Amid the controversy surrounding the failed European Super League proposal Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward became the first casualty on Tuesday evening.
The club announced that the 49-year old resigned and will vacate the top operational role in the Old Trafford boardroom at the end of 2021, despite the majority of the footballing world declaring Woodward’s position untenable due to him playing a key role in the now failed European Super League.
The proposed European Super League, which United and other ‘founding’ European clubs would always compete and never face relegation in a league branded a closed shop, is off after widespread criticism, protests and mass hysteria among football fans forced the big six Premier League clubs to withdraw on Tuesday night.
Woodward departs the club after spending 16 years with the Red Devils, beginning in 2005, when he acted as an advisor to the Glazers and helped them buy the club in controversial circumstances. After spending a few years in charge of United’s commercial and media activities, Woodward became more and more influential and was credited for United’s stratospheric commercial growth world-wide. The Glazers appointed Woodward to the board of directors and named him executive vice-chairman in 2012; his rise to the top was carefully managed by the Glazers as they saw him as the perfect man to replace retiring chief executive David Gill in 2013.
Woodward has faced severe criticism from fans, ex-players and respected pundits in the game over his running of the club in the past eight years – particularly the recruitment of players, managerial appointments and of course his role in the failed proposal of the European Super League. His resignation will lead to one of the most coveted jobs in world football chief executive of Manchester United becoming available.
Below we are going to look at the potential candidates that could replace Ed Woodward as chief executive of Manchester United.
According to The Athletic, the Glazers could turn to Richard Arnold to replace Ed Woodward as chief executive. Manchester United’s last three chief executives; Ed Woodward, David Gill and Peter Kenyon have all been internal appointments, and it is likely the Glazers will continue this tradition when replacing the outgoing Woodward.
Woodward was influential in bringing his close friend Arnold to the club ahead of the 2007/08 season, where he was employed as a commercial director with responsibility for the management and growth of the club’s sponsorship business, retail, merchandising, apparel and product licensing business, and digital media business. Arnold immediately made an impression with the Glazers with his excellent business acumen and his efforts were rewarded when he was promoted to the role of group managing director, when Woodward was appointed executive-vice chairman, overseeing all commercial and operational aspects of the club.
The Athletic have also suggested Arnold looks a “more natural long-term fit” given his commercial importance to the club which is imperatively important as chief executive for the Glazers. Arnold has been at the club for 14-years and gained valuable experience working under close friend Woodward as executive vice-chairman and is a close ally to the Glazers family, and would make a lot of sense in terms of being an internal appointment to the resigning Woodward.
Edwin van der Sar
The first name on every Manchester United fans lips would undoubtedly be Edwin van der Sar, who is currently the chief executive of Dutch giants Ajax. Van der Sar has enjoyed immense success at Ajax since being promoted to CEO in 2016 overseeing a cultural reset with a greater emphasis on youth talent as well as a remarkable resurgence in the Champions League reaching the semi-finals in 2019.
The former Manchester United goalkeeper enjoyed an illustrious career at Old Trafford winning seven trophies including four Premier League titles and a Champions League; for that reason he would be warmly received amongst supporters and develop into a ready-made and popular replacement for Woodward.
Van der Sar was previously heavily linked with the director of football role, as per TalkSPORT, that has since been filled by John Murtough as part of a restructuring move at the club earlier this year. He has already suggested that he would be open to returning to Manchester and refused to rule out the possibility when asked about the subject two years ago. He told the Metro: “I am a chief-executive and that is a very different role to director of football. Besides my wife and children I have two loves in my life. They are Ajax and Manchester United. So of course I am interested in a position at United in the future”.
Despite Van der Sar having the credentials and the reputation across European football it remains unlikely the Glazers will appoint an external appointment as chief executive.
Perhaps a surprise candidate is John Murtough, United’s first ever football director, who was appointed in that role on the 10th of March this year. The Liverpudlian has 23 years’ experience in football starting out as a sports scientist at Everton under former United manager David Moyes in 1998. Murtough reunited with Moyes at Old Trafford in 2013, while the current West Ham managers tenure was short lived, Murtough stayed at the club.
In his eight years at the club, Murtough has completely overhauled the Red Devil’s academy and recruitment department. He was also integral in the recruitment structures and implementation of the clubs first ever women’s team. According to MEN, Murtough has been known as the “fixer” and enjoyed a close working relationship with departing executive vice-chairman Woodward.
The Training Ground Guru report that the Glazers are big fans supporters of Murtough’s data science led projects and have been impressed by his leadership qualities. Considering his high profile role at the club, years of experience and good relationship with the Glazers, Murtough could be an excellent candidate if the club wanted to appoint internally from within the club.