Ralf Rangnick has been called a lot of things during his career in football — Yussuf Poulsen, the RB Leipzig striker, says he’s a “perfectionist,” while his teammate Kevin Kampl says Rangnick is “in love with football.” There were others who poked fun at him back in 1998 when he explained his then new-age tactical system gegenpressing. But when Jurgen Klopp calls Rangnick “one of the best, if not the best German coach,” you listen.
But in 2020, German coaches are the sought-after coaching commodity: take Thomas Tuchel at PSG, Klopp at Liverpool and Julian Nagelsmann at RB Leipzig. All of them were influenced or taught by Rangnick. At the start of this season, seven of the 18 Bundesliga clubs were managed by coaches who had spent time with Rangnick. His influence also spread to key personnel currently in the Premier League, Ligue 1 and Eredivisie.
When Rangnick started out in the 1970s, managers tended to have impressive playing careers and then went right into coaching. It was unfashionable to have a manager who was in the shadows of the German second tier. It was also seen as insulting to champion theories of gegenpressing — a philosophy built on pressing and counter-pressing the opponent, with an emphasis on attacking with positional fluidity — in an age where German football was rigidly 3-5-2, reliant on tried-and-true methods like man-marking that had made Germany a superpower: three World Cups and three runners-up prior to 1990, three Euro titles and two more second-place finishes prior to 1996 spoke to their success. But Rangnick, who had a mediocre, semi-pro playing career, never gave up.
He is living proof of what Italian manager Arrigo Sacchi — one of Rangnick’s heroes, along with Valeriy Lobanovskyi and Ernst Happel — meant when he shot back at a reporter who’d questioned his managerial credentials due to the lack of a polished pro career. “I never realised that in order to become a jockey you have to have been a horse first,” Sacchi said.
As we talk over Zoom, Rangnick chuckles as he rolls Sacchi’s one-liner out.
“The top coaches are not only good leaders of their team but they are also experts in the different areas of the game,” Rangnick tells ESPN. “If you look at the Bundesliga, more than half of the 18 coaches have not had a significant professional career but rather started to develop their methodological skills in youth football.”
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It was transfer deadline day across Europe when we spoke. He was assessing some of the players he helped nurture, like Timo Werner and Naby Keita. He was full of praise for Joshua Kimmich, whom he plucked from VFB Stuttgart’s academy while at RB Leipzig, and Sadio Mane, whom he brought to RB Salzburg. These are just a handful of the players he scouted and signed in his role in charge of Red Bull’s sprawling football empire.
Rangnick was one of the key catalysts behind the ascension of RB Leipzig, who went from foundation to the semifinals of the Champions League in just 11 seasons. They now sit top of the Bundesliga, and travel to Manchester United in the Champions League this week, though Leipzig and these players are just one part of his ever-developing legacy.
There’s an unwavering calmness as he talks through the last year, in which a protracted move to AC Milan never materialised and he left Red Bull after eight years expanding their impressive reach. He then looks to the future and his next move: smiling and methodical, but with this inherent understanding of football and a brain that has a heatmap of disciples stretching out over Europe.
A brief history of Rangnick’s coaching CV starts in 1983 after a short-lived on-field career.
“My coaching career started at the age of 19, senior football then at 25,” Rangnick told ESPN. “In Germany at that time, it was almost impossible to have any role models in the first or second division who inspired me.” He did not like the 3-5-2 system adopted in Germany — the formation which incorporated a “libero,” two man-marking defenders, two defensive midfielders, two wing-backs pounding up and down the flanks and then a No. 10 and a playmaker. He thought it limited, uninteresting.
“I wanted to play in a different way. Around this time, I met Helmut Gross [a hugely influential figure in removing the libero from German football but who worked more as an adviser rather than head coach], who was an early mentor for me and for many other German coaches. He introduced me to the ball-orientated zone-marking technique, which was being implemented at AC Milan. We studied AC Milan hours and nights on end, and it became clear that this was the style of football I wanted to play with my teams.”
This was the genesis of gegenpressing. In 1998, he presented his tactical approach on German TV. Dressed in a black suit and matching shirt, with awkwardly brushed hair and rimless glasses, he explained his new innovative manner of counter-pressing. He was soon coined the “footballing professor,” a term later used as respectful admiration, but originally met with derision and doubt.
“The reaction from the media as well as others in football was extraordinary,” Rangnick said. “The main reason for this was that 30 years before, Franz Beckenbauer set the benchmark for most teams in our country when he created a libero-sweeper position for himself. Franz himself even said in the mid-’90s that you cannot play with a zone-marking back four line because German players will not understand how to play it. I asked myself, why should German players be any less intelligent than those in Belgium, Spain or the Netherlands? For me that was simply not logical.”
The German football system needed to collapse before it could accept change. When the national side crashed out of Euro 2000 in the group stage, it led to a wholesale review of their system.
“Well, it’s very simple,” Rangnick says. “[Gegenpressing is] a very proactive style of football, similar to the way in which Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool have been playing under Klopp,” Rangnick said. “We like to press high, with a very intense counter-pressure. When we have the ball, we do not like any square or back passes.
“The goalkeeper also should not be the one with the most contact on the ball. In almost every league and every country, the goalkeeper is technically the most limited football player on the pitch and therefore we have to make sure that he has the lowest contact with the feet. It is a fast, proactive, attacking, counter-attacking, counter-pressing, exciting and entertaining [style of] football.”
After three years at Hannover (2001-04), where he also got them promoted to the Bundesliga, and then a season at Schalke (2004-05), it was at Hoffenheim where his coaching stock went through the roof as he led them from the third tier to the Bundesliga in 2008.
“What we did in Hoffenheim had a lot of influence on German football,” Rangnick said. “I remember in our first year in the Bundesliga in 2008 we played Borussia Dortmund under Jurgen Klopp, who came from Mainz to Dortmund, and we dominated them 4-1.
“It could easily have been six or seven, because we continuously pressed them for the entire game. The following week Jurgen said that this is exactly the style of football he wants to play with Dortmund in the future. During the next two years he developed his team in such an impressive manner that they managed to win two consecutive championship titles and two cups.”
Following a brief spell at Schalke in 2011, which peaked with them reaching the Champions League semifinal, he became sporting director of Red Bull’s new football arm in 2012. This is arguably his greatest achievement: he challenged the established order in Germany with a new-age structure which built a worldwide network which raised the bar in player identification and recruitment.
Rangnick offered a vision anchored on youth, backed up by analysis and technological advancement with the goal of creating sustainable success on the field while making a profit through selling players at the height of their value and then replacing them with hidden gems thanks to the organisation’s extensive scouting network. Eight years on, and having worn different hats ranging from sporting director to manager (he took charge of RB Leipzig in 2015-16 and then 2018-19), RB Leipzig are now perennial top four contenders in the Bundesliga, RB Salzburg have won the Austrian Bundesliga seven times on the trot and their other teams in the USA (NY Red Bulls) and Red Bull Brazil are all evolving and developing within their system.
Leipzig are a controversial team in German football, with fans of the more traditional club arguing their business model goes against the 50+1 ownership. But they are successful.
“It is quite like in other areas of life, if you are ahead of your time with new developments and pathways, it may provoke certain reactions,” Rangnick said. “Just to put things into perspective, the club was founded in 2009 and won three promotions in five years. Since 2012, it has secured its place in the top-tier Bundesliga and has continuously participated in Champions League, even making a semifinal in 2020. It is something truly rare and extraordinary.”
But equally extraordinary is the Red Bull pipeline of players, as well as the long list of coaches who worked under Rangnick. At Liverpool alone, you have Keita, Mane and Takumi Minamino, while Rangnick signed Roberto Firmino to Hoffenheim and managed Joel Matip at Schalke. Rangnick feels this synergy is because Klopp and he share “similar views on football.” So do a number of coaches throughout Europe.
The School of Rangnick alumni is extensive. Bayern Munich’s head of youth Jochen Sauer was CEO of RB Salzburg from 2012-17. Borussia Monchengladbach’s staff Marco Rose, Alexander Zickler and Rene Maric have all worked or played under Rangnick, so too Adi Hutter at Eintracht Frankfurt and Sebastian Hoeness at Hoffenheim. Then there’s Markus Gisdol at 1.FC Koln, Robert Klauss at 1. FC Nurgenburg, Oliver Glasner at Wolfsburg and a host of others. Over at Monaco their sporting director Paul Mitchell is formerly of RB Leipzig, PSV Eindhoven’s head coach Roger Schmidt was RB Salzburg boss from 2012-14 and Ralph Hasenhuttl was at Leipzig from 2016-18 and has been in charge of Southampton for two years. Then you have Julian Nagelsmann at RB Leipzig and Jesse Marsch at FC Red Bull Salzburg who both learnt from Rangnick.
Nagelsmann, 33, managed Hoffenheim and then replaced Rangnick at Leipzig ahead of the 2019-20 campaign (Rangnick stepped into the manager role for a season to keep the seat warm for Nagelsmann). “Ralf has a special way of looking at football,” Nagelsmann told ESPN. “I used Ralf’s philosophy at Hoffenheim; counter-pressing is a very important topic.”
Over at RB Salzburg is Marsch, who was assistant to Rangnick in the 2018-19 campaign at Leipzig and coached New York Red Bulls from 2015 to 2018. “The beauty of Ralf is that as intense as he is, he also gets really excited about new ideas. As traditional as he is in some ways, he is also very innovative. This is the beauty of Ralf. His contrasting mentalities and his ability to continue to grow and adjust and adapt to the younger generation — he’s got a gift,” Marsch, 46, told ESPN.
Rangnick is 62 years old, but still has the thirst for another big challenge. He came close to joining AC Milan in the summer, but they opted to continue with then-interim coach Stefano Pioli.
“When they contacted me in October they were 13th in the league, just three points from the relegation zone. Then [the] corona[virus] came; after the break and restart they had 12 games and won nine of them with three draws. So it would have neither been wise for myself nor for the officials of AC Milan to change everything after such a successful period of time.”
Rangnick’s vision for AC Milan would have seen him have a powerful voice in both the operational, recruitment side, and then the hands-on role of coaching and picking the team. Almost like a 2020 version of Arsene Wenger’s time at Arsenal. It rocked the boat. Paolo Maldini was critical of Rangnick amid the rumours over his appointment, but Rangnick is resolute in the demands he makes of prospective clubs.
As he assesses his next move, he talks about his three fundamental, non-negotiable pillars of success which he integrated into the Red Bull model.
“For me it has always been very clear, there needs to be someone in the club who is responsible for the club values and guidelines,” Rangnick says. “Someone who is in charge not only for the corporate identity, but also for the corporate behaviour of the entire organization. In this context, I like to speak about three C’s in football: capital or cash, concept and competence.
“It is certainly helpful in football and in business to have some money at your disposal, however, this money will not help you if you do not have the other two C’s in your portfolio. In order to be sustainably successful, you need to have a plan on how to develop the club and the best possible and competent people to implement the concept and plan. Those three C’s were the foundation of our [Red Bull’s] sporting success paving the way for the development of players with quality and increased market value at a factor of 10 or sometimes even higher.”
Player ID is integral. Rangnick educated his scouts to assess players as if through his eyes “It makes little sense to develop a scouting department or engage professionals if you do not listen to them,” he says. “For me it is imperative to proactively plan your transfers and not just rely on agents recommending their players. This enabled us over the years to scout and sign players such as Marcel Sabitzer, Marcel Halstenberg, Lukas Klostermann, Dayot Upamecano, Kimmich, Mane, Keita and Kampl.”
Alongside analytical and tactical evolution, he feels the next step for football is to master the player’s mind.
“Top mentality is the talent of the personality and player strives to get better every single day. In addition to optimal mentality, one of the most important aspects to train in the next few years will be to develop the cognitive abilities for decision-making under pressure when players are in restricted and tight areas of the pitch.”
Rangnick’s next step is unknown. Manchester United have long been linked with him as a potential sporting director, while he has been interviewed for previous vacancies at Everton and the England national team. He’s not yet ready to look back and assess his achievements and role in gegenpressing as we know it, but instead he wants to take all of this experience and knowledge and throw it into another club. There’s an itch there; perhaps the Premier League, or a big Champions League-challenging side. But whoever it is, they will benefit from Rangnick’s ever-evolving view on how German football should be played.
“As we have shown in the last 20 years, we can remain true to the German virtues which can be characterised as follows: disciplined, combative, and an enormous will to win in our playing style while also developing top-class strategic minded coaches who know how to play modern football.”
University students hold the keys to ‘level up’ the esports industry
Written by Tao Martinez, Head of University Esports Development at GGTech
For many students, getting in from a class or lecture means jumping onto CS:GO or League of Legends with their friends to pass the time and have a laugh for a few hours.
Climbing the ranks may spark conversation about “going professional” one day but forging a career in esports has never been more accessible for students, with the industry growing by the day.
The total revenue of the esports industry in 2021 was estimated by Newzoo to be $833.6 million, and this is enhanced by a rising number of jobs, university courses and opportunities, making it one of the fastest growing and desirable sectors to lead a career in.
The most obvious route into esports is through being the best at a given game, with teams willing to sign players up on a contract to represent them at tournaments and online leagues. And whilst this is desirable, there are actually a whole host of other careers within the industry.
With Covid fears beginning to fade, in-person gaming events are returning with competitions such as the Amazon UNIVERSITY Esports Masters, hosted by GGTech in collaboration with NUEL, bringing together the best university talent across Europe to face off.
Beyond the players, these events require event organisers, planners and managers, advertising, sponsorship, social media promotion, casting, filming, tech support, and that’s before even getting to the participants which involves players, coaches, and team organisations.
There are so many aspects to a successful esports competition which in turn creates a wealth of jobs and opportunities – which are growing all the time. And these opportunities are also available through online esports leagues as well.
We are in an era where traditional television is being taken over by Netflix, YouTube and Twitch, creating new mediums for viewers to engage with esports, which is reflected by a growing viewer base.
Research from VentureBeat estimated that in 2021 there were 234 million esports enthusiasts, up from 197 and 200.8 million respectively in 2019, highlighting a stark growth. What’s more is that by 2024 there are expected to be 285.8 million enthusiasts and 291.6 million occasional viewers. Esports is a rapidly growing industry that people want to be involved with, and it’ll only get bigger in the coming years.
This is supported by an increase in job awareness through sites like Hitmarker, a dedicated jobs site for advertising esports opportunities.
The esports ecosystem supports universities through the development of teaching, facilities and opportunities in the industry which helps to focus on student’s interests whilst developing their core skills in preparation for a career in the industry.
For example, Confetti Institute of Creative Technologies, as part of Nottingham Trent University, offer a BSc in Esports Production which teaches students about the global esports industry, the principles of esports, production and technology, as well as broadcasting and management. This will be delivered in Confetti X, a £5 million dedicated esports complex due to open ahead of the upcoming academic year.
Universities such as Sheffield Hallam offer courses in esports management, whilst Chichester has its own esports degree. This is supplemented by universities such as Warwick who have large student esports communities who come together for competitions and tournaments.
The importance of good training in developing the esports industry is being increasingly recognised by universities who are creating new courses each year as a result. Courses involving business, management, events, marketing, journalism and design all offer unique skills which match up with a plethora of new jobs emerging in the esports scene, and with the industry growing at the rate it is, the number of these jobs will only rise.
Moving forwards, the onus is not only on the esports industry supplying opportunities for university students, but also on the university ecosystem to provide the highest-quality education and training in order to fuel the integration of new talent into the dynamic esports workforce.
In order to assist students who are pursuing a career in esports, GGTech works with university students to run and produce the Amazon UNIVERSITY Esports Masters competitions, giving them vital first-hand experience at casting, broadcasting and event management.
Part of the fabric for the future development and growth of the esports industry is putting faith in the talent of university students, being willing to innovate courses, equipment and opportunities, and supporting students every step of the way to help turn their hobby into their future employment.
That’s why university campuses are the best testing space for evolving equipment, products and services whilst allowing students to gain valuable experience, especially through internships and competition management.
Opening people’s eyes to the vast array of opportunities and careers that the esports sector has to offer will fuel the next generation to become the core of the industry during its rapid growth.
Now is the time for a career in esports
In the esports industry revenues are growing, viewership is growing, the number of participants is growing, and this is creating more and more opportunities all the time.
There is no better time to pursue a career in esports, and education is at the forefront of attracting prospective students into the industry. As the sector grows, we will see an increasing number of universities offering esports related courses and follow in the footsteps of Confetti in building dedicated facilities for students to gain the best first-hand experience for running tournaments.
Students should be encouraged to take the plunge, and universities and esports professionals must provide the best assistance possible to welcome in the new generation to help the entire esports industry grow.
Junior Hockey World Cup: Marquee QF clash might come down to who handles pressure better
Ahead of the two sides’ clash on Wednesday, there’s been some talk that India’s quarterfinal match against Belgium in the 2021 Junior Hockey World Cup will be a reprise of an earlier match – the final of the 2016 edition. Although India won that contest, just that result can’t be extrapolated to this latest encounter.
Being an age group tournament, it is obvious that neither team would still feature the same players from five years ago. Indeed, the only common figure from both those games will be Belgium’s coach Jeroen Baart. Individuals from both teams in that contest would graduate to the senior squad and ended up meeting in the semifinals of the Olympics, where the Belgians emerged victorious.
But even though this latest batch of players haven’t ever had a chance to play each other, they will know what they are up against. Wednesday’s match is a clash not just between two teams but of two philosophies of hockey – a classic stylistic matchup. “You see the DNA (playing style) comes down from the senior team, and the senior team is world no 1,” India’s coach Graham Reid said about Belgium. Reid doesn’t mean to say that Belgium’s style has been thrust down from what the seniors. Over the last decade, beginning from the juniors, Belgium has created a playing style that’s worked miracles for them – winning them the Olympic title this year. What this is is a solid defensive structure where Belgium controls the pace of the match. “We focus on control to create opportunities. For us that means maintaining structure and intensity,” says Jeroen Baart.
India have a philosophy too – one that’s also been a decade in the making and which resulted in a drought-ending Olympic bronze. Baart knows of this as well. “India play is about counterattacking with speed and vertical play. “Our style of play is very complimentary to India. India like to counter-attack using their speed and vertical play. They do it really well. We are focused on our defensive end and on controlling the ball to create opportunities,” says Baart.
Signs of vulnerabilities
Both teams will go into Wednesday’s clash knowing not just each others’ playing styles but also based on their performances so far at the World Cup what they aren’t happy facing with. In their first match of the tournament India fell to a shock 5-4 loss to France – a side that’s looking to cast itself in the Belgian model. The French controlled possession for much of the game and the Indians, except for a brief flurry in the final few minutes of the match, were unable to get into the shooting circle. That last bit of relentless pressure will trouble Belgium though. “We will have to survive those waves from India,” Baart says.
Belgium too have shown vulnerabilities in Bhubaneswar. In their second game against Malaysia – they were held to a surprise draw against a side that tightly defended, giving no opening of its own. India chief coach Graham Reid alluded to that as well. “”We also saw some vulnerability the Malaysians were able to capitalise on and hopefully we can do that,” said Reid. That though will be easier said than done since it would require going against the free flowing hockey the Indian team prizes.
Can they play their A-game?
While both sides have displayed vulnerabilities, they equally have the potential to nullify each other’s strengths as well. Both sides will find that their release tactics might not have the same kind of success as they might have had against other teams.
The Belgians for one might find the high ball — a tactic very successfully employed by their Olympic champion senior side as well –has no guarantee. Although the French side did manage to use the high ball successfully, that match was marked by unusually poor trapping and interception from the low-on-match-practice Indians, who would back themselves not to have two bad days in a week’s time.
India, on the other hand, will find that the kind of defenses that allowed their counterattacking play to end up scoring 25 goals in the league phase might not have the same kind of opportunities against a side that prides itself on its defensive structure. The fact that India have lost striker Maninder Singh due to injury might place addition pressure on the remaining first choice forward line. Coach Reid admits that impatience might be a factor should the young Indian side not get the kind of gifts they would have been used to over the last few days. “That’s (impatience) one of the tough parts when coaching someone younger since it doesn’t come naturally in younger boys. Kids at that age want things to happen right now. You have to try to teach them patience and move the ball around. When you see Belgium play, you will see that patience because it’s been ingrained in them growing up,” he admits.
In a high-stakes encounter against two sides who started as pre-tournament favourites, what both coaches admit will be critical is just who handles the pressure better. Should the hosts go 2-0 down as they did in their opening game against France, then it’s likely that scoreboard pressure could cause them to play poorer than they might otherwise have.”There might have been some nerves ahead of the first match of the tournament. Hopefully that would have been washed away by now. What I’m focused on is that we are tight in defence all through the game. But our priority would be to get off to a good start,” says Reid.
Baart will be hoping to deny India of just that. “It’s going to be a fantastic match-up. We expect a lot of attacking and aggression from the Indian team. We need to have the right structure and the right intensity at the right moment to deal with it.”
Utah State Stands Out in Group of Five
Utah State was projected to win three games this season. The Aggies had other ideas. They are 9-3 and playing for the Mountain West Conference championship on Saturday. San Diego State is the opponent. The Aztecs also proved the experts wrong in the college football odds.
Utah State Aggies
Utah State is +5000 to win the MWC title and the Mountain Division champion is a 5½-point underdog to San Diego State in the college football spreads. The Aggies opened the season with three straight wins to reach their projected total. After losing two in a row, they rewarded over bettors in their sixth game, but that came at a -145 price.
Northern Illinois Huskies
Northern Illinois wasn’t thought of too highly at 3½ wins in the Las Vegas odds. The Huskies started 1-2 but rattled off five straight triumphs, giving over players the victory along the way. Northern Illinois has won eight games and is +5000 to win the Mid-American Conference title on Saturday as a three-point dog against Kent State
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Western Kentucky is +700 to claim the Conference USA title as a 1½-point favorite versus UTSA on Friday. The Hilltoppers figured to be in the middle of the pack with an over-under of 5½ wins. Under players were getting what they wanted when Western Kentucky began 1-4. But seven straight victories later, over players have long since counted their money.
San Diego State Aztecs
San Diego State, the MWC West Division champion, won 11 games after its over-under was set at 6½ for betting online. The Aztecs needed only seven contests to sail over the number. San Diego State is also a big price to wear the conference crown at +1400.
Texas-San Antonio won a school-record 11 games to start the season, smashing its projected win total of eight. The Roadrunners were the third choice to win the C-USA title at +330, but find themselves a slight underdog against Western Kentucky.
BYU’s 12-game independent schedule featured six against Power Five conference programs. The Cougars were 5-1 in those contests. BYU also went 5-1 against the rest to easily surpass the 6½ win total to which it was assigned.
East Carolina Pirates
East Carolina was given a 4½ win total. The Pirates dropped their first two games, won three straight and lost the next two. East Carolina continued its see-saw ride by sailing over the number with four victories in a row before losing to College Football Playoff hopeful Cincinnati.
Boise State Broncos
Boise State was -125 to win the MWC title. The Broncos were in contention until the final weekend of the regular season before losing to San Diego State. Boise State has seven victories and cannot reach the nine it was projected to win.
Buffalo was +330 and a co-favorite to win the MAC championship with an over-under of 7½ wins. The Bulls even got a bit of national love at +50000, but they never gained traction in 2021. Buffalo was 4-4 before losing its remaining four games.
Florida International Panthers
Florida International’s modest win over-under was 4½. After winning their first game, the Panthers lost their final 11, cashing at -125 along the way for under players.