Gary Pallister Exclusive: Rangnick Has Got To Come Into United and Be ‘The Enforcer’

Following the appointment of Ralk Ragninck at Manchester United manager on an interim basis, former United centre-half, Gary Pallister, spoke exclusively to The former Borough and United defender, who was also capped 22 times by England, shared his positive expectations for Rangnick, his support for Harry Maguire and his thoughts on how Ronaldo will fit into the new starting XI. Pallister also sympathised with Jesse Lingard’s struggles since returning from his loan move to West Ham, and see Newcastle United as a good fit for the midfielder.

BM: Hey Gary, what did you think of the United Chelsea game on Sunday? How do you assess United’s performance?

GP: Chelsea dominated the game and they’ve gone into it as a team in top form, we’ve come into it as a team that’s probably hit rock bottom. And it’s as you would expect, Chelsea dominated the game, had the chances, David [De Gea] was probably man of the match for us. But we showed a bit of fight at least, I think looking at the game after what happened at City and Liverpool, you featured the worst. But I mean they put up a scrap, they fought for the ball, which is all you want to see. And after what has been a turbulent few weeks, we got a result. I guess you could say we’re pleased with that. 

BM: Why do you think Carrick left Ronaldo on the bench for the game? 

GP: Because it’s Michael’s choice, Michael was the manager, Michael was there for the two games and that’s what he chose to do. Ole left out Cristiano, and that was a big thing. He’s 36 so can you expect him to play every game, or two games a week? Probably not. He’s not the only player that gets left out in rotation, but he’s the one who makes the headlines. Obviously, we all saw the debate on Sunday about the pros and cons of it all. But listen, of course, you’re going to get headlines for leaving him out, he’s made an impact at Manchester United since he’s come back. He’s scored the goals, he does what it says on the can, and you can’t argue against that. Whatever you think about him, what he does offer and what he doesn’t offer, he scores goals and that’s hugely important in modern-day football. As to the reason why on Sunday, I don’t know, I haven’t got the insight into that. But they got a result so whichever way you look at it, the tactics and formation worked. Everyone expected United to be well-beaten, and we dug a result out. So you could argue they were justified leaving Ronaldo out on Sunday.

BM: Rangnick is credited with inventing the gegenpress, a tactic we see employed by Klopp’s Liverpool. Do you think the current squad is suited to that style of high-pressing football. How do you feel it may impact Ronaldo leading the line if that his the style the new manager wants to impose. 

GP: I mean it reminds me a bit of the Bielsa thing when he came in and everyone said he was the forerunner, he’s the guru, he’s the man that everyone has learnt off, and they’re talking about Rangnick in the same sort of mould. I’ve got to be brutally honest with you, I hadn’t heard of this guy, but the fact that people are talking about his CV and talking about his impact, tells you he’s been quite innovative and his tactics have worked successfully. It will be intriguing to see the style he brings into Manchester United because they’ve got some terrific players there. The baffling thing about what we’ve seen over the last few weeks with a side packed with that much talent is that they’re getting beaten in the way they’ve been beaten, and that’s tough to watch. 

It was interesting, I was listening to the Keaney thing with Jamie Carragher on Sunday, and he’s bang on right with what he says. It’s horses for courses, you know what I mean, he’s 36, he’s a goalscorer, he’s probably hasn’t got that about him now to play a high press or play it as well as everybody else. I always remember a conversation we had at Manchester United when Eric [Cantona] played and the gaffer more or less said, ‘look Eric, stop tackling because you get yourself in more trouble than you do now. Let us get the ball back, give it to you and then you can go and do your stuff.’ So I think you can play in those constraints if you like, that’s something Rangnick will look at and solve the problem himself. But what you’ve got is a natural goalscorer, Cavani’s the same, he’s 34, will he be able to run about as much Rashford or Greenwood or Bruno Fernandes, these younger players? Probably not. But he’s going to work with the players he’s got there and come up with the best solution. But what you’re guaranteed, more or less, with Cavani and Ronaldo, is you’re going to get goals. So for the rest of it, he’s got to adapt the squad to what he thinks is needed. And you know what, I don’t think he’s afraid of making big decisions by the sounds of it. Every player has to fight for their place in the team, that’s the only way you can deal with it, whether you’re called Ronaldo, Cavani, Martial, van de Beek, Fernandes. You know, Bruno got dropped last week at Villarreal and if anyone’s got any kudos in the bank it’s probably Bruno Fernandes because he’s been terrific over the period of time since he’s arrived at the club. He, along with other players in the team this season, his form seems affected, but as I say he’s got plenty in the bank for what he’s achieved and what he’s done since he’s arrived. I think he’s [Rangnick] got to come in there and be the man, be the enforcer, and I’m sure he will be, and he’ll bring into place the way he sees the game being played and I think they’ll all know he’s the boss. 

BM: His countryman Fernandes was played up top against Chelsea. What did you make of that decision. Also, he’s not quite hit the numbers of goals and assists as last season – how was would you assess his performances so far this campaign? 

GP: Yeah, I’d agree with you, you can point the finger or you can look at the team and say, ‘look it’s been disappointing,’ and Bruno has been one of them. His stats and creativity have not been there, his goals haven’t been there as much as over the last two years since he’s arrived here. But you know he’s been a fan favourite for a long time. Did it work on Sunday? It’s not where I want to see Bruno Fernandes play, he’s a playmaker, he’s a goalscorer, he’s a lively energetic kind of player, and he’s been the fulcrum really right from day one. I think he, like the rest of this squad, is suffering, it’s [the team] suffering a crisis of confidence, we’ve seen mistakes from players you wouldn’t expect to see make them. The life’s been sapped out of the team and therefore we got the results that we got against Liverpool and City, and probably performances before that, I think it was all just waiting to happen. I think for most of the season it had been a struggle, take the Leeds game away at the start of the season, and I don’t think we’ve really dominated many games since then. There have been issues at the club and Ole was trying his damndest to try and sort them out, and eventually, it probably became untenable. 

BM: How did you feel when you heard Ole Gunnar Solksjaer had been relieved of his duties. Do you feel the players were responsible?

Everybody’s responsible, the manager brings in a lot of those players and you couldn’t say it wasn’t Ole’s team, and you live or die by the players you bring to the club and what they bring to the side on a match day. Everybody’s responsible, but ultimately it’s the manager that get’s the sack. It’s not nice to say, and I don’t think you’ll ever hear a bad word about Ole from anyone he played with at United. He was a great teammate, great lad, not got a bad bone in his body, and everyone found him a wonderful wonderful player and a wonderful wonderful teammate. What I will say, and I’ve heard people say this, is he brought a bit of joy back to Manchester United. I agree with that wholeheartedly. I think that since Sir Alex retired, I think the managers that we’ve had in after that haven’t really got what Manchester United is all about. I think Ole did. He tried to bring back a style of football, and he had his ups and downs, and then last year we finished second and everyone is looking for us to press on and we made some big signings in the summer and you expected us to press on and be up there. But for whatever reason, and I have no idea why, it just turned sour. And you know, the team looks a million miles away from where they were last season. So I think he did a decent job, Ole, in terms of giving the fans the kind of Manchester United they wanted to see. They wanted a see an expressive team, they wanted to see a team that tried to play on the front foot, that was exciting, that was counter-attacking football – whatever – and I think the fans felt that they were getting that. Nobody could foresee the dip in form that United were going to have this season and ultimately it cost him his job. 

BM: In Rangnick it feels like a turn to experience, at least in the short term. After having Solksjaer in charge, a less experienced manager – is this appointment one that makes sense to you?

Well if we believe what we read and what people are saying, this guy is a guru, this guy is well-versed in making teams better, he’s got plenty of experience as you’ve said, he’s spoken about by some terrific managers who say he is a proper manager/coach, and he’ll have an impact there. I’m sure Ole had an impact on his team last season, he got a response off his team last season and they got to second place, which we hadn’t done for a long time. This guy is picking up a good squad of players, so hopefully, he’ll be able to solve the conundrum as to why it’s gone wrong, why these players have gone from finishing second in the Premier League to looking like a middle of the table team now. That’s a problem which he’s dealt with before in all those years of experience and will deal with again, I think the club have wanted the experience, have wanted a guy with a track record and his track record is pretty good. So there are high expectations, and rightly so it’s Manchester United, but I don’t think it’ll phase him, I think he’ll be quite cool and calm about it and he’ll work diligently with the players on the training pitch to get some kind of style of play that he wants to bring in and hopefully he’ll turn the corner for the club. 

BM: For a new manager coming in like Rangnick, do you think there are any automatic starters and if so who may they be?

GP: No I don’t think so. We’ve seen Michael drop Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano. If there was any player at United who has money in the bank and a bit of credit and leeway, it’s Bruno after what he’s achieved and the performances he’s put in wearing a Manchester United shirt. You have to impress a new manager when they come in. He’s not going to be impressed just because you’ve got a great reputation, whether you’re Cristiano, Bruno, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Cavani, whoever. He’s the manager and he has to make that team tick and that team work. I don’t think he’s the type of manager who will be impressed just because you’ve got a great reputation – he’s looking to build a team, a team that’s going to fight for Manchester United and a team that’s going to win games for Manchester United. Whatever it takes, whoever he needs, he’s going to put them in the side. You’ve got world class players, some superstars there, but you have to find a mix. He’ll do his best to put out a side that’s going to win games.      

BM: The central midfielders have received some criticism this season, but Scott McTominay was man of the match against Chelsea. At 24, many will expect his best years are likely ahead of him – how would you assess his potential as a long-term option in midfield?

GP: I think he’s a solid player for Manchester United and has been for Scotland too. He maybe doesn’t catch the eye and is a bit like Fred in terms of what he brings. If you look at things like goalscoring and the ways that Bruno impacts the game, he maybe doesn’t have the vision of a Pogba or Bruno and that’s why when him and Fred play together people give them so much stick, because they’re both very similar and dogged players, both have plenty of energy in the centre midfield areas. But when United have the ball they don’t do the damage like Kevin De Bruyne or someone like that. That’s why people may look at Scott and have their doubts. He’s 24, has been a solid performer for Manchester United and is a big part of the squad. He’s a player who comes in and gives you energy and you know what you’re going to get from him on a matchday. When you do play Fred and McTominay together you are missing out on the creative side of things, but I think there’s always room for one of them. 

BM: Paul Pogba is out injured at the moment, but he’ll be free to negotiate pre-contract terms with clubs outside of the Premier League in January. Do you think it’s in the club’s best interest to sign Pogba to a new contract at United?

GP: It’s a real tough one. If you don’t get him on a contract and he goes then you’re losing out on a lot of money. Paul’s in the boxseat. He can make whatever decision he wants to make. If he leaves it’ll be because he wants to leave. I’m sure he’s earnt enough throughout his career to not worry so much, but it’s just a tricky one. He started the season really well, then fell away a bit, got left out and then got injured. What I will say about Paul Pogba is he’s a world-class player. He has the vision, the goal-scoring prowess, and he’s one of the most talented players at the club. But ultimately it comes down to him and his agent, so who knows?    

BM: United’s decision to sign Rangnick only on an interim basis is an interesting one. Why do you think the club have gone down this route?

GP: Like with Ole initially, the club are looking to bide their time and not bring in a manager straight away. That was the plan with Ole and he had an immediate impact. The club went with the feel-good factor. When Ole came in the crowd were up for it, the results turned around the club became a happier place and everything looked good. They’ve given themselves some breathing room this time and there could be any number of reasons as to why they’ve done it this way again. There’s the talk of Rangnick going up to Technical Director after the interim period. There could be someone they’ve targeted and they’re waiting until the end of the season on. Pochettino’s name is forever linked with the club. Who knows what’ll happen at PSG, and if he doesn’t win the Champions League there’s every chance he’ll lose his job because that’s what they’re desperate to do. Would he be a good fit for Manchester United? I think he would be but I’m not privy to what’s going on behind the scenes. I think similar to when Ole came in, they want to give themselves time without rushing into things. The clubs’ taken a lot of stick for bringing in other managers and they’d want to avoid it. It looks a bit strange looking from the outside in but I understand it, and I’m sure the guys at the top of Manchester United have a game plan. 

BM: After Lingard’s loan spell at West Ham last season, he was valued at around £25-30million, according to The Athletic’s Adam Crafton. Was it right to keep hold of him? What do you make of Jesse’s situation at United this season and the lack of game time?

GP: He hasn’t signed a contract now so he’s free to speak to clubs from January. That was Ole’s opinion and what he felt was right to do. He went out on loan and really impressed, got himself back in the England squad and had a massive impact at West Ham. David Moyes felt he was overpriced or the club priced him out of a move to West Ham, so again like Paul, he’s in the boxseat. I’m sure he’s out of contract at the end of the season so West Ham could get him for nothing if they wait until then. He’s not playing and it’s not an ideal scenario for him. I thought he might have got more game time with the way the team was playing but that hasn’t been the case. He really struggled before going on loan to West Ham and at the time it was the best thing for him to get out of Manchester and down to London. We saw his form get turned around and he was terrific for West Ham. It’s hard to gauge which type of fee you’d get for him in January. Could you see someone like Newcastle coming in for him in January? Newcastle need players probably like Jesse Lingard to come in and give their club a lift. I think someone like him would do because he can give a side a spark like we saw with West Ham. He’s got work rate and goals in him. If he did leave I think it’d hurt Jesse because he loves Manchester United, but he has to think about what’s best for his future.    

BM: How would you assess Harry Maguire’s season so far?

GP: I think Harry was doing fine – he had the game coming off an injury at Leicester where I think he came back too quick. He’s made uncharacteristic mistakes. I think he’s been terrific for United, Harry Maguire. I think he’s a natural leader in that dressing room and a natural captain. The only real speaker I see in that squad, maybe before Cristiano got here, I’m sure he’s had a few things to say with the experience he has. But I think Harry is a really good centre half and it’s just a shame the Varane partnership hasn’t had the chance to bear fruit in terms of playing a number of games together. That would’ve been the first choice pairing of centre backs. It’s been uncharacteristic for him – he has made a few mistakes, the same with Luke Shaw and he was our player of the year last year, in fantastic form. You look at the Euros and wonder if that’s had an impact, with a bit of fatigue setting in. It’s been a crazy season the year before with the pandemic. They’ve then had the Euros and no rest coming straight back to the Premier League. As much as Ole’s tried to rest them and look after them where he can, he also wants to get his best team on the pitch. They’ve both been in good form but until the last few weeks when it all went pear-shaped. The side looked devoid of confidence and belief, and everybody seems dragged down by it. I would have no worries about those two in the future, they’re both terrific players and rightly so Harry has been the leader of that side as well.                

BM: As a successful former United centre-back, what advice would you give to Harry Maguire during what seems like quite a rough patch for him on the pitch?

GP: He’s experienced enough I think. I came to Manchester United as a British record transfer fee, world-record fee for a defender, and it all went Pete Tong! In the 89-90 season, end of March we played against Millwall and if we’d have lost we’d been bottom 3. Now that’s a crisis. That’s a real worry. There were banners for Fergie to be sacked and everyone was probably expecting that. So I’ve been there, I know exactly what it’s like. He’s getting a bit of stick now but I think he’s big enough to deal with it, experienced enough to deal with it.  He’s a good enough player to put that behind him and come back and put in performances we know he’s capable of. I wouldn’t have any worries about it or offer much advice, other than he knows he’s a good player and he knows he can have a loss of form, but a loss of form seems to be widespread at Manchester United in this case as a lot of players are underperforming and have held their hands up and acknowledged it. They’ve said they’ve underperformed, let the fans down, let Ole down and I think it’s honest enough of them to say that but they can’t keep saying that every week. We did as a team. Had a few nights out together, we had plenty of good honest chats about the team, how we were performing, what we needed to get better – as a group, you have to come together and do that. Let’s hope the players have taken that on board and won’t just rely on Rangnick, but have the wherewithal between themselves to improve the performances on match day.           

BM: Looking ahead, at United’s search for a long-term candidate, is there someone you’d like to see come into the role.  Mauricio Pochettino has been heavily linked – could he be the right man for the job?

GP: I’ve always liked Pochettino. I hear people say he’s never won anything, but I saw him going into Southampton, changing their style of play and really having an impact. Then he went to Spurs and created the best Tottenham team that I’ve seen for thirty years. I like his style of management, his style of play. I think he handles the press really well, and he’s the one that always comes up as a good fit for Manchester United. But, after that… I don’t know. Zidane’s been talked about. He’s won three, four European Cups with Real Madrid. He took on a very good Madrid side and was at the helm… but I wouldn’t say he created that team. Zidane took over and kept it on a steady path, leading it to more success. I don’t know, I think for a lot of people, Pochettino does tick a lot of boxes.

BM: There’s a lot of talk about full-backs at the moment, with the likes of Joao Cancelo, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James making more goal contributions than some top strikers. Do you think the full-back position is an area where Manchester United have enough strength at the moment?

GP: I guess you’re talking about Wan Bissaka! Yeah, I think… you look at modern-day fullbacks and you probably would expect a bit more from Wan Bissaka. He looks like he’s got all the tools to be a more proactive fullback. I don’t think there’s any problem with Luke Shaw; he creates and overlaps, and has even scored a couple of goals. He scored for England! Wan Bissaka is good at defending one on one, not many people get past him. As a centre-half, you want your defenders to defend, but the best ones can do it both ways. I think that’s something Wan Bissaka needs to improve on. I don’t think it’s just me saying that, I think everyone who looks at it wants more from him. Maybe that’s something Rangnick can help with. Gary Neville became a really good overlapping fullback and he was a centre-half. It wasn’t natural for him but he learned how to do it through good coaching, self belief, wanting to be better, and he took that onto the football pitch. Wan Bissaka’s got loads of pace but I want him to be more positive in the final third. You see glimpses of it, but you don’t see it consistently enough. The best sides in Europe have got good overlapping fullbacks who can defend as well.

BM: Jadon Sancho looked sharp against Villarreal and grabbed a second goal for United against Chelsea after struggling for form since his arrival. Do you think he can use these performances as a springboard and nail down a spot in the starting XI? 

GP: Absolutely. I think we’ve been waiting for those performances. Listen, I know what it’s like to go to Manchester United with that expectation, and it can be overwhelming. I’ve seen him playing for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, in the Champions League games, and what an impact he made for that Dortmund side. We, Manchester United, have been chasing him for two and a half years, probably since he started making headlines over there, and I thought it was a fantastic piece of business. The right-hand side… we’ve got Mason Greenwood who comes in off the right but, whenever we played Rashford or Martial out there, they didn’t look comfortable on the right. I think Ole was looking for that balance. And yet he came in and looked a bit intimidated if I’m honest. I don’t think he settled in straight away. He’s coming off the back of the Euros as well. What we’ve seen over the last few games is that belief coming back. Goals help, obviously, but he’s not taking easy options now. He’s driving at defences, and that’s what we saw at Dortmund – he’s creative, he can score goals. It can take time to get used to the magnitude of Old Trafford. It’s a different beast to Dortmund, and he’s still a young lad, but we can see he’s starting to get the bit between his teeth. When he does, we can see his talent. Let’s hope it’s the start of better things.

BM: United are 12 points behind Chelsea, so a title challenge seems unlikely. There are only four points between first and third place. Who do you fancy in what seems to be a three-horse race between Liverpool, City and Chelsea?

GP; I’ve been having that debate with my good friend Tony Mowbray in the coffee shop this morning! He’s doing all right down at Blackburn at the moment. I said Liverpool, once they’ve got the players back, they’d be the team, but they’re going to miss a few players during the Africa Cup of Nations which could make an impact. I don’t know how many players Chelsea or Manchester City will miss. When you look at Salah, Mane, Keita… those are some big names, you know what I mean? That could have an impact. I don’t know, I said Liverpool at the start of the season. Chelsea are looking the real deal, and so are City. City can be mesmeric. The football they can play… they absolutely toyed with PSG the other night, and that’s what they can do to teams. I hate to go on about this, I don’t want to say any of them are going to win it – we had too many battles when I played. It could be quite a tight fight between those three sides. the head-to-heads could be a real decider this season, but they’re the top three sides. The rest will be looking at fighting for that fourth slot. We’ve got a big game at Arsenal who’ve had a renaissance, and they’re now ahead of us. That’ll be a game that might give us an insight into who will fill that fourth spot. It could be between Arsenal and Man United for that fourth slot.

BM: Based on the events of the season so far, what would you like to see from United during the rest of the season – is some form of silverware still realistic?

GP: We’re going to closely watch the next few weeks with Rangnick. Can he get an instant response, a shot of confidence back into the team? Can he get us organised into a team that can win trophies? That’s what we’re watching, waiting and hoping for as United fans. We don’t know enough about him, as much as we’re learning in the press. Manchester United has players that, on any given day, can rip open teams with the talent they’ve got, but it’s harnessing that talent and getting it to work and perform and believe that matters. So, yeah, there’s a chance of winning a trophy. You need a bit of luck in something like that. We aren’t going to win the Champions League or the Premiership at this moment in time. The FA cup though? Yeah, on any given day the team could click, and we’ll be hoping Rangnick can get something out of the side. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible, but there are teams in better form so we’re not going to be favourites to lift a trophy at the moment.

BM: You’ve spoken out about your concerns with heading in football and its connection to early on-set dementia. Do you think more needs to be done by the footballing authorities to tackle the issue? 

GP: I think the guys who are involved in Head4Change are really doing well with getting a better understanding of it and getting people to look into it more. There can always be more, but it’s a start with the FA dealing with it better than they have in the past, the powers that be looking into it and speaking about it more openly than before. I’m pleased there’s progress, but there’s more to be done, more from the PFA. It is concerning. We hear it all the time about players passing away… not to say it’s always been from football, we don’t know that for certain, but when you’re talking about being three times likelier to get Alzheimer’s or dementia if you’re a footballer five times if you’re a defender, it’s concerning. You keep looking at your future… dementia, Alzheimer’s… it’s not a nice place to be. You do fear for your own future when you see these things. I’m pleased it’s more out there and more open now. I think there were too many people trying to brush it under the carpet and didn’t want to have a serious conversation. It’s about educating people about the risks. I don’t know how far it will go, but it’s about giving people the knowledge to make an informed choice about whether they want to play the game.

BM: The FA recently limited headers from cross, free kicks, corners and passes of over 35 metres to just 10 a week. You recently were involved in the Head4Change charity match at Spennymore FC where there were strict restrictions on headers throughout the game. Do you think a version of the rules employed in there will become the future of the game?

GP: Just to clarify, I didn’t play! I was watching, no, dear God, I can’t play anymore! I went down and watched it, and to be fair I only watched the first half where they were allowed to head the ball in the penalty box. I didn’t see it in the second half because I had to leave early, but there were no headers in the second half. Players forget, heading the ball and giving away a free kick. I don’t know what the endgame is but… you’re looking at young kids and banning heading for them is a move forward, especially when they’re not fully-formed, not at full strength or whatever. Getting kids away from heading balls is a good step forward. I don’t know what you’d have to do to get it into the professional game. The more we can protect people from these training regimes where, back in my day, we’d do a lot of heading balls from set plays, trying to score, defending… you were heading it a lot more during the week than you might on matchday. The more research that’s done and the more we talk about it, hopefully the better it’ll be.

BM: Tonight the football world and media are assuming Lionel Messi will take home his seventh Ballon d’Or – is he your pick or did you fancy someone else for the award?  

GP: You know what, I’ll go for Lewandowski. Mo Salah has probably been the best in the world since the start of this season with his stats, his goals, his creativity. He’s been amazing. Messi won the Copa America with Argentina, something missing off his CV, but surely it’s got to have more to do with your club form. I’d go between Lewandowski and Mo Salah. Is that controversial? *laughs* Lewandowski, wow… he scores for club and country no matter what. I wouldn’t want to face him at centre forward, that’s for sure.

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