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Manchester United Appoint Director of Football: What Does This Mean?

By Harry Dalton

Manchester United have appointed former midfielder Darren Fletcher as their new technical director and John Murtough as football Director, but how will this impact the club going forward?

The Story So Far

In 2005, Malcolm Glazer took ownership of Manchester United for a sum of £800m. In order to pay the takeover fee, Glazer took out multiple loans against the club in order to finance the deal. With interest payments racking up, a further £500m was loaned in 2010 in order to keep up with interest payments. Ed Woodward was a key figure in helping the Glazer family to finance their ownership of the club and was head of finance and media relations until 2012 when he was promoted to Executive Vice Chairman. United fans have made numerous protests against the Glazer ownership since their 2005 takeover including a section of supporters starting the club FC United of Manchester.


"File:View of Old Trafford from East Stand.jpg" by Abhijit Tembhekar from Pune, INDIA is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In the beginning of the Glazer ownership, Sir Alex Ferguson was still able to continue his reign of dominance in spite of those above him. The early warning signs like having to sell Cristiano Ronaldo for £80m to settle debt payments and replacing him with the likes of Obertan and Antonio Valencia were there, but the success on the pitch was enough to distract from the issues behind the scenes.

Since Sir Alex retired in 2013, the club and its hierarchy have consistently tried to overcompensate having appointed four managers and spent over £1bn on transfers on players who ultimately wouldn’t work out. There has since been a lingering consensus that the likes of Ed Woodward, Matt Judge and the rest of the board have been mismanaging the footballing side of the club. Despite taking millions of pounds in dividends from the club each season and persistently running the club on debt, the Glazers have continued to trust their commercial executives to head the football side of the club at the same time.

The sacking of Jose Mourinho in December 2018 appeared to be the straw that broke the camel’s back inviting unrelenting uproar amongst United fans. United legend and Class of 92 alumni Gary Neville has been amongst those who have publicly expressed their desire for a sporting director to take the footballing responsibilities away from the club’s executives. Ex-defenders Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra were offered a role with the title of sporting director, but the power of a glorified ambassador when the club aimed to appease fans by announcing that they would be looking to delegate to a director of football.

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The New Roles

For several years, Manchester United have flirted with the idea of bringing in a sporting director amid heavy criticism over Executive Vice Chairman Ed Woodward’s involvement in the footballing side of the club. The club have now appointed their ex-midfield star Darren Fletcher as Technical Director, along with promoting John Murtough to the new position of Football Director. The club announced the decision whilst detailing the responsibilities of the new roles, suggesting that the pair will act as a bridge between Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the board.

John Murtough previously worked in former manager David Moyes’ staff in 2013 and has remained at the club since, having reformed the club’s failed youth and recruitment policies in recent years. Murtough’s promotion to director of football will see him having overall leadership for operations and strategy on the football side of United. He will also work directly with the manager on recruitment and will oversee all footballing operations to cooperatively try and deliver long-term success on the pitch.

Darren Fletcher, who won five Premier leagues and a Champions League as a player, has recently been involved in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s coaching staff since January. He will now fulfil the role of technical director, where he will still assist with matters on the training pitch but will now also work with Murtough to develop performance as well as developing the link between the academy and first team. As an academy graduate himself, Fletcher will look to help rekindle the United DNA behind the scenes and give the team a platform for success.

What This Means

Since the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as manager in 2018, Manchester United have reformed their policies on recruitment and youth development matters. This new direction has seen a return to the traditions of the club in terms of giving young players a chance and playing attacking football with a winning mentality. The appointment of another former player in Darren Fletcher in a senior position will continue the club’s transition back to its roots, by instilling its core values and by giving control of footballing matters to someone who isn’t just an investment banker. John Murtough has been given major plaudits for his involvement in recent changes to the United system, and his promotion to director of football will hopefully prove to be a smart choice. Only time will tell though, as the upcoming summer transfer window will be pivotal in United’s bid to catch their rivals atop the league table.

Whether or not this appointment is yet another Ed Woodward public relations stunt or a genuine attempt to return to the glory days, it is a step in the right direction. Many United fans will still oppose the Glazer family’s running of the club and use of it as a vehicle to fuel their other business ventures. However, by building a foundation to move the club in a direction that many of Europe’s elite have followed for years, there can only be a feeling of optimism amongst the United faithful. Who knows, perhaps this is the first step towards the club’s first Premier League title since the Sir Alex Ferguson era.

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