I would like to say hello to everybody. Thanks for coming in and getting up this early. To be honest, in my career, it’s probably the most early press conference in my life. I haven’t had a press conference at 9am but due to the fact we have the next game coming up on Sunday, and the fact I only have one training session with the players, there was no other alternative but to have the press conference at 9. I am very much looking forward to the next days, weeks and months. Once again, thanks again for coming here and spending the time with us.
We’ve been led to believe that roughly this time last year, Chelsea contacted and spoke to you and said you didn’t want to be an interim manager. I don’t know if that’s true but what can you achieve in the six months you’ve been given here and what is your vision for Manchester United?
RR: When Chelsea contacted me in February, they only spoke about the option to become interim manager for four months, without any perspective to work in the long term together. Here now, we are talking about six-and-a-half months, so we only have one third of all the games played in the Premiership. As you all know, we have also agreed upon a two-year advisory role after those six-and-a-half months, in the end, when a club like Manchester United contact you for such a role, you cannot possibly turn it down.
Do you look at last night [against Arsenal], for instance, and think there are things I can change straight away? How are you going to approach this with the team doing well obviously in the last three games, but before that it wasn’t too good at all?
RR: Obviously, I have watched the last few games, not only last night’s game but also the games against both Watford and Chelsea on TV, before I knew actually if there was going to be any contact in the next few days. I also watch, out of interest, the games against Liverpool and Manchester City. So I’m pretty well aware and acquitted of what’s going on here within both the club and in the Premiership. I think it’s also obvious the team has an abundance of young talent, and enough experienced players in the squad, but the major target for me in the next few weeks is to bring more balance in the team. Even yesterday, we conceded two goals, we then needed three goals to win the game. If you look at the total goals conceded, it’s almost two on average per game, which is too much. I want to bring balance and control on the game and yesterday’s game was obviously exciting for the fans even but, for myself, as the future coach, we don’t want those games every day because, in football, you have to minimise the coincidence factor and to have control on the game. This is what football is about. That’s my approach, I want to help the outstanding players stay away from their own goal.
How easy is this going to be to turn around? Consistent performances? And I’m guessing the aim is top four really?
RR: The aim in the first instance is to win the next game. The next game is on Sunday, so that leaves me with maybe one training session today but I can only introduce myself to the players today at three o’clock, but, of course, the ones that played last night cannot train today. So it’s literally one training session, so there are not many things that you can change [in just one session]. So it’s about getting to know the players, speaking with them and letting them know what the approach will be. It will not be easy in the middle of the season, I am fully aware and I have enough experience to know you cannot change everything in 1-2 days or even 1-2 weeks, other Germans have come to the Premiership have had the same experience. But it’s about winning games and in the end I’m very ambitious like everybody in the club but, in the end, we want to make the most successful season out of it as is possible. Right now, we have to be realistic – the gap to the top three is big but, on the other hand, we will see. It’s about developing the team and helping the players to get a feel of how to control the game.
Is this the toughest challenge you have taken on during your very long career?
RR: It’s obviously the biggest clubs, if not the biggest club in the world. Of course it’s a massive challenge and I’m more than excited to work with those kind of players we have here. It’s a big challenge but, as I have said, I have also worked with top star players, at Schalke it was a similar situation and I am more than happy to work with this group of players.
If you are successful in the next six months there will inevitably be a clamour for you to continue as manager, is that a possibility to continue after six months or are you clear about wanting to stop after six months and move to the consultancy role?
RR: The people who I have spoken with, so far, have been very clear that we are talking about a six-month role as manager currently, we have never spoken about what will happen in the summer. I am, of course, fully aware they are looking for a new manager, maybe if they ask me, we will see. Maybe, if they ask me my opinion as you said and everything goes well and I help develop the team, I might make the same recommendation as I did at Leipzig twice when I recommended to them that it might be a good idea to keep working with me for one year. But this is all hypothetical, I cannot speak about that now. For me, it’s about winning the next game and that is the focus.
When you look back at the eight-and-a-half years since the club won a Premier League title, what have you seen in that time between winning that last title and where the club and where the squad is now?
RR: Having had Sir Alex for 27 years, winning numerous titles, I don’t think there was any other club, barring Guy Roux at Auxerre that had the same manager for 27 years is unique, it’s exceptional. For me now, after such a long and successful spell that the club needs to find a new pathway. There have been changes in management, five or six managers since Sir Alex left and, therefore, it’s difficult for the club to gain continuity, signing new players, developing and sticking to the DNA of the club. I think this is vital in modern football that you do this. It’s not unusual with so many changes but I do think it’s vitally important that the board members and myself that we develop that same identity in the future.
When you look at the squad you’ve inherited, is it good enough to compete with the three teams at the top of the league?
RR: It’s definitely good enough to compete in the top flight. If you look at the top three teams now, they are very stable and they all have top coaches. If you see how they keep winning and keep winning games in style too, controlling the games. This is something we have to develop. For example, when Jurgen came to Liverpool, it definitely wasn’t a better squad than what I have here now at United.
We’ve heard a lot about your philosophy and what you’ve done with other clubs. How hard will it be to implementing this pressing style so closely associated with yourself and will there be any further coaching changes following the departure of Michael Carrick last night?
RR: For the first question, yes, I think to gain control on games in the future, we have to play proactively. No matter if we have the ball ourselves or if the other team is in possession of the ball, we must play together, team spirit, we saw that yesterday. If we compare first and second half yesterday, it was completely different, having had the most unique fans behind us, this will help and help the team to gain confidence, we could see that in the second half. It’s obviously not easy, can’t implement that in one or two training sessions or one or two weeks and it’s not about pressing or counter-pressing for the sake of it, it’s about control. That is the major target. Michael, I only got to know this two days ago. I met with him and Kieran and I had a long private conversation with him for more than an hour, I was trying to convince him to stay. After 30 years, he needed a rest and I understand, I have to accept that. About the coaching, I’m more than happy to work with them, I need their expertise and experience regarding the current squad. I will obviously try to find one, two or three to join us but due to Brexit regulations, it’s not that easy. Many of my former employers are tied up in long-term contracts with big clubs so they are not available right now. So we have to be a little bit smart and clever, hopefully in one or two weeks but I don’t know.
Taking about that philosophy and we’ve speculated about what that will look like with the personnel here, with having Cristiano Ronaldo here too, will you have to adapt to that style?
RR: You always have to adapt your style to suit the players you have, not vice-versa. Having seen Cristiano in the second half at 36, amazing, top professional. I have never seen anyone as fit at 36. He is still a player who can still easily make the difference. How can we develop the whole team? It’s not just about him, so we need all of the players involved. It’s not just about Cristiano. What I saw from Cristiano yesterday, he is more than willing to do that, to put his own input into the team. And the other team-mates will have to do the same.
You have a great record of signing players whilst with previous clubs, as we approach January will you have any input on that? Also how will you relationship with John Murtough going to play out considering he is the current director of football and you are taking on that consultancy role in the future?
RR: We haven’t spoken about new players and it’s not the time to speak about that. Now it’s time to get to know the current squad in detail. The squad is definitely not too small, there are enough players within the squad. Maybe at Christmas, after Christmas, there will be a time to talk about transfers, but from my experience, winter transfers are difficult and not sustainable. With the quality of the players we have here, it would in theory only make sense if you can get players who can guarantee you that extra quality.
You have spoken very eloquently in the past about teams needing to have that clear idea on how to play, does this team have an identity crisis in comparison to the rivals? Secondly, there was the quote from you, that a little bit of pressing is like being a little bit pregnant, do you feel there may be a need to comprise given having next to no time on the training ground you have here as interim manager?
RR: You can only go game-by-game, step-by-step. That’s clear. Whenever I came to clubs in the middle of the season, which was the case twice at Schalke and once at Stuttgart, that you just have to make sure you have the best chance to win the next game, that’s what it’s all about. Then, step-by-step, players participate and they have to go with me and buy into how we should want to play as a team in the future. This is what it’s all about and as I said it has to happen step-by-step, it cannot be done within one-two days like this. It will not work like that.
With the past identity, do you feel there needs to be clarity in the way you want to play football?
RR: Yes, but you are full aware that Pep has been here for five years now, Jurgen for three or four now, Thomas, okay he only joined in February, but still time-wise they’re a little ahead of us but still I’m sure that we can take the next possible steps with the current players we have here and help them get better and push through in those areas that brought us into that position. We can take the next possible steps.
In terms of your own career, has it always been an ambition of yours to come here to the Premier League? Have you ever been approached to come here in the past?
RR: As you all know, I studied at university to be an English and PE teacher, back in the late 70s, early 80s and I also lived in Brighton and, since then, I fell in love with English football. In the early 80s, I would take the fast train from Brighton to Victoria every three days and would watch a home game at Highbury, White Hart Lane or even in Liverpool at Goodison. I never came here to Manchester because it was too far away from Brighton but I always cherished the way the teams are supported. Even yesterday, I think this is absolutely unique, you will find very few football clubs in the world with that much support. For me, this is football in the purest sense. For me, it’s more than exciting to now be a part of that atmosphere and this should help any team and our players to get on track and play at their highest possible level.
How frustrating was is for you last night not being able to have your influence on the game, so how much do you look forward to Sunday?
RR: Very much so, I am more than looking forward to it. In the box, I felt with Michael, Darren, Kieran, until the final whistle, it could’ve been 3-3 or 4-2. This is the exciting thing about football, but as a coach, you don’t want football games to develop that way, that anything can happen at any time, at any stage of the game. I was more than happy we got the result we wanted.
One of the hottest prospects in football is Erling Haaland, a player you know well, and your old friend and team-mate Ralf Kraft has said he thinks you will do everything in your power to get him to Old Trafford. Can you say anything about that? Or about the reports that you have a bonus in your contract if you do manage to sign him?
RR: Let me have a look [picks up a piece of paper]. Ten million for Erling Haaland. Ten million for Kylian Mbappe. Ten million for Robert Lewandowski. And ten million for Joshua Kimmich. This is nonsense obviously, just to answer the second question. Of course, there are no such clauses. As I said, it doesn’t make sense to talk about speculation about new players. Erling Haaland is a fantastic striker, I know best myself because I was together with him and the people at Salzburg at the time, as was my friend Cristoph Freund. The [same] people were also a little bit involved in the move from Molde to Salzburg. I know what kind of player he is. In the meantime, the whole world has realised how good a player he is. Two years ago, there were only very few people who had the belief in his kind of development. As I said, I’m more than happy with the offensive strikers we have here, the offensive players we have here, quite a few of them didn’t play yesterday. Martial came on in the last five minutes, Mason didn’t play at all. We have so many top players in the offensive department and we don’t need to speak about any other players.
You have a contract for two-and-a-half years to the summer of 2024. When you come to the summer of 2024, where do you hope United will be in terms of their progress on the pitch and off it?
RR: Well, in the ideal world, we’ll not only be in the top four regularly but also playing for titles. This is also something that’s in the DNA of the club, it’s about winning titles, winning the league, winning cups, being as successful as you can be in the Champions League. In the new year, we’re still in the Champions League and depending on the draw we want to hopefully get further in that competition. In two-and-a-half years, I think the DNA of the club will be clear and as successful as we can be.
Regarding the consultancy role going forward, what would you be doing and would you have control of the how the Academy is run, for example?
RR: We haven’t spoken about that in detail, to be honest. I’ve spoken with John and with Ed but especially with John. I also had a long telephone call with Joel Glazer, for more than half an hour. I also spoke, by the way, with Ole last Sunday before the game against Chelsea for almost two hours. He was very generous to spend more than one-and-a-half hours on the phone with me, telling me all his insights and details about the team. As I said, we haven’t spoken about what will happen in the next two years from next summer to summer 2024. We only spoke about the current situation and how we can find a way to work together.
How much attention have you paid to Manchester United during your career over the last few years and how do you think they’ve got to this point with you being manager right now? Also, you’ve been a manager before but also a sporting director. Where does your passion lie with the jobs that you’ve done in the past?
RR: Yes, of course, I have always followed the development of the club. We played here 10 years ago with Schalke in the semi-final. At the time, it was even a big surprise we qualified for the Champions League semi-final against Inter in the weeks before that. Coming back to the second part of the question, when [Red Bull co-founder] Mr. Mateschitz called me in the summer of 2012, he wanted me to become the head coach of Salzburg at the time. I said even for that we didn’t need to meet but he insisted, he flew over with his helicopter with Gerard Houllier on board. They flew to my home city and asked ‘where can we land?’ I said ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Can we land near your house?’ I said ‘Sorry, maybe we made a mistake when we planted my garden but there’s no space in my garden where you can land your helicopter.’ He flew a bit further to Andreasberg, a famous German city, and then we really met an hour later. We discussed for four hours and after four hours he asked me, ‘Ralf, what are we doing wrong in football, why are we so successful in Formula 1 but not so successful in football? What would you change?’ At the time, to put it very positively, they had experienced squads with players on their last contracts, with good money and a nice standard of living in Salzburg and Leipzig. I said to him that I would change that by finding players who signed their first or second contracts of their career, then the whole motivation and atmosphere would change. We did that. Yes, I can work in both positions but if someone ask me in which position I see myself more, I don’t know. Right now, I feel and think I very much want to be coach and manager for the team. This is what I’ve done for 90 per cent of the past 25 years of my career.
What do you know about the history of this club. What should this club be?
RR: I mean, looking back, even to the times of George Best and Bobby Charlton. I had a look at Google the other week about the most famous players and you could line up four top teams in the last 50-60 years. Of course, I also know about the disaster in Munich in 1958, the year I was born. That was in February, I was born in June. I know all this. The legacy of this club is unique. There are not many clubs with such history and DNA. It’s not only a legacy, it’s also something that, everybody who has the privilege of working for this club, we have to follow this legacy and make sure that the DNA will also be respected, always be respected.
What can the Manchester United players expect from you? Louis van Gaal talked about retraining their brains. Is it going to be a real culture shock for them when you come into the dressing room and training sessions in terms of tactics and approach?
RR: I hope not. But, of course, with so few training sessions… even tomorrow I can’t do a lot with the players that played yesterday because I need to make sure they have enough power and fuel for the game on Sunday. Physically, we cannot really train. The only way to help them and give input is mentally. In regards to energy, the second half yesterday showed there’s enough energy in the team. Of course, it’s about video footage, showing them the right situations and tell them where they can do better and get the ball away from their own box. Those are the kind of things. Of course it’s training the brain. In the last few years, football has completely changed into a more physical and athletic, vertical, more high-speed ball game. I mean, if you watch games from the early 2000s and compare with now, you wouldn’t believe it was the same ball game. It has completely changed and in order to develop teams, you need not only to train the bodies but also the brains.
Ralf, can I just check one thing factually? Consultants are allowed to work in other places as well. Will that be the case with you in the consultancy role or will you work only and specifically for this club during that time?
RR: Again, we haven’t spoken about that. The club told me they wanted to work with me, not only in the short term but also in the medium term at least. They want to benefit from my experience and expertise. This would be a question you would need to ask the board members. For me, in the first instance, I could not turn down this proposal for the next six months. Including then the following two years, it was a perfect thing for me to do.
You were at the game last night. I would like to ask you, what were your likes and dislikes from what you saw?
RR: All of you saw the game yourself. The first half was shaky, to put it that way, it was an unlucky goal. All of a sudden, you saw an empty goal. Even the referee didn’t realise that David was lying on the goal line. Had he seen that, he probably would have interrupted the game, I would suppose. But he didn’t see it, he only saw it when the shot crossed the goal line and everybody was saying ‘What was this? Where was the goalkeeper?’ Even myself, I said ‘Where is David?’ Then I saw he was lying on the floor injured and from then on, it was very clear that it could only be for VAR to decide if it was a goal or not. After that goal, it was a major blow for the team. You could see that. At that time, the team was lacking confidence, which is normal after the last couple of weeks, having lost that many games and conceded that many goals. Therefore, it was important to get the equaliser before half-time. Then, for me, the first 20 minutes [of second half] was impressive. The way they played in their half, the way they closed down Arsenal in their box, you could see the potential there is in the team. We have to do that more sustainably. As I’ve said, to transform the game away from our own box to into this area where we have our assets and our weapons in the team.