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The tarnished legacy of Richard Arnold at Manchester United

by Alex Browne

Richard Arnold left his role as CEO of Manchester United earlier in the week after only 20 months in the job.

The employee of 16 years at the club leaves behind somewhat of a shady legacy.

The Times reports that Arnold has been credited with “transforming” the commercial arm of the club. The former CEO agreed record partnerships that “drove record revenues and safeguarded revenue streams”. Therefore, Arnold was able to keep revenue high in the backdrop of the Glazers not investing any of their own money. This can be seen as recently as this past summer when the club agreed a £900m deal with Adidas and a £60m a year deal with Qualcomm.

The Times also states that Arnold should be praised for adopting “a more hands-off approach” to his role and learning from the mistakes made by his predecessor, Ed Woodward. The former CEO was also instrumental in changing the structure of the football club, introducing a football director, John Murtough to divide the commercial and sporting elements of the club. The Telegraph also backs this up. The publication claims that he was able to “provide greater autonomy to the football department”.

However, the “hands-off claim” is questionable to say the least. There have been substantial claims that Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag has made a “bizarre” decision to allow Richard Arnold to visit the dressing room after matches. Not really conducive to taking a backseat from football operations.

Arnold has also enjoyed praise for his role in bringing in current manager, Erik ten Hag and his subsequent backing of the manager, such as by selling Cristiano Ronaldo and exiling Jadon Sancho. The former CEO has also been credited with work meant to “bridge the gap” between fans and the club. Disillusionment between the supporters and the club reached a zenith with the decision to join the ill-fated European Super League project in 2021. Arnold tried to bridge the gap by meeting fans at a Cheshire pub and discussing the club’s problems with them. Moreover, the former employee created a “Head of Fan Engagement” role in June to connect and include fans.

There have been doubts about the pub meeting however. Some quarters have even suggested the event was staged. The vailidity of this is unknown but what is certainly clear, is that United fans are far from united with the club at the moment.

According to James Ducker in The Telegraph, Arnold has done “plenty good” in his short time as CEO. Therefore, he should enjoy a somewhat positive reputation. Wrong.

Recent reports have suggested that all is far from well in the Manchester United camp. Arnold has presided over a club which is rife with infighting. Apparently, Arnold voted against INEOS’ deal largely out of self interest to keep his job.

Journalist Phil Brown has stated that “Ten Hag has been dealing with this chaos for months, people not doing their jobs, people with one foot out of the door and people briefing to certain outlets about things going on inside the club that went to the very top.”

Brown stops short of naming Arnold and/or the outlet being leaked information, but a gentle perusal of his X account leaves one in no doubt as to what he is implying.

The former CEO’S legacy will also be forever tarnished by the Mason Greenwood saga. Charlotte Dunker in The Times piece claims that Arnold’s “dithering” in the Mason Greenwood decision led to “widespread condemnation” from outside and within the club. Arnold originally wanted the English forward to stay despite his problems and only made a dramatic U-turn once they saw the public backlash from the leaked news of him being reintegrated back into the team.

The former CEO has also been criticised for the club’s lack of professionalism during their own internal investigation of the Greenwood affair. The decision not to appoint an external barrister to lead club enquiries and failure to consult experts on the sensitive topic of domestic abuse baffled many.

While the Greenwood case is probably the biggest stain on Arnold’s legacy it is not the only time the man who graduated from the University of Bristol “fell short” on big decisions.

The Telegraph condemns Arnold’s time as CEO for continuing the failed policies of overspending on players. The publication refers to a huge overspend on Antony and Andre Onana, who they could have got for free a year before instead of playing £47m. The failed three month pursuit of Frenkie de Jong in the summer of 2022, is also mentioned as an example of poor performance at the executive level of the club. “Muddled” thinking at its finest.

The former CEO is also not particularly seen in the best light by many members of the Old Trafford staff. Many describe the “toxic” and “lads” culture that Arnold seemingly encouraged during his tenure as chief executive.

The Daily Star refers to a September video call, in which Arnold addressed a full staff meeting. Participants in the meeting were apparently puzzled by why there were so many framed rugby shirts decorating the wall behind the CEO during the conference call. Many could not believe that the CEO at one of the world’s biggest clubs couldn’t foresee the problems this image would send. The Times article even goes as far to say this was evidence to many that he wasn’t the right man for the job.

All in all, Richard Arnold’s short tenure as CEO will be a blurred image to some and a crystal clear sign of failure for many others. He is a man who tried and did achieve some impressive financial deals in difficult times for the club. However, a shambolic approach to the Greenwood saga and continuation of misspending in the transfer market are significant blemishes on his record. Not to mention the rotten culture and in-fighting he has left behind.

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