Manchester United may have fallen from their pedestal since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, while Ralf Rangnick knows all about the Scot’s prowess. The Red Devils once beat Germany’s Schalke in a performance that Fergie hailed as one of the best performances he had seen at the club in Europe.
Old Trafford in 2011 was a very different place than it is today. On the one hand, it was much happier.
And they had every reason to be, Fergie was behind the wheel, the No.12 Premier League title was on the way and they had just reached the Champions League final in glorious style. Little did he know his counterpart in that semi-final would be sitting in his dugout over 10 years later.
Rangnick had just returned to Schalke a few months before they met in Europe after replacing Felix Magath and started in sensational form in his second spell at the club. Amazingly, his Bundesliga side beat Champions League holders Inter Milan 7-3 on aggregate.
It’s no small feat, but there would be no dream final after meeting United in the next round. It was a Schalke side filled with future world-class stars – Manuel Neuer, Julian Draxler, Joel Matip – led by the legendary Raul up front.
And in the red corner were some classic United names including Paul Scholes, John O’Shea and Edwin van der Sar, while United would absolutely slip past Schalke in a 6-1 aggregate result. Ferguson was over the moon, especially with the first leg ending 2-0 in Germany calling him one of his best.
“We had fantastic performances in Europe and at Juventus [in 1999] will always be at the top of the list, but this definitely ranks among the best,” Ferguson said. “Our concentration, the intensity of our play and the speed of our passes were exceptional. It was a very good performance and it is a merit for the players to have confidence in themselves and in each other.”
But after absolutely schooling Rangnick, there was one complimentary joke for the man who would later take his job. He added: “It was a fantastic atmosphere but it never intimidated them once. They kept playing football. They had faith in each other. I think we are coming to a peak.”
A second beating would follow at Old Trafford where Antonio Valencia, Darren Gibson and an Anderson brace would leave Schalke returning to Gelsenkirchen in awe. As for United, Lionel Messi would go on to stage a masterclass to lead Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona to victory.
It might have been hard for United fans to imagine in 2011, but there weren’t many better moments than this season with Fergie’s chosen replacement David Moyes kicking off nearly a decade of failure. Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would follow in everyone’s footsteps to fail and Rangnick is now in the hot seat – until the end of the season at least.
After that, the German coach will follow Fergie again – occupying a consultant position upstairs. They might even remember that tie in the Champions League.