Former RB Leipzig mastermind Ralf Rangnick is no ordinary coach and no ordinary sporting director. - © 2019 Getty Images
Former RB Leipzig mastermind Ralf Rangnick is no ordinary coach and no ordinary sporting director. - © 2019 Getty Images

Ralf Rangnick: The catalyst for RB Leipzig's success


RB Leipzig's epoch-defining Ralf Rangnick years came to an end on 1 July 2019 when the great Bundesliga multitasker vacated his dual role as head coach and sporting director.

Rangnick's masterful coaching is in the limelight again after guiding Austria to EURO 2024 qualification. From Lokomotiv Moscow to Manchester United and now international management, the 65-year-old has seen a lot since leaving the Bundesliga. His huge role in inspiring Leipzig’s rise from the fourth tier to Bundesliga title contenders in nine short years will always remain a career highlight, however, and takes a look back at those golden days.

Leipzig had a good idea of what they were getting when Rangnick was appointed sporting director of both the Saxony upstarts and sister club, Salzburg, in June 2012. He had already guided Schalke to a runners-up finish in the 2004/05 Bundesliga, and taken Hoffenheim from the 3. Liga to the Bundesliga - laying the foundations for the team that future Leipzig successor Julian Nagelsmann (also coaching a national team these days with Germany) steered into the UEFA Champions League in 2018.

An experienced and able coach in his own right, Rangnick vacated his post at Salzburg to concentrate fully on Leipzig in May 2015. He returned to the dugout and achieved an historic promotion to the Bundesliga before making way for Ralph Hasenhüttl to take the reins for the club's maiden season in the top flight. It was one of many astute - and egoless - masterstrokes.

Watch: All you need to know about RB Leipzig's Rangnick-orchestrated rise

Leipzig finished runners-up in 2016/17 and sixth the following season, after which Hasenhüttl stepped down. RBL concluded a deal to bring Nagelsmann to the Red Bull Arena from now established Bundesliga outfit Hoffenheim, but only at the end of the 2019/20 campaign. Rangnick took it upon himself to man the fort - all whilst juggling his duties as sporting director.

Under Rangnick, Leipzig came in third in the Bundesliga to secure a return to the Champions League. They boasted the stingiest defence in the league and, for the third successive season, ranked among the division's top-five highest scorers. He also took the club to their first DFB Cup final, where they lost 3-1 to record champions Bayern Munich. If there was a prize for Bundesliga multitasker of the season it would have gone to Leipzig's professorial workaholic.

"I've met a lot of people in football, but I've never come across someone who is as mad about the game as Ralf Rangnick," said Leipzig midfielder Kevin Kampl earlier in 2018/19. "It's just a joy to work under someone like that. He's done a fantastic job."

Rangnick (l.) transformed Kevin Kampl (r.) into one of the Bundesliga's most complete midfielders. - imago images / Avanti

Kampl was just one example of a Leipzig player in Rangnick's time who jumped out of bed each morning to be part of a familial environment, where one of the Bundesliga's youngest squads was cultivated rather then castigated. Rangnick's introduction of a 'wheel of fortune' instead of fines for breaking club rules; fixed meal times; a ban on the use of cell phones in function rooms; or his insistence on only English and German in the dressing room are no draconian measures. On the contrary, in fact.

"Experience has also taught me that players need clear rules," Rangnick told The Coaches' Voice. "But it’s not enough to tell them what they can’t do and have to do. Once you stop understanding them, their fears and aspirations, you have to stop managing. I see it as my duty to help them deal with all the temptations and the fake reality they’re faced with as young men making a lot of money.

"Tactics, fitness and rules are all hugely important, but they’re only a means to an end. My job – the job – is to improve players. Players follow you as a manager if they feel that you make them better. That’s the greatest, most sincere motivation there is."

Rangnick says "treating them like adults" is key to his relationship with his players. - imago images / Eibner

Rangnick worked with equal finesse and relish behind the scenes. His policy of the three K’s - Kapital, Konzept and Kompetenz (money, concept and competence) was integral to Leipzig's on-going success story. And while he always admitted Leipzig spent money, they did so wisely, and stuck zealously to the policy Rangnick already used to good effect at Hoffenheim of signing precocious talent.

Tyler Adams, Matheus Cunha, Emil Forsberg, Amadou Haidara, Naby Keita, Willi Orban, Yussuf Poulsen, Timo Werner: Leipzig began their habit of gobbling up serious young talents during Rangnick's spell. Rangnick was behind all of them, convincing top-level potential aged exclusively 24 or younger that Leipzig is the place to be. While those following in his footsteps have needed a shrewd eye to sign the likes of Xavi Simons and Loïs Openda, they have followed a blueprint written entirely by the current Austria coach. 

"We truly believe in our systems," the former VfB Stuttgart and Hannover boss explained. "The players we have are willing to learn our style of play. We asked ourselves, 'What style do we want to play?' After that we scouted, and signed the players who fulfilled our requirements. "The interesting thing is that they all came here with the idea of wanting to develop."

Rangnick (l.) persuaded Tyler Adams (r.) to join Leipzig as a highly coveted 19-year-old in January 2019. - imago/Picture Point LE

Summer 2019 marked a new phase in that development. When Rangnick took the job in 2012, Leipzig were just another club with designs on the Bundesliga. When he stepped back, initially staying on in an advisory role, Leipzig could count themselves as a genuine top-tier force.

"If we continue a good recruitment policy – getting the right players at the right time and not the wrong ones because experience has shown how important this is – then we are confident we can establish ourselves up there," said Rangnick, having hand-picked Nagelsmann and Markus Krösche to succeed him as head coach and sporting director respectively. "The goal is to further narrow the gap to Dortmund and Bayern."

As ever, the Rangnick blueprint has delivered. In the four years since his departure, Leipzig have lifted the DFB Cup twice to cement Rangnick's legacy by winning their first major trophies. Having also reached the Champions League semi-finals, and finished in the Bundesliga top four for five successive seasons, the future fruits of Rangnick's phenomenal foundation work may just be even more spectacular.

Chris Mayer-Lodge