The December 2021 phone call between Ralph Rangnick and Chris Almas didn’t last long.
Rangnick offered Almas a dream job. It was his chance to coach at Manchester United while the German national team was interim manager of the Premier League club. It’s been five months since Almas served in his second term as head coach, but that tenure lasted just 11 games in Major League Soccer (MLS) against Toronto FC. Now he was eyeing a chance on the bench at one of the most historic clubs in the world.
“I was on a plane a few days later,” Almas says. The Athletic. “It was surreal.”
However, Almas found himself in a difficult situation in Manchester. United have been struggling with the sacking of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Rangnick was appointed interim manager in the hope that the situation could be stabilized.
But trying to put his philosophy into practice would mean a big shift in the star-studded roster. His six-month schedule with a provisional tag made things even more difficult. It was a brutal introduction to one of the most scrutinized teams in the world’s greatest league.
A great American player, Almas was a manager with little known history in the Premier League. He soon found himself under a microscope on a global scale. That he was one of the rare Americans to coach in Europe added another factor.
“When I first got there, it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, there’s an American here.’ It wasn’t like that,” Almas says. “When you talk to the players, Cristiano[Ronaldo]is like, ‘Oh, you’re from the Bronx.’ They read a little bit about you, they know a few things here and there.
“But at some point when things got tough for the club in terms of results, yes, I think I was the easy target. I mean, the journalists, or whoever puts it out there, are just blatantly lying.Lies.Is that part of it because I’m American?I don’t know.But at some point in the season things go wrong. When I didn’t, I think I would have been an easy target.”
One first-reported encounter in particular was The Athletic After Rangnick’s dismissal, he made headlines. Almas met with legendary former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson to discuss his coaching and playing career. After the conversation, multiple sources said they heard Ferguson say something to the effect of, “We need more than that here, son.”
“I met Sir Alex Ferguson once on my first night at the club,” says Almas. “I was able to get into[his]suite. Forget about the pre-match and post-match, I just introduced myself to everyone in the room… I said hello to 10 people and he was the last one. ’ I just said it was an honor to meet him…I told him that I had read a lot of his books and had listened to some of them in the car on the drive, And it was a real honor and he wished me luck.
“We had one person in common, Ron Stern, from Chicago. He asked about Ron’s uncle, Lee, and that was it.
“Well, when it turns out that Sir Alex says I’m giving him my résumé or whatever, it’s not far from the truth, it’s just a lie. It was just a lie. And again, what was important to me was meeting a legendary figure and someone I really admired for all of his achievements, his leadership, and so on.”
After leaving United with Rangnick at the end of the 2021/22 season, Almas joined Leeds United as an assistant earlier this year alongside former Chicago Fire team-mate and RBNY colleague Jesse Marsh. Marsh was fired after just 12 days, leaving Almas at a loss.
He remained at the club for a few weeks and was interim co-manager on his return to Manchester United before eventually leaving when Javi Gracia took over. Gracia was sacked last week as Leeds struggled to avoid relegation and was replaced by Sam Allardyce.
Both games were tumultuous in many ways for Almas, and despite some scrutiny from the outside, Almas said he has no regrets about making it to the Premier League.
“I think my time in England was positive,” says Almas. “This piece was well received by so many people in and around the area where I lived and in the club. It meant more to me than some of the pieces written at the time. .”
That view reflects his personality. To American footballers, Almas is widely respected not only for his career as a player who was happy to be a mainstay in midfield, but also as a coach, colleague and friend. Almas has a reputation in the United States for his ability to build relationships in the locker room, earning the trust and respect of his players.
That was the strength he sought to convey across the Atlantic.
“I think what I want to say about Manchester United is that you can tell right away that they are normal people, even on the first day, to be honest,” Almas said. “Superstars, but when you talk about Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof and Cristiano, they’re players and[but]people.
“I think it was important for me to try to establish myself every day and work hard. I just tried to do the best I could each day and did it. , I think it may or may not be respected, but for Darren Fletchers (former United player, now the club’s technical director), the people in the organization, and myself, it’s about respect. “I think we won. Most importantly, the players. It was a learning experience. It was a difficult time for United, but I learned a lot and improved a lot through this job.” “
Almas added that the players were different heights than those he had coached before, but their approach to work was different. At least in terms of getting to know the characters in the club.
“I think it’s the work that counts and they want to be recognized for it,” Almas says. “When you run a session or put together a practice session, there are always conversations. Every day at any given time he has 100 small conversations, most of which are very intentional to me.
“So when the players are in the gym or in the dining room every day, it’s just a little conversation about the players, how they play, how they think about their families, how they think about their kids, after training. Learn what you do and soon people will realize that you are someone who has something to give.Conversations about football are important because Because it reveals what you know and what you don’t know…and gain some credibility every day.
“How long will it take? My approach, or strategy, to be honest, is to be myself, but also consciously try to connect with as many people as possible as quickly as possible. We did it across the club, down to the[employees]and the players.”
Almas said he was humbled by the kind of media coverage he saw in the UK. The reason is that he has long understood that criticism is part of the job, whether it is justified or not. Over his two World Cup cycles, Almas was a regular on the US national team. He was named the All-American Male Soccer Player of the Year in 2000. Still, I heard criticism from fans.
“People on the outside will say, ‘Chris Armas sucks.’ He shouldn’t be in the national team, so why is he there?” But… people still say that,” he says. “As a player, as a coach, in this high-profile job, there will always be people who disagree with you, don’t like you, and say things. That’s part of it.”
Events in Almas’ personal life have also given a different perspective on his career.
“My father passed away a year ago. It gave me a new perspective,” Almas says. “So my father is battling cancer while I’m in Manchester. So what can you say is really important? What really bothers me so much?”
Despite the heartache, Almas focused on his work, surrendering to the relationships he had built and trying to make the most of his time at Rangnick and Leeds. He had hoped for more at Leeds, but his short tenure provided him with great opportunities and some validation.
“It was great to be back at Leeds and play against Manchester United,” Almas said. “A dozen players and staff waiting to be greeted in the tunnel after the game – Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire, a bunch of guys, Victor[Lindelof]all around with big hugs. And again, that means more than anything to me, because I realize that I had my time, yes, it’s a matter of winning and losing, certainly a matter of growth, but It’s always a matter of connectivity.”
The next development of Almas is still undecided. He has definitely learned a lot from his two Premier League stints, learning how to manage different personalities and deal with pressure at the top level. He has had the opportunity to analyze teams such as Manchester City, Arsenal and Real Madrid up close. He says his time in England has influenced his view of the game and evolved some of his philosophies. He definitely learned more about managing great people.
He wants another chance at the head coaching job. “I still love the dynamic of the whole team and I’m still interested in being the leader of a team and what it’s like. , I have a lot to give,” he says. But Almas concedes, “There are probably some jobs where you can be an assistant coach, but it has to be the right people and the right circumstances.”
If Marsh takes over as manager of the US Men’s National Team ahead of the 2026 World Cup, will that include joining the staff?
“I recently decided to work with Jesse in Leeds and I am always thinking of working with him,” says Almas.
After coming very close to representing the United States at two World Cups but missing due to injury — the first 10 days before Korea and Japan 2002 and the other a few months before Germany 2006 — This would be a great opportunity. Adds another big experience to his resume.
And for Almas, it could be another reason to be grateful, regardless of what it looks like from the outside.
“I learned along the way. Sometimes I do the same things, sometimes I do different things, but I learn and I grow,” Almas said. “I think all these experiences will make me a little better prepared for what comes next.”
(Top photo: Getty Images; Design: John Bradford)