Richard Arnold has been appointed as Manchester United’s Chief Executive Officer. Ed Woodward will be leaving the club after a series of errors and misfortunes, leading a period without Premier League trophies for over 10 years. From February 1st, 2022, the former Managing Director Arnold will be looking into the club’s major outlets connected to finance, human resource, and business administration.
Arnold didn’t follow football as a child, instead, he had his interests locked into Rugby. Despite being an alumnus of the prestigious University of Bristol, Arnold met Ed Woodward and Matt Judge while working for the accounting firm, PWC. From then on, these three musketeers remained together after one of them managed to fulfill the terms of a leveraged buyout (LBO) for Malcolm Glazer that ensured the ownership of the most successful club in Great Britain.
Arnold as described by the likes of Athletic UK’s David Ornstein is a person highly interested to look more into the commercial dealings, which leaves John Murtough and Darren Fletcher to take more autonomy over deciding the recruitment side of the club.
To be honest, I am very interested to see how it works out though. In fact, being a follower of Richard Arnold’s LinkedIn profile, it has to be said that he likes the idea of involving fans when it comes to doing projects at Old Trafford.
He is a popular figure at the club among staff and players. Moreover, he has hands-on experience in terms of organizing meetings and managing contacts for business and football activities.
The idea behind this piece is to help our latest Chief Executive to be aware of the key areas related to the footballing side of things, in such a way that it helps Arnold to settle into his job similar to other top executives in Europe.
Rather than learning from the mistakes made by his predecessor, Richard Arnold must observe how executives at rival clubs work in the industry. In fact, studies have proven that positive feedback loops help a freshman to counter difficult situations in a more fruitful manner.
Arnold being a staunch believer of decentralized leadership, delegating duties in the right manner based on the parameters in this checklist would help him in managing the club from top to bottom and see who is accountable or not. This style of leadership will help Arnold allocate more time towards top-level management, where he can focus on making important decisions for the club.
Being the Chief Executive of Manchester United, Arnold will need to find the right balance to please the United’s shareholders, players, supporting staff, and fans to keep the ship away from sinking. United will be entering a significant period where top clubs such as Liverpool and Manchester City will regress. Capitalizing on this opportunity is vital for Arnold to avoid a miserable ending similar to that of Woodward, whose side failed to win any major silverware.
In order to make the most out of this checklist, Arnold will need to set up different business units or teams that work under a single identity that could improve the club both on and off the pitch. This will allow each team to take ownership of the mistakes that they make, benefiting the organization in the longer run. Industry experience could be a ‘key’ objective that Arnold could look for while assigning team leaders successfully.
While creating the list, I went through the profile of the most successful executives both in the Premier League and European football to help the readers connect with each trait presented on the list.
I. Early Preparation of Footballing Outcomes
Let’s start with the bread and butter of the checklist. Richard Arnold will need to buy a big notebook here.
The Glazers will demand a lot from him in terms of getting the most out of the club financially. It won’t be easy to find a brand new ‘Noodle’ Partner for United compared to previous encounters, since most of the MNCs are struggling to steer the wheel due to the pandemic.
He will need to be more creative than his predecessors. But, it isn’t impossible if he gets a few things straight.
Arnold should prepare a timeline containing sustainable goals for driving his club to success on the pitch. He needs to write his own story, which enables the club to define their own identity in terms of the project that they are building. Marketing will be easier with success on the pitch.
Manchester City’s Ferran Soriano can be taken as a case study here. He joined the club in 2012 and the Spanish Executive from Barcelona had a clear objective from the beginning: build a team for Pep Guardiola. This helped Guardiola settle in quickly and win consistent honors for the club. This is the prime example of early planning at high standards.
Even Manuel Pelligrini confirmed to Andy Mitten in an interview how early he knew that Pep Guardiola was his successor. Effective preparation is key and it’s been proven several times in the case of Manchester City.
To prepare a proper plan for United, Arnold should develop a good understanding with Murtough and Fletcher to understand the core ideas and DNA of the club. They will need to draw long-term targets and visualize how a successful team would look like under the next manager.
II. Relationship with Fans
Firstly, Manchester United Supporters Trust(MUST) had written an open letter to the newly appointed CEO. After reading it, Richard Arnold would be able to understand the skeleton behind the issues at the club happening from a fan’s perspective.
The second point of the MUST article states that rebuilding of trust must happen between the hierarchy and the fans. An imperative concern, due to the way in which fans were ignored under the reigns of David Gill and Ed Woodward, after the Glazer family took control over the club.
Arnold could jot down a few lessons of self-improvement by observing this trait from a former Manchester United legend, Edwin van der Sar, who currently handles a similar position at Ajax. In one of the episodes of Athletic’s Business of Sports podcast, Van der Sar explained how fan engagement played a key role from both football and business point of view.
Ajax, playing in the Eredivisie didn’t generate anything close to what the bottom-half teams in the Premier League earned. But, Edwin’s principle of involving fan interaction along with Marc Overmars helped in achieving significant profits from previous years despite COVID19.
Ajax consistently plays in the UCL and has done a lot of commendable works for their match-going fans especially at the end of last season, when Ajax’s board decided to melt down their 35th Dutch title to create 42,000 silver stars to gift their season ticket holders at the Johan Cruyff Arena.
This doesn’t mean that Arnold should do the same thing. Attending every Manchester United game, both home and away will benefit in terms of connecting with the supporters and understanding their discomforts, whether it be infrastructure, logistics, or investment.
III. Building Strong Contacts within the Industry
Being an administrator of a football club, it’s never easy to start from scratch. Executives will have to hold their ground firmly while signing contracts, managing transfers, and bringing in a few valuable partners.
Ed Woodward took some time to understand the dynamics of football relationships within the sports industry and the uneasiness related to striking late deals on deadline day was felt on his first transfer window, when he managed to pay Everton an amount more than Fellaini’s release clause after insistence from David Moyes to sign the Belgian.
Building trust among colleagues of similar profiles will take time and Arnold will need to form a good connection with super-agents especially the likes of Jonathan Barnett, Mino Raiola, and Jorge Mendes, who manage most of the top assets in World Football.
Let’s take the example of Tottenham Hotspurs Managing Director of Football, Fabio Paratici. As per transfer specialist Fabrizio Romano, Paratici has a sacred rule in which there are no holidays or breaks. He never switches his phone off; not even on weekends. And the only time he’s unavailable is when he’s in contact with a club president, agent, or players. He studied each character in detail, which enabled the Italian to gain firm hands in the industry.
Paratici kept a strict policy of never losing sight of a player or negotiation, even when it does not involve his club because you never know where it may lead.
This kind of a hands-on approach may not help Arnold and his ethos, but looking at Paratici’s case study, the former Manchester United MD might be able to develop his own style of approach, that could attract good interests to form partnerships in the market.
IV. Understanding Football Data
I’m pretty sure that Arnold is a firm believer in data as Athletic UK’s Laurie Whitwell had mentioned in his piece last week. Understanding key statistics and gathering ideas of its strength might be Richard Arnold’s strong point while football data might tell a different story since various angles are measured before taking numbers into context.
Arnold could learn from the experience of Liverpool CEO Billy Hogan, who collaborated well with the club’s Data Science unit as well as Technical Director, Michael Edwards to understand various parameters of football data for lifecycle analysis before making important business decisions in transfer windows or contract renewals.
In the case of Arnold, he will be able to follow a similar pattern with John Murtough, Darren Fletcher and, United’s newly appointed Data Science Chief Dominic Jordan. Quite easy from an algorithmic perspective followed by extensive research.
Very positive. Feeling confident that United’s scientific unit will perform strongly from a technical point of view.
V. Decision Making
Finally, the core trait prescribed by people in the football industry is decision-making and timing. Arnold will have veto power to raise his hand or put a thumbs down by judging situations. Either he makes the right decision or the opposite.
Decisions can vary with time and budget. If the first trait presented on the list is followed, spontaneous decision-making won’t be difficult since the situation will be known or visualized earlier.
Ed Woodward listened to agents for putting his thumbs up and down. Arnold shouldn’t do that. It would be a cardinal sin.
One person within an organization should take decisions by discussing it with technicians inside the building rather than an outsider. Arnold should trust his internal resources. If it isn’t good enough, then he should step out with actions to improve it.
Chelsea’s Director Marina Granovskaia and Brighton’s CEO Paul Barber are good examples of a few administrators who have stuck to their club principles and made some important changes in the ways they operate in terms of taking the right decisions.
Their teams have been improving immensely and are being operated in a smooth manner. Whenever they put themselves in a difficult scenario, spontaneous thinking was visible in how they manage such situations whether it be an issue with the managers, players, or the board.
Richard Arnold will be more successfull than Woodward if he’s able to work well as a team with Murtough, Fletcher and the next manager. Most importantly, a thorough background study of future events will be needed as mentioned in the first point on the list.
The transistion from Gill to Woodward was managed poorly but I’m not worried about the manner in which Arnold was appointed since he was beside Woodward in most of the important events whether it be meetings or signature of official paperworks, which might’ve been a good learning spell for him to build some experience within the space of football network.
Hopefully, time will tell what we’re about to see both on and off the pitch. Whether it’s a success or a disaster will remain as a big question. Perhaps, the managerial appointment in summer would be the start.