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


While Ralf Rangnick may lack the trophy cabinet of some of his peers, few have had as profound an impact on Bundesliga. Here, takes a look at how helped revolutionise German football...

Rangnick's masterful coaching is in the limelight again after guiding Austria to EURO 2024 qualification, with many giving them an outside chance of progressing deep into the tournament in the build-up. From Lokomotiv Moscow to Manchester United and now international management, the 65-year-old has seen a lot during a career spanning more than four decades, both as a player and a manager. While he has shone at numerous clubs, it is his spell at RB Leipzig that saw him receive worldwide attention.

He already had a stellar reputation in Germany, albeit as a coach, when he was appointed sporting director of both the Saxony upstarts and sister club, Salzburg, in June 2012. Rangnick then 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 Julian 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

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. 

All of this has put Leipzig amongst the country's leading clubs, but it is in the dugout that he made his name. German coaches have enjoyed plenty of success in recent years - Jürgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel and Nagelsmann, for example - and they have all, in some way, been influenced by Rangnick's philosophy.

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

He is, after all, often referred to as the "father of Gegenpressing" a style of play that has Klopp's Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool sides picked up numerous trophies. Yet it was an encounter with Ukrainian legend Valeriy Lobanovski in 1983 that enlightened Rangnick and led to his "footballing epiphany".

Lobanovski's Dynamo Kiev were in town to play Viktoria Backnang, who were then led by player-manager Rangnick. Lining up in the middle of the park, it was clearly a life-changing match for the up-and-coming 25-year-old. Kiev's dominant victory was hardly a surprise considering their professionals were taking on an amateur outfit, but the fashion in which they dismantled their opponents made a lasting impression.

"I had played against big professional teams before - and of course we lost those games as well - but they at least gave you a bit of breathing space, the chance to 'put a foot on the ball', as we used to say," Rangnick later explained.

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

"I felt constantly under pressure for the entire ninety minutes. It was the first time I sensed: this is football of a very different kind."

Stuttgart's second string gave him an opportunity to implement his new ideas in 1985, and he returned to Die Schwaben in 1990 to add to previous two-year spell and take control of the U19s, winning the U19 Bundesliga in 1990/91.

Further stints followed elsewhere before Rangnick took charge of Ulm, where his now-honed principles took a more succesful form. He led the then-Regionalliga side to the second tier, and may have even made it all the way to the Bundesliga had he not decided to take over Stuttgart, this time the first team, midway through the 1998/99 campaign.

While at Ulm, he earned the moniker "The Professor" following an appearance on ZDF's SportStudio. Up until that point, few, if any coaches had taken the time to explain their tactics in detail, and so there was a mixed response when Rangnick did so on live television in December 1998.

An intertoto triumph in Baden-Württemberg followed, as did a promotion to the elite with Hannover in 2001/02. After an underwhelming year at Schalke, he made the unexpected decision to join third-tier Hoffenheim, then little more than a regional side.

Of course, Dietmar Hopp's millions, helped Die Kraichgauer's rise up the divisions, but Rangnick's arrival gave them the extra push they needed to push on towards the Bundesliga as back-to-back promotions followed. 

Remarkably, in their maiden top-flight term, Hoffenheim topped the table come the winter break. They were unable to continue their momentum in 2008, but still ended the term in a respectable seventh place.

Much of the rise was down to the culture Rangnick installed, as well as Hopp's choice to give him more control over the day-to-day running of the club. It was in Sinsheim that it became clear the coach could put more boardroom influence to good use were he given the opportunity.