Man Utd CEO Richard Arnold's meeting with fans only revealed more fractures within Old Trafford
Manchester United CEO Richard Arnold will have seen his meeting with fans in a Cheshire pub as a way of smoothing things over at the end of a campaign which, by his own admission, had been a “f___ing nightmare”. And it might have been, had footage of the encounter not been leaked, revealing more fractures in the internal workings of Old Trafford.
United said Arnold had “heard that a group of fans had gathered in a pub near his house. He went to meet them, bought them all a drink, listened to their views, and explained what the club is doing to deliver success on the pitch, improve the stadium, and strengthen engagement with fans”.
It is thought the move was intended to avoid protests taking place outside his house, particularly as his predecessor Ed Woodward had been targeted by fans at home in the past.
As he spoke with fans, Arnold – who did not appear to be aware he was being filmed – made a series of admissions about the running of the club, criticising the way the board had “burned through cash” in the last decade.
The former accountant was confirmed as Woodward’s successor in December, but he was already part of the set-up as the commercial wizard responsible for securing brand partnerships – including shirt sponsors TeamViewer. He has also been involved in setting up club offices in various cities around the world.
So when Louis van Gaal recently described United as a “commercial club”, rather than a football one, Arnold has played his part in that. His job now is to secure an effective transition from the Woodward era, with the appointment of Erik ten Hag his first major acid test.
Here’s what we’ve learned so far.
United have spent over £1bn in transfer fees since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, including £89m on Paul Pogba, £80m on Harry Maguire, £73m on Jadon Sancho and £75m on Romelu Lukaku. Huge sums were also spent on players who failed to successfully transition to the Premier League, from Angel Di Maria to Memphis Depay.
“We spent a billion pounds on players, more than anyone in Europe,” Arnold said. “I’m not thrilled where we are. It doesn’t sit easy with me and I worry how we get this sorted for the future. What’s happened is we have f___ing burned through cash.
“You can’t go to our training ground and say ‘show me where the £1billion is’ because we haven’t spent money well historically. I’m not here to defend Joel [Glazer], he can speak for himself.
“Last year was a f___ing nightmare. There was hate at every game. We’ve blown through an enormous amount of money.”
United are pursuing Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong, who played under Ten Hag at Ajax.
“For this summer, the money the manager and the director of football [John Murtough] wants is there. For the future, investing in a new stadium and a latest-and-greatest training ground, we’ve got to do something. We’ve got to get investors in.
“I need that to do what I want for the club. I’ve got to have more cash than we have now because no club in the world has the money to build a new stadium without getting it from someone.
“You either borrow it or invest it. The money has got to come from somewhere. You might not like our current owners – I can’t help that. But if you want someone else to come in they have to look and say ‘the fans love the team and that is positive’.”
“You’ve taken the time to come here and make your views known, I respect that. I respect your passion but I need some help from you.
‘This has been horrible. A lot of our players are young and they have had a torrid time. The abuse they got after the Euros, no wonder confidence was shot.
“I want to put the club back together to be successful. I want to do my bit. I answer every email, speak to fans. I can’t make you do anything but we will have to stop the flares, (in case) someone gets hurt.”
In addressing players who were abused after the European Championship, Arnold seemed to be referring to Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford, both of whom suffered racial abuse after England’s defeat to Italy in the final.
He also made a point of repeatedly pleading with fans to tone down the level of protests at matches; last year, their home Premier League match against Liverpool had to be postponed when fans encroached onto the pitch before kick-off. That was the most high-profile case, but there have been plenty of other organised demonstrations, in addition to anti-Glazer banners and chants.
It has also been reported that Arnold addressed suggestions that players had been leaking information to the media before games, saying that “the two sources of the dressing room leaks have now left the club”.
While he did not mention any names, six players – Edinson Cavani, Jesse Lingard, Pogba, Nemanja Matic, Lee Grant and Juan Mata – have left so far this summer.