This one, in all honesty, was a bit of a roller coaster as far as Ragnar’s managerial career goes.
It started off, really, two years ago after his first league title with AC Milan. They’d won it in style in his first season, adding it to the Supercoppa they took off Juve and they also picked up the TIM Cup – newly renamed in our reality to the Coppa Italia – for a domestic treble at the first time of asking. By any measure you care to mention, that’s a successful season.
He’d built his team around a strong veteran core of Memphis Depay, 31, Alessio Romagnoli, 29, Mattia Caldara, 31, Franck Kessie, 29, Rolando Mandragora, 28, and Rodri, 29. For his and my tastes, they were reaching the end of their careers but still had plenty to give. But they needed support. They needed the next generation of talent to come through and work to surpass them.
So in the post-season he went to the board to make his case for improved first team training facilities and improved youth everything. The board refused, saying that they’d rather buy players than produce them themselves. Disappointed but not too surprised, Ragnar went to work.
Alvaro Morata, another of the veteran players, was inconsistent and under performing (shocking, I know) at the age of 32. So he was sold for a low but fair price of £12mil and replaced by January signing Mikkel Kjærsgaard (from Midjtylland, £6mil). As cover, Alessio Zanni – a very capable young striker who’d spent the season on loan at Cagliari and done well – was brought into the first team.
Hoping for a decent transfer budget given the board’s insistence on buying the finished article rather than developing from within, Ragnar was disappointed to find that he’d only be getting a million of the Morata fee and the overall transfer budget was going to be a pitiful £25mil. For a club that had just won the league and was expected to make a run at the Champions League.
It was a blow, but not a bad one. He’d operated in worse conditions with Greuther and had turned them into a dominant force in Germany. He could do the same thing here.
Nebojsa Stankovic was brought in from Red Star Belgrade as cover for Kessie for the princely sum of £1.4mil.
All in all he was a solid, dependable (if uninspiring) player who could always be called on to do a job and do it well, as well as chipping in with some quality free kicks every now and then. Just what you want from a backup player.
Season two at Milan and Kjærsgaard proved to be a revelation. Supported by Memphis Depay on the left and academy product Xavi on the right, he smashed 31 goals in 36 appearances in all competitions as Ragnar held on to his domestic treble (including an invincible league season) and brought home the Champions League as well. That’s a good season, right?
Deciding to use it as leverage, he went back to the board to ask for sweeping upgrades to the facilities available to him. He’d seen the writing on the wall. The prize money he’d brought to the club was going to be swallowed by a wage bill that vastly exceeded whatever money would ever come into the club. A wage bill he’d already cut by £30mil p/a in ruthless selling activity.
Once again the board stated that they’d rather buy the finished article than have anything to do with developing future stars from within and sending him on his way, this time with a transfer budget of £30mil.
Seeing where this was going, Danny Dean was brought in on a free from Arsenal as an upgrade on Xavi and Dênis Passos joined from Cruzeiro via a loan spell at Napoli due to non-EU player limits for £10mil to replace the recently departed Depay on the left.
With our new look attack, and the emergence of Enrico Bachi as the new generation Romagnoli while on loan at Palermo last season, Ragnar felt confident.
Leading into the January transfer window, his side had walked the league, picking up where they’d left off. They’d breezed through their champions league group and drawn a fading Porto in the first knockout round. They’d battered Empoli in the Supercoppa. The whole time, running costs were being slashed thanks to shrewd financial management from Ragnar and the club was actually on the cusp of making a profit without the need for prize money to see them through.
Then the board came in like a wrecking ball.
Bayern Munich wanted Cengiz Haskan, Ragnar’s first choice right back and £45mil rated player. They offered £35mil. Laughing, Ragnar rejected the bid as ridiculous. The board had other ideas. They thought it was too good to turn down, so they went over his head and accepted the bid and Haskan was off to Germany.
Unhappy with this boardroom overreach, Ragnar stormed the offices and explained in no uncertain terms that this was unacceptable. The board was contrite, saying he was right and that it wouldn’t happen again.
Then it happened again, selling Mehdi Messouidi to Leverkusen for £10mil under his asking price because it was also ‘too good to turn down’, meaning we were now without first choice right and left backs – vital parts of Ragnar’s tactical system.
On January 19th 2029, feeling betrayed by the club, Ragnar resigned from AC Milan on principle. When he’d joined, they had been struggling to break back into the top four and get Champions League football. In his two and a half years at the club, he’d won them everything there was to win, operating under severe financial restrictions and with very little investment from the board.
He was used to financial restrictions. Nine years building Greuther into a domestic force had inured him to that reality. The constant lack of support from the board was disappointing, but he could deal with that. It was the broken promise leading to the gutting of his playing squad that was the final straw for the Icelander.
Disillusioned and despondent, he left Italy and went back home. He was present in the stadium he helped build to watch Greuther draw 0-0 with Barcelona in the Champions League as a paying fan.
He realised, while watching the club he’d grown to love compete at the highest level of club football, that he needed some time away from the game. He’d enjoyed the long term project at Greuther and, once he’d achieved his goals, he’d set out for pastures new. No ill feeling, no bad blood. That wasn’t the case now.
He’d performed above all expectations in Milan and had been under appreciated and eventually betrayed for it. He could live with the pressure of high level management and thrive under it. He understands that sometimes business decisions have to come before footballing ones. But loyalty and honour are things that don’t have a monetary value and they can’t be bought and sold.
It was time to get back to his roots. To joining a club and making it a home. To go somewhere where he would be appreciated, not just for his abilities as a manger but as a person. Where that would be, he doesn’t know. As things stand he’s still assessing his options from his modest home on the outskirts of Reykjavik.
One thing is certain, though – his future should be interesting.