Adrian Batchelor would be lying if he said he remembered all the intricacies of Ralf Rangnick’s 21-year-old football brain. However, since it is so rare for a German to play for a non-league team in Sussex, it helps to remember a few details – like how seriously he took the game.
The 63-year-old has been confirmed as interim manager of Manchester United until the end of the season and it is slowly becoming known that his project at Old Trafford will not be his first experience in English football.
Rangnick was 21 when he spent a year at the University of Sussex while studying English and physical education at the University of Stuttgart. He wanted to play soccer and ended up in Southwick – a tiny town just a few miles outside of Brighton and Hove. Previously known only as the place where King Charles II stayed (apparently) before fleeing to France, it has never received as much attention as it does now.
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“He was pretty serious, but in a very friendly way,” Batchelor told Eurosport, looking back on his memories of Rangnick.
He took his football very seriously, that’s what was special for me back then. The training, the preparation and the games, he took all of these very seriously.
“It’s easy to think about what you’ve achieved in today’s terms and then back off and say, ‘Wow, I remember that’. At the age of 21 I was just playing at the highest level I had ever played, I was excited and I just loved soccer – but it wasn’t life.
Ralf Rangnick (front row, second from right) in the game for Southwick
Photo credit: Other Agency
“With Ralf – and I guess a little – but I think he came from an environment where the football he played in Germany might have been more serious, and I don’t know what level it was at the time has played.
“You think about what happened to him after that and he obviously saw football as a career option for him, he must have done that.
“There is a player profile about Ralf from one of the programs, I have a copy of it and what I noticed is the ambition, it’s called ‘professional football’. It doesn’t say “I want to be a footballer” or “play professional football”, but rather “professional football”. He was 21 years old at the time. Anyone who is not yet in the pro game as a player at the age of 21 may have missed their chance – this is the case with most of them. What we know today is that just a few years later he became a professional coach. “
Ralf Rangnick’s player profile on a broadcast for Southwick
Photo credit: Other Agency
Batchelor, who has now retired from working in the financial services industry, is the same age as Rangnick. He has, as he describes, “15 minutes of fame” for playing with the German and says: “My mother and sister were so proud of me that I was on the news when I was 10 – that’s the funniest” , but when I think back, there was nothing special about him for Rangnick’s footballing skills.
“A lot of my friends have said, ‘Was he really, really good as a player?’ And I don’t remember him being anything but the same kind of standard as us guys. He only played 11 games in the first team, I played practically all of them and Ralf played a few for us and for the reserves, “he said.
“I can’t remember that he was an outstanding footballer, to be honest, way ahead of everyone else, but he was a good player. He was a midfielder, he was very skilled, I probably remember that. He was a pretty slim, slim guy, good at the ball.
“I think it was a few years ago when I saw him with Schalke in the Champions League, and I remember talking to people who said, ‘I played with him!’ and they said ‘No!’, but there cannot be two Ralf Rangnicks. “
Ralf Rangnick donated £ 1000 to a crowdfunder in Southwick in 2020
Photo credit: Other Agency
Rangnick obviously enjoys looking back on his time in Southwick and only made a £ 1,000 donation last year. The club has had a rough time the past few years – the previous tenants left their place, Old Barn Way, in disarray. As a result of the chaos that ensued, they were demoted to a couple of divisions. The way forward has led to differences of opinion and the original club – now known as Southwick 1882 – has become a splinter AFC Southwick, which plays in the Whitehawk area of Brighton.
But Batchelor is part of big plans to make Old Barn Way – as he describes it – the “spiritual home” of non-league football in Sussex. He is the trustee of the Russell Martin Foundation, which has signed a 25-year lease to convert the stadium into a project that could cost up to £ 2 million. Martin, the current Swansea boss, has strong ties to the region – he grew up in Brighton and graduated from Brighton & Hove Albion Academy.
In his message about the donation, Rangnick said: “Dear Wickers fans, Playing for Wickers in 1980 was a great experience for me as a young student and player. For this reason I would like to support your campaign and I sincerely hope that the club can return to the Old Barn Way in due course. Up the pastures! “
Batchelor hopes both himself and Martin can lure him back to Southwick before the end of the season to support their campaign to raise money for the floor: “United won’t play Brighton until May, but I hope so he is here we can some of the old players come over here and meet russ (martin). He clearly loves England, he still has an affection for Southwick. We’d like to get it back. “
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