Ralf Rangnick, 62, led RB Leipzig to the Bundesliga as a coach
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Soccer

What football will look like in 10 years, according to Ralf Rangnick

As sports director, coach and tactical mastermind, Ralf Rangnick, 62, has had a formative influence on European football. Now he answers 11 questions about the future of his beloved sport.
Written by Christian Eberle-Abasolo
8 min readPublished on

1. When I watch a Champions League match 10 years down the line, what will be the most significant change I notice?

Ralf Rangnick: Football has evolved into a high-speed sport in recent years, and this evolution is not over yet. Passing acuity, passing precision and the speed of decision-making will continue to increase. The time and space players are afforded to receive a pass calmly is diminishing constantly. In the past, some pundits used to say: “It takes someone to calm down the game, to step on the ball.” Try doing that against one of the top teams today. You won’t stand a chance.

2. In recent decades, physical performance levels have increased rapidly. Are there still ways to improve young players in this respect?

There won't be any quantum leaps in performance levels, meaning injury prevention will become all the more important. Tracking data ensures that our fitness coaches know exactly how demanding a session is and when breaks are required. The devil is in the details. The future is all about “train the brain”, i.e. cognitive training: provoking players, coaxing them out of their comfort zone in training, exposing them to difficult conditions, and asking them to make snap decisions in a confined space under time pressure.

In Hoffenheim, for example, we set up a countdown clock on the training pitch. You have ten seconds to score a goal, eight seconds to win back a lost ball. The players could hear that clock ticking as a constant reminder. This was not only new to all players, but it also annoyed them immensely. It got on their nerves. It had to annoy them to trigger behavioural changes – “train the brain”.

The future is all about ‘train the brain’, i.e. cognitive training that coaxes players out of their comfort zone
Ralf Rangnick believes players need to be capable of performing at the highest level, both physically and mentally

3. Will there still be room for players who – let’s say – act less professionally than expected off the pitch?

Such characters will be around, but they will never maximise their potential. For many years, coaches and TV pundits argued: “You need a few bastards in the team who sneak out of the training camp to turn night into day and have a few drinks to many.” Such players no longer stand a chance. That would be like Max Verstappen trying to win a Formula One race while insisting on filling up his car with diesel.

A portrait of Ralf Rangnick.
Rangnick is considered to be one of the fathers of modern pressing football

4. Is the era of the classic street or cage footballers coming to an end due to increasing professionalism in the youth sector?

I consider it the task of the clubs and academies to integrate elements of cage and street football into training. That includes asserting yourself, holding your own against older players and fighting for every win. Some associations are considering no longer keeping score in games involving very young players on account of performance pressure. They are thinking of eliminating wins and defeats, tables in general. Complete nonsense!

If you had tried to explain that to eight-year-old Joshua Kimmich (Editor’s note: now a professional at Bayern Munich), his answer would have been: “The only reason I play football is to win.” It was because of this mentality that, even at the young age of 18 in Leipzig, he would give team-mates a dressing down if they didn’t give it their all in a four-on-four match. This mentality is why he is playing in Munich today. It is precisely this mindset that needs to be cultivated more in academies.

5. How does football have to change to engage a young audience with a shorter attention span?

I happen to believe that this supposed shorter attention span is a cliché. After all, the esports field is a prime example of young people being willing and able to concentrate on one thing for hours on end. There is also a greater desire for an evidence-based understanding of the game involving statistics, passing routes, expected goals, covered kilometres and top speed. Data is now available on pretty much every aspect. Digitisation and artificial intelligence will continue to advance.

The crucial question for both spectators and coaching teams is: How do you interpret this data? The beauty of all these innovations is that, at the end of the day, it is still people who have to process this data and interpret it accordingly.

Success hinges on three Cs: concept, competence and capital. Capital is often readily available, but in most cases the other two are an issue
Ralf Rangnick

6. Which rule change would you welcome?

I would continue to allow five substitutions, as was introduced during the pandemic. It makes the game faster, reduces injuries and keeps the squad in better spirits. And I believe we should discuss an issue I brought up 15 years ago. Are the dimensions of the goal still reasonable? When the goal was defined to be 2.44m high and 7.32m wide, the average person – and that includes goalkeepers – was 10cm shorter. If you made the goal 30cm wider and 20cm higher, you would certainly see a few more goals.

7. What are the key qualities a successful coach must bring to the table in 10 years’ time to win major titles?

Team insight, interpersonal skills and decision-making authority – basically everything a modern manager in the private sector should have, too. In my first coaching job, there were three of us: an assistant manager, the goalkeeping coach and me. Today you are required to be the liaison for 15 to 20 experts, from video analysts to nutritionists.

It’s not enough to merely delegate tasks to these experts. You are expected to engage in dialogue with them. That’s why modern coaches need so much more specialised knowledge than they used to.

A portrait of coach Ralf Rangnick.
A coach needs the same qualities as a modern manager, says Rangnick

8. Where do I start to ensure my team will be successful in 10 years’ time?

First and foremost, the club needs a clearly defined philosophy. What do I want to represent? This is what the world of business calls a corporate identity. Without corporate identity, there is no corporate behaviour. If there is no clear football identity, or if it changes with every coaching staff change, you represent nothing as a club. That’s exactly why Schalke 04 have been relegated to the second division.

Success hinges on three Cs: concept, competence, and capital. Capital is often readily available, but in most cases the project fails due to a lack of competence on the part of the individuals involved and a lack of concept. I refer to that as the game plan. Just look at what Jürgen Klopp achieved in Dortmund and now in Liverpool. He electrified the club, the players and whole city.

9. Will we still enjoy underdog stories in the future, or will the era of serial champions continue?

The second German league, in which smaller clubs like Kiel and Fürth are among the top teams, is an excellent example. And yes, Bayern are champions again. But if Erling Haaland were at RB Leipzig instead of Borussia Dortmund, the 2021 champion would be RB Leipzig. That is, of course, only a hypothesis. Yet all you have to do is look at his goal rate in relation to the chances missed by Leipzig. In short, if you make plenty of excellent decisions, you can outperform clubs that have significantly greater financial resources. That will still be the case 20 years down the line. Accordingly, I would not readily subscribe to views such as “money scores goals” or “money wins titles”. There are too many examples that prove the opposite.

Coach Ralf Rangnick.
Pioneering thinker Rangnick relies on big data analysis and tech advances

10. What message would you deliver to the initiators of the Super League?

I would tell them to involve more actual football expertise. It is obvious that economic competence was over-represented in the negotiations. If you look at the debt level of the leading clubs, you don’t need to be a hardcore fan to realise that it was all a matter of money. In this respect, I am a traditionalist through and through. Retaining a merit-based football pyramid is paramount. Small clubs must have the chance to get promoted. And big clubs must be relegated if they mismanage their affairs for years. I had a hard time coming to terms with the franchise system in the US when I was Head of Global Soccer at Red Bull, and I doubt I will come to terms with it in this life.

I embrace modern methods, but the essence must remain the love of the sport
Despite progress, Ralf Rangnick is convinced that one thing will prevail: football

11. What was better in football in the past than it is today?

The atmosphere at the grounds. I remember visits to Stuttgart’s old ground, Arsenal’s Highbury, or Upton Park. Those memories still give me goosebumps. Back then, hardly any VIP rooms or lounges existed. People didn’t come to the game to have a nice meal and a chat. It was all about football, passion, emotions and the love of the sport. That is something one should never lose sight of. We should embrace modern methods of developing players and teams, but the very essence must remain the love of the sport.