WHILE Liverpool and Real Madrid were parading trophies, days after Manchester City had done the same, Manchester United were announcing the severance of all ties with Ralf Rangnick.
And with barely so much as a ‘See you later, innovator’.
Ralf Rangnick’s Man Utd exit brings to an end one of the league’s strangest-ever chaptersCredit: Reuters
Manchester United, surely you remember them? They used to win titles. Even after that, they still topped the Deloitte Football Money League.
And they still ‘do great numbers’ on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.
When Rangnick was appointed interim manager in November, United’s ‘football director’ John Murtough heralded him as “one of the most respected coaches and innovators in European football”.
He also announced that Rangnick would take up a two-year consultancy after his caretaking was complete.
That consultancy role has now been scrapped, with Rangnick taking over Austria’s national job.
Instead, we’re told Rangnick held a two-hour ‘handover’ conversation on the phone with his successor, Erik ten Hag.
And judging by Rangnick’s highly entertaining public criticisms of everyone and everything at United, as well as his team’s disastrous performances, we can have a decent stab at imagining how the call went. Ten Hag: “Heh, Ralfie, how’s it hanging?”
Rangnick: “Erik! Yeah, so, basically the players are egotistical wasters and the board are incompetent muppets.”
Ten Hag: “OK, so what do you reckon I should do about it?
Rangnick: “F***ed if I know, mate.”
The Rangnick experiment was one of the oddest chapters in Premier League history.
A bookish German, who’d been ranked as a 12-1 shot alongside Alan Curbishley for every managerial vacancy in the previous decade, suddenly handed the keys to Old Trafford.
It is easy to forget United finished second in the Premier League last year, then signed the greatest goalscorer the world has ever seen, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Then finished with their lowest-ever Premier League points total.
United snubbed the chance to hire Antonio Conte before Spurs pouncedCredit: PA
The levels of ineptitude have been staggering, even by the standards of post-Sir Alex Ferguson United.
There is no hindsight needed in suggesting United should have sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after the 5-0 home mauling by Liverpool in October, when they could still have appointed Antonio Conte.
The Italian was desperate for the United job, probably only turned down Tottenham last summer because he thought he might soon succeed Solskjaer, then decided that if the Norwegian could survive a home gubbing by his club’s most bitter rivals, he could survive anything.
Conte then took the Spurs job and is now planning for Champions League football, having spent the first tranche of a £150million transfer fund on a classy veteran in Ivan Perisic — just the sort of transfer chairman Daniel Levy would never normally rubber stamp.
Meanwhile, United flounder. And they flounder because their directors and players wanted a quieter life.
It was widely briefed that Conte “did not fit United’s long-term strategy” and that he would have been too demanding of the squad.
It has later been claimed that Ronaldo vetoed his appointment.
Fans will be hoping things improve under Erik ten HagCredit: EPA
In short, United bottled it and tossed off their season, while Conte openly challenged Levy and his players, then reached the top four.
Now, Ten Hag — who has won plenty of Dutch trophies shooting fish in a barrel at Ajax — inherits a dysfunctional squad, without even the regular victories that allow the illusion of team spirit to be glimpsed.
Occasionally, managers have taken a significant step up, breezed into the Premier League and succeeded.
But we’re talking Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho.
Ten Hag will need to be a combination of early Wenger and early Mourinho — a visionary reformer and a charismatic leader — if he is to turn things around.
Perhaps United’s hierarchy believe their new manager is just such a man.
Or perhaps they’ve simply opted for a quieter life again.
Uefa would have been better off keeping the Champions League final in Russia instead of FranceCredit: Getty
PIDDLING UEFA EFFORT IS THE NORM
NORMALLY, if I’m covering a match, I will arrive about 90 minutes before kick-off.
As it was the Champions League final, I made it to the Stade de France four-and-a-half hours early on Saturday.
That’s because big European showpieces are always chaotic, whichever city they are in. Everyone’s an away fan and Uefa couldn’t organise a piddle-up in a brewery.
I got caught out in Munich in 2012, almost missed kick-off and vowed ‘never again’.
So I didn’t witness, first-hand, the shambolic ‘funnelling’ and shameful tear-gassing of Liverpool fans queuing patiently to get in.
I did though, like thousands of others, make a 6km walk back from the ground to central Paris in the early hours of Sunday, because there were no trains running.
And why would anyone want fans to have adequate transport?
During that walk through the badlands of St Denis, I was offered cocaine, sexual services, and a kicking from a drunken bloke who’d fallen off a scooter.
I just assumed he was one of Uefa’s executive committee, made my excuses and carried on walking.
Maybe they should have kept the final in St Petersburg. At least Vladimir Putin would have made the trains, and the actual football match, run on time…