Ralph Rangnick doesn’t like to be late. The clock is where he starts his work in all clubs. Starting at Hoffenheim, Rangnick always set the clock at the training base. What for? When a team is working on pressing, the clock puts the necessary pressure on the players.
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“The assistant coach turns them on and the countdown begins,” he told DW in 2017. “We use them for a game called the eight-second rule. Players hear the ticking and know to get the ball back within eight seconds. And if they have the ball, they must hit the goal within ten seconds. The ticking is annoying for many, but such training leaves its mark for many weeks to come.”
For Rangnick, the main thing in football is to make quick transitions from one state of play to another, whether it be losing the ball or vice versa, returning it. He’s not the only one focusing on the transition, but few people focus as much on speed.
“It’s so important to him,” says ex-Canada midfielder Julian de Guzman. “He made a huge emphasis on how we attacked or defended at these moments. I learned how to win the ball aggressively, as well as how to play compact in case you lose the ball in some parts of the field. We worked so hard on this that his lessons became a part of me. As soon as we lost the ball, we instinctively tried to get it back as quickly as possible.”
Eight seconds? “It’s very simple,” says ex-Hannover and US player Steve Cerandolo. “Statistics make it clear that most goals are scored within eight seconds of losing possession. This is a sport built on mistakes. It has always been this way, and until the rules change, it will always be so. Coaches around the world have learned to pay more attention to the transition period. Everything Ralph does on the pitch relates to this same aspect of the game.”
According to the coach himself, the eight-second rule should permanently change the way players behave on the field. The timing report creates a trigger that activates every time you lose the ball. In fact, the Pavlov reflex is being developed. And that’s Rangnick’s approach to everything. It’s not about instructions, but relentless repetition until the actions work out on their own.
At his first press conference as United coach, Rangnick spoke of his desire to “train the brains” of the players. He likes the phrase train the brain in English so much that he even translated it into German. He sincerely believes that the task of a coach is “not to find the right tactics, but to instill in the player the right habits and impulses.” The system is not formations and schemes, but a mentality.
“The future is brain training, that is, cognitive training, provoking players, a way to get them out of their comfort zone in training and get used to difficult conditions in order to learn how to make tough decisions in a matter of seconds.”
According to him, “the main potential of a football player lies in his brain.” In order to become better, you need to do everything faster – analyze the situation faster, make a decision faster, act faster. At Leipzig, he experimented with oculography and cognitive exercises, recording footballers’ eye movements in the hopes of improving the development of their coordination and spatial vision. He noted how Nabi Keita was able to make decisions quickly, sketching in his head a picture of what was happening on the field. Others failed, but he tried to fix it.
A watch with a report is an important aspect of this system. “Players hear a ticking tick that reminds them of the task. This is very annoying for them. They are nervous. But without such a pathogen it is impossible to induce behavioral changes – otherwise “the brain cannot be trained.”