Return to Sender: Rangnick to rejoin Lokomotiv following United assignment

When Markus Gisdol quit his post at Lokomotiv Moscow, he did so in the manner of a thief fleeing in the night. Once out of Russia, he said it was due to the attack on Ukraine. Not I, nor any other person, would blame him for leaving as a conscientious objector. As a German he knows better than anyone the effects of conflict and being a pariah nation, he did right for himself, his family and the cause of peace.

Following Bernd Pansold’s instructions were one thing, this redeemed him for many. Former Celtic flop Martin Compper now leads the Moscow side where he prepares for a derby showdown with Spartak. Though last night news erupted online that as of July 1st, his boss will be back in town and taking the hot seat.

Full steam ahead

While Gisdol’s flight from Russia was greeted with delight by the Lokomotiv fans, there were groans when Ralf Rangnick’s mouthpiece in Moscow, Tomas Zorn, gave his briefing to selected media. Nobody could believe the neck of the former Red Bull supremo’s decision to return, especially given the very mixed results during his company’s contract with Manchester United.

While the English and Irish media almost en masse celebrated the godfather of gegenpressing’s arrival to England, there were almost no dissenting voices. The outlets who did ask questions about the man’s arrival at Old Trafford did so in a professional and balanced manner, though none lifted the bonnet to see who and what was driving the Red Bull bus in Manchester.

Zorn has his friends in Russian media, especially those with a Spartak persuasion, which is why his words were not greeted with gravity by many in the east of Moscow where Loko are based. Basically anything could appear in writing and be believed, especially in relation to Russia and Russian football.

Those who were privy to Zorn’s insider information are planning to release the news of Rangnick’s return before or after tomorrow’s derby. Just as Lokomotiv fans began to believe in better, this happens. The train that left the station, is now chuntering back to Moscow to rescue a club that could soon be no more.

Sanctions to Shares

Russian Railways were hit with sanctions and coupled with the banning of Russian clubs from UEFA competitions, state funded clubs (all bar one in the Russian Premier League) got serious cases of jitters. Spartak, Dynamo, CSKA and Zenit all saw the bottom line take a further hit when FIFA allowed foreign players in Russia (and Ukraine) to temporarily break their contracts.

Some players have left and there was real humanity shown by demonised (including by me) fans who came out in support of Ukrainian players and staff who took time off or left. Dynamo Moscow fans emotional response to Andriy Voronin leaving was unsurprising as their new idol Fedor Smolov also called for peace.

Lokomotiv Moscow, under the lacklustre leadership of Alexander Plutnik and the questionable Vladimir Leonchenko, are tied up to Rangnick’s shunter for at least three more years and collapsing under the weight of expected debt. Added to that the call by Russian Railways to sell it’s shares in the club, the chaos could lead to a liquidation and Rangnick’s RKC (Rangnick Kornetka Consulting) company will be just another creditor.

Unless, of course, the main man comes back and gets results on the field in advance of a year without European football. Zorn was unclear as to why Rangnick would want to return to such a crisis, though in all crises, there is money to be made. And Ralf knows how to line his pockets.

April Fool

We knew on Wednesday that something was moving when Rangnick scheduled a Teams call with his boots on the ground.

Normally it is Leon Kornetka who handles the weekly calls, though this week the boss man took charge. Compper and the “crazy crew” (as they’ve been branded by Lokomotiv colleagues) spoke for just over an hour with Ralf. When I was told this by a Lokomotiv staff member we agreed it was due to the big Saturday showdown with Spartak.

Martin was tightlipped about the content though by yesterday morning rumours were steaming around the Lokosphere. With the Sporting Director’s fireside chat it all became clear. When Ralf finishes wrecking United, he’ll return to finish the job he started in Moscow.

Two nuggets were disposed of by Tomas. The first is the confirmation of Valeri Karpin’s candidacy for the head coach job at the RZD Arena. It was discussed in early March, though not by the club and only by Karpin’s friends in media. The Russian head coach with no matches to look forward to plus a club with no head coach, it was added up. But it was never going to be.

The post was Ralf’s. The second nugget is that Ralf’s throwaway comment last year that his goal was to turn Lokomotiv into the Red Bull of Russia, has become disturbingly real. Dietmar Mateschitz is preparing to buy a controlling share in the club via a holding company in Asia. A senior Red Bull executive here in Moscow this morning confirmed that Red Bull Russia are in the process of doing a marketing deal with FC Lokomotiv Moscow and that there would be, to the end of this season, a number of events held outside the arena before matches. They have yet to sign a commercial deal, though “talks are advanced”. The execution of the promo events have already been agreed upon with one of Russia’s largest PR and Event agencies.

So fears that Rangnick would stay on as Manchester United manager can be allayed, though he will still be consulting with the club for many millions and two more years. His Lokomotiv project will get back on the rails with Red Bull money and medicine, all the while nobody in the English or Irish football media will demand that he does a Gisdol and break his contract with a state funded Russian club.

If only it were an April Fool’s wind up, we’d all be laughing.

The Author

Alan Moore

Russian based sports journalist, commentator and consultant, working with major clubs including Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt, Lokomotiv and Spartak Moscow. Current host of Capital Sports 3.0, former international boxer and semi-professional footballer and commentated at the FIFA World Cup 2018 and 2019 Rugby World Cup.

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