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How Man Utd 'laughing stock' Rangnick restored reputation with Austria

When Ralf Rangnick parted ways with Manchester United a little over two years ago, his stock could hardly have been lower.

The 65-year-old, who was installed as interim manager, had been unable to bring the required results and performances at Old Trafford, while he also seemed to lack the respect of some of his players - with Cristiano Ronaldo saying he never saw him as a boss.

But, fast forward to the present day and he has led Austria to the Euro 2024 knockouts, facing Turkey on Tuesday night for a place in the quarter-finals.

They reached this stage by getting a win against the Netherlands that not just showed why Rangnick earned the title the 'Godfather of the Gegenpress', but also proved his current group of players are right behind him.

"When we have the ball we have someone on the bench who has a very good input," said captain Marcel Sabitzer, who scored the goal to secure the 3-2 win against the Dutch that ensured Austria finished top of a group that also contained France.

The midfielder added: "It feels very good to play in this team and I am really enjoying every day with this team and the staff. I would like to stay here a bit longer."

From passive and cautious to relentless hunters

That result against the Dutch was arguably the reward for Rangnick being afforded the time to shape this Austria side in his vision.

Results were mixed after he was appointed manager of the national team in April 2022, but over time they have produced some impressive displays, notably beating Italy and securing draws with Belgium and France prior to this tournament.

Austria won three of their four games before heading to Germany and, after an own goal condemned them to a loss to France in their Group D opener, they responded with wins against Poland and now the Netherlands - one of the pre-tournament favourites.

So far in Germany, Rangnick's team played with relentless energy and a hunger to win back the ball quickly after losing it. Against the Dutch at times, the opposition players seemed exhausted in the face of their opponents' desire.

"You can see a clear development since the coach joined the team," Sabitzer added.

"Before we were a bit passive against the ball and we have definitely changed that.

"We are now very strong against the ball, so everyone knows when we lose the ball we have to switch and hunt down the ball. That is the biggest difference."

Tom Middler, host of Austrian football podcast "The Other Bundesliga", says this Austria side is a complete opposite to the one under Rangnick's predecessor Franco Foda.

“On a few memorable occasions, Franco Foda gave his players an earful when they instinctively tried to move forward and press, so the current style couldn't be much more contrasting to the defensive, cautious Austria of before," he told BBC Sport.

“The players certainly seem to respect [Rangnick] and they appear to be very happy with him in charge as his football is much closer to what most players know from their clubs."

Ralf Rangnick and his Austria players celebrate their win against the Netherlands
Ralf Rangnick, right, has been in charge of Austria for two years [Getty Images]

The statistics also show that Austria have been one of the most effective pressing teams at Euro 2024.

Opta data on 'PPDA', which stands for 'opposition passes allowed per defensive action', showed that only Germany allow their opponents fewer passes before closing them down during the group stage.

And Austria's aggression in their determination to win back the ball is clear. Of the teams to have only played three games so far, they have committed the most fouls with 49 fouls, earning them 10 yellow cards in the process.

"I just look at Austria and the way they are organised in and out of possession," former Liverpool defender Stephen Warnock said on BBC Radio 5 live.

"It is very regimented, every single player has gone on to that pitch and knows what is expected of them. It's the team collective and it's outstanding."

A manager more suited to international football?

Rangnick had a long and varied career as a club manager, with Manchester United the 13th side he had coached, but rarely had longevity.

However, he seems to have found the right fit with Austria.

He rejected the chance to return to club football before this summer's Euros after being approached by Bayern Munich.

"Ralf Rangnick was almost a laughing stock by the time he left Manchester United," said BBC Sport's chief football news reporter Simon Stone.

"Two wins from his final 10 games as interim manager, including four-goal defeats at Liverpool and Brighton, his hopes of getting the technical director's job long since disappeared.

"But history has been kinder to the German in terms of his Old Trafford history.

"The 'open heart surgery' he famously spoke of, delivering in public the harsh assessment of the state of United he had already spoken of internally, has proved to be almost 100% accurate.

"It should be no surprise that he is excelling as an international manager.

"The infrequent international programme suits his analytical way of looking at the game and gives him time to tinker with his ideas and space to formulate his plans."

Can Austria go all the way?

Having topped a group containing pre-tournament favourites France and the Netherlands, Austria arguably need to be taken seriously as genuine Euro 2024 contenders.

Rangnick, however, has played down his side's chances.

"I already said months ago I don't think it is very probable to win the Euros," he said.

"If someone ask me if I would completely rule it out I'd say it is still not very likely, but the lads want to go as far as possible and we will take it step by step."

Sabitzer sounded slightly more upbeat about Austria's tournament chances.

"The statistics and the betting odds have their own language, but we have made the first step," he said.

"It has been a very difficult group, but once you are in a knockout system you can have a run.

"We are just focusing on the next game and we have the quality to beat any opponent."

All eyes will now be on Austria and just how far they can go.