On September 27, following Manchester United’s 3-4 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena, I asked United’s chief executive Richard Arnold if he, as I was led to believe, was about to leave the club.
Arnold looked at me like I had four heads and denied it. And perhaps that’s how it was six weeks ago.
United will today announce that Arnold will leave the club. He’ll be replaced by Patrick Stewart in an interim role but nothing is permanent at United right now. Investment, in return for a 25 per cent stake in the club, from Ineos and Jim Ratcliffe is expected within weeks.
Arnold leaves on good terms. He replaced Ed Woodward and delegated authority to John Murtough as Football Director and the Carrington training ground. United had previously been led from their office in London’s Mayfair.
Arnold oversaw the build-out of football structure under Murtough, with David Harrison, Andy O’Boyle, and Matt Hargreaves, with Polly Bancroft on the women’s side all joining. Erik Ten Hag joined as manager following Murtough’s recommendation and won the first United trophy for six years.
Arnold will always be associated with the unpopular owners, the Glazer family who brought him in, but he tried to improve relations between the club and fans. He established the Fans’ Advisory Board for board-level engagement with fans as United became the first club to meet the Premier League’s fan engagement standards after the European Super League fiasco.
Arnold recruited the first Head of Fan Engagement, Rick McGagh, and strengthened relationships with the Manchester United Supporters Trust and other independent supporters’ groups. United wore black armbands in tribute to supporter Ian Stirling when he died earlier this year.
United fans have continued to protest against the Glazer family – as they have since the controversial takeover in 2005 – but the club were among the first in the UK to trial and then introduce rail seating in consultation with MUST and will remove executive seats from the Stretford End from next season.
Under Arnold, there was an expansion of the atmosphere section of the Stretford End in partnership with The Red Army, while ticket prices barely increased for 12 years – after price hikes in the first years under the Glazers.
Arnold undoubtedly did his best with fans, but fans want to see the end of the Glazers and there’s little prospect of that happening soon.