Ralf Rangnick wants his playing philosophy to become infused into his Manchester United players’ “hearts, brains and blood” as his Old Trafford revolution gathers pace.
United’s new interim manager said success would hinge on the squad buying into his methods and hopes the appointment of a full-time sports psychologist will aid that process.
Sascha Lense is joining United’s staff, subject to visa approval, and will become the first sports psychologist the club has employed in such a role since Alex Ferguson’s former assistant, Steve McClaren, drafted in Bill Beswick in the late 1990s until 2001.
It is understood that United have not employed anybody in such a position full-time in the two decades since as Rangnick – who has also added former New York Red Bulls coach Chris Armas to his coaching staff – wastes no time drawing a line under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s regime.
Rangnick takes charge of his second game tonight, against Young Boys at Old Trafford, and he will use the Champions League dead rubber as a chance to take a closer look at some of the club’s fringe players.
Goalkeeper Dean Henderson, whom Ajax are interesting in loaning next month, and midfielder Donny van de Beek, another player facing an uncertain future, are set to start. United have already secured progress to the knockout stages as group winners.
Rangnick made a number of changes in Sunday’s 1-0 win over Crystal Palace, employing a 4-2-2-2 formation that saw Marcus Rashford paired centrally alongside Cristiano Ronaldo up front, Jadon Sancho and Bruno Fernandes as nominal No 10s and a higher defensive line.
The 63-year-old German hopes United’s players will continue to embrace his plans as he targets more control defensively and a high-energy press. “It’s about gaining confidence, believing in the way we are playing,” he said. “The players have to buy in. I can tell them whatever I want, but I need to convince them.
“I have to get into their hearts, into their brains, into their blood, whatever, so that they make their idea of football to my own. This is what it’s about. The first step has been taken and now its about the next steps, [Young Boys], Saturday at Norwich, Tuesday at Brentford and then the last one before Christmas at home against Brighton.”
Lense (46), a former second division player in Germany, worked with Rangnick for three years at RB Leipzig. Rangnick, who hopes Lense and Armas will have their work permits approved in the next 48 hours, said it was a no-brainer to employ a sports psychologist and said the new man would take a very hands-on role.
“For me, it is absolutely logical,” he said. “I even had somebody like this, Hans-Dieter Hermann, the current sports psychologist of the German national team – back in 1998 in Ulm.
“If you have specialist coaches for goalkeeping, for physical education, even for strikers, for whatever, for fitness, you also should have an expert for the brain.
“Not so much to put them on the sofa and for holding hands with the players because most of them would not do that anyway. It’s about helping the players that the brain should assist the body and not work against it.
“That is what it’s about – that the players and even the coaching staff, everybody in our team, should think in the right way. Whenever we speak about football, we all know that the major part is up here – what do you think, how do you analyse the situation?
“Therefore, I’m very happy to have Sascha on board. He’s not caught up too much working on the theory. He’s hands-on and part of every training session. I know we could benefit a lot from him.”
United’s clean sheet against Palace was their first at Old Trafford since April and Rangnick said it remained a priority to “fine-tune our collective defending”.
“Six months, no clean sheet in your own stadium – for me, it was clear where our priorities should be and how we should develop the team in the next couple of weeks,” he said.
“It showed how the team could defend if they were together and, obviously, there is still space for improvement. We can still improve in possession of the ball, we can create more chances, be more flexible on the ball, play more logically on the ball.”
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