He might have rejected Everton and Belgium in recent times – and very nearly took England’s top job – but taking Australia to a World Cup could be the challenge that lures in-demand German coach Ralf Rangnick.
Famous for engineering the transformation of Hoffenheim and Red Bull Leipzig from minnows into Bundesliga powerhouses, Rangnick has been identified as a leading contender for the vacant Socceroos’ coaching position.
The World Game understands that confidants of the coaching selection panel are seeking to investigate whether Rangnick’s current arrangement as sporting director at Red Bull Leipzig would allow him to take on a role at the 2018 World Cup.
The news comes after an eventful Wednesday, when veteran Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari added his name to an exhaustive list of hopeful journeymen and a false rumour that Graham Arnold had been offered the job.
Regarded alongside Jurgen Klopp as German football’s most astute tactician, Rangnick has created the entire blueprint for Red Bull’s global football strategy after two decades of remarkable success as a club manager.
Securing the 59-year old for Russia would prove incredibly unsettling for Australia's Group C opponents – primarily because his turbo-charged style, known in the German media as “Ralfball”, fuses rapid attacking with brutal frontal pressing, designed to force opposition mistakes.
While the strategy has proven hugely entertaining – Red Bull Leipzig’s average crowds have exploded from 7,500 to almost 41,500 in four years – the high-octane approach has also proven extremely difficult to coach against. The club finished second in the Bundesliga last season at their first attempt and they are only bettered by Bayern Munich again this time around.
Australia is not the first international job Rangnick has been linked to this past year, with England and Belgium both making approaches. Technical director England's FA, Dan Ashworth, headhunted Rangnick for the role but he was overruled by his board, who buckled to public pressure for a British coach.
Last month, English Premier League club Everton were keen on prising Rangnick away from the Bundesliga but he again stuck with Red Bull, who extended his current contract to 2021.
However, the Australian option is a reality because Rangnick could retain his present role – similar to the model that allowed Australia access to Guus Hiddink while he coached PSV Eindhoven.
The Socceroos will only visit Australia once before the World Cup, their now-traditional “farewell” match likely to be in Sydney or Melbourne in late May. They will also play one friendly in Europe in March, with the small possibility of another match or an extended training camp.
While the FFA is thought to prefer a long-term option, being able to lure Rangnick at the peak of his powers would be an undeniable PR scalp.
Despite a limited playing career, as a coach Rangnick has developed an enviable knack for getting the best from unfashionable teams. His track record of winning promotions in Germany is legendary, beginning with SSV Ulm in 1998 and then at Hannover 96 four years later.
He famously engineered back-to-back promotions for tiny TSG Hoffenheim in 2008 and 2009, then took Schalke to the German Cup and UEFA Champions League semi-finals in 2011 before becoming sporting director of then-Regionalliga (fourth division) side Red Bull Leipzig and the all-conquering Austrian team Red Bull Salzburg in 2012.
Leipzig subsequently won three promotions in four years, with Rangnick temporarily stepping in as manager in 2015-16 – the very season they qualified for the Bundesliga.
Rangnick will already have a huge influence at the World Cup, with several youngsters he nurtured bound for Russia, including Red Bull quartet Emil Forsberg (Sweden), Timo Werner (Germany), Bruma (Portugal) and Denmark star Yussuf Poulsen, plus Swiss striker Mario Gavranović and Brazilian pair Luiz Gustavo and Roberto Firmino.
He also piloted the careers of several established German national team stars, including Joshua Kimmich, Julian Draxler, Benedikt Höwedes and Manuel Neuer.
In addition to knowing Poulsen, Rangnick would also have great insight into Peru’s best player Jefferson Farfan, who he coached at Schalke.