the on-pitch success. In a recent interview with Der Standard, he spoke in refreshing detail about the political landscape across Europe – bemoaning the rise in far-right views and discussing how important migration is to many of the teams appearing at the tournament.

“If the history of both countries [Austria and Germany] has taught us anything, it is the danger posed by right-wing extremism and fascism,” he said.

“We as a national team must also stand up and stand up for the right values. Let’s look at our team, you can also refer to the German team or another one. Let’s take out everyone who has a migrant background, there is not much left. We in football live tolerance and integrity, we are the most heterogeneous sport.”

Notable sentiments entering a tournament where the political landscape is certain to cause tension and anxiety.

David Alaba will be with the Austria squad as non-playing captain as he recovers from his knee injury.
David Alaba will be with the Austria squad as non-playing captain as he recovers from his knee injury.
Rangnick will set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation but much of a squad that plays its club football in Germany’s Bundesliga are versatile and can fit into a number of roles.

They will lean heavily on another man who failed to make an impact at Manchester United. Marcel Sabitzer has reinvented himself at Borussia Dortmund and was a key player in their run to the Champions League final. He could play in central midfield or out wide depending on what Rangnick feels is required.

But it is Nicolas Seiwald who could capture wider attention. The RB Leipzig holding midfielder played every minute of the qualifying campaign. He can snap into tackles and will be crucial to Rangnick’s hopes of dictating the tempo.

However expectations have been dampened further by being in the most difficult of six groups. They will begin their campaign against France in Dusseldorf on Monday night before taking on Poland in Berlin, which on paper appears the least difficult of their three games, before rounding off Group D against Netherlands.

On paper it appears as if their fate will be defined by the second game but for Rangnick, who has very much proved he is a coach, the smart comments have already been rubbished.

 

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