The future of the manager
Erik ten Hag’s team is treading water at exactly the wrong moment, with Sir Jim Ratcliffe taking over as head of Manchester United’s sporting department before making sweeping changes to the post that will have a direct impact on the manager. Richard Arnold has left, although he is officially staying until the end of the year, and his role could be taken by Jean-Claude Blanc, the CEO of Ratcliffe’s Ineos Sport, as the man Ten Hag reports to. Ten Hag’s boss could also change as Ratcliffe considers the need for a new director of football, a position held by John Murtough. Ten Hag could get the first indication of his status in Ratcliffe’s new empire if he is probed for his views on a key factor in his ability to coach and lead the team to success: United’s transfer policy. Which brings us to Murtough…
Will Murtough survive?
The director of football has no plans to leave but whether he stays on site could be up to Ratcliffe. Some at the club believe Murtough is either being moved sideways or following Arnold out the exit door. Ratcliffe could have expressed his opinion of him when he questioned the signing of 30-year-old Casemiro on a four-year contract worth around £350,000 a week during a club tour in March. Murtough, whose football department has a transfer veto, and Ten Hag, who has the same, were responsible for signing the Brazilian. It is said that Murtough, who was present when Ratcliffe brought this up, was hardly impressed. Especially since Nice, the French club owned by Ratcliffe, recruited Aaron Ramsey, Kasper Schmeichel and Ross Barkley as part of the nine new signings that same summer, Casemiro moved to United. Schmeichel was 35 and signed a three-year deal in a £1million transfer from Leicester. Ramsey, then 31, and Barkley, then 28, arrived on free transfers and were given one-year contracts. All three players left Nice this summer. Newcastle sporting director Dan Ashworth and Paul Mitchell, Monaco’s sporting director until March, are named in the reports as potential replacements for Murtough.
Can any CEO Make United a first-class elite club again?
Blanc, who has an MBA from Harvard, is described by Nice chief executive Fabrice Bocquet as the “Lionel Messi of business”. At 60, Blanc was CEO and president of Juventus, CEO of Paris Saint-Germain and French Tennis, and the executive overseeing the Tour de France. But once he, or whoever will be Arnold’s successor, is established, it quickly becomes clear that United are a unique, water-headed beast of a club that is insidiously difficult to control. And there’s this: Across town, Manchester City have won six league titles since United’s last in 2013 and have a commercial operation that leaves Ratcliffe’s new concern light years behind.
Old Trafford (and the training ground)
To find a suitable shortcut for the lurching ship United, end the search on the roof of their stadium, where rain filters through on Manchester’s (many) wet days. Old Trafford remains a storied venue, but as it continues to decline, the story of decline has become a central narrative of its recent history. As Premier League titles have become scarce (zero in a decade), the story of the neglect of a 1910 stadium is emblematic of the Glazers’ virtual absentee ownership. Ratcliffe will invest $300m (£237m) in infrastructure, but that’s small money considering the multi-billion pound facelift or new venue. There’s also the cramped Carrington base: like Sir Matt Busby Way, the footprint at the training ground is large, but the configuration and facilities are aging – badly.
The Glazers treat a microphone or a television camera like United fans treat Liverpool or Manchester City: as a bitter enemy. No family member has given a press conference or interview during his 18 years in office. Ratcliffe arrived partly with the aim of being the local man made good (Failsworth, where he was born, is next door to Newton Heath, United’s birthplace). So if he turns out to be as silent as the Americans, then that would be: a) poor PR; and b) just plain poor. Football fans are considered the most loyal citizens of any society, but even United fans’ trust has been shaken by the cold relationship created by the Glazers’ attitude to communication. So one option for Ratcliffe is to remedy the situation by establishing and maintaining a regular connection with fans.
Ensuring a working relationship with the Glazers
Paying the inflated £1.3bn for his 25% gives Ratcliffe a large share of control, but the Glazers remain majority owners. The 71-year-old oversees football politics, but this does not exist in a vacuum as the commercial side influences it and vice versa. Ratcliffe admits that Manchester United has an impressive revenue model that makes the club a money-making machine, but he is not keen on how the money generated is invested – particularly in the squad. For example, what happens if Ten Hag wants a new midfield ace, Ratcliffe agrees, but the Glazers cite a decline in income and therefore try to block the signing?