As Ed Woodward prepares to clear his desk, Richard Arnold will hope to learn from his old friend’s mistakes when he becomes Manchester United’s chief executive.
February 1 is the official handover date as the executive vice-chairman relinquishes a post he resigned from amid the botched European Super League plans last April.
Woodward has been portrayed both as a mastermind behind the idea and somebody who quit in defiance of it, but wherever the truth lies it proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
It was an uncomfortable end to a challenging period under the 50-year-old – a significant figure in the Glazers’ controversial takeover in 2005 who subsequently failed to turn United back into league champions.
Arnold has seen Woodward’s tenure up close in his role as group managing director, which he has been in since 2013 having joined the club in 2007.
The north-west native, 50, has known Woodward even longer as the Bristol University graduates met when they worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where Arnold was in the technology sector.
Described as a good communicator and motivator, the new CEO has proved himself adept at bringing in revenue through his rise from commercial director to overseeing all operations and commercial aspects at United.
Arnold is chair of the Manchester United Foundation and vice chair of the club’s fans’ forum, whose work is under more focus than ever after the European Super League debacle.
Co-chairman Joel Glazer has attended two forums in the wake of that farrago, with a new fan advisory board and fans’ share scheme set up in a bid to belatedly engage with supporters.
Whether that is enough is debatable and Arnold also takes over at a challenging time on the field.
The incoming CEO called Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a “phenomenal success” 10 months ago, yet they are now working under interim manager Ralf Rangnick and their title hopes have evaporated.
Cups offer a potential route to silverware but this season could quickly become a write off, with United at a key juncture as they look to ensure the next manager is the right one.
Those on the football side are expected to have greater autonomy under Arnold, but football director John Murtough, aided by technical director Darren Fletcher, will still report into him.
Woodward privately accepts United’s managerial decisions were one of the major foibles of his time as executive vice-chairman, with poor recruitment punctuating his reign.
Nine years on and internal confidence that he has left a good structure in place currently flies in the face of the product on the field, which Arnold needs to ensure improves markedly.
Retaining a long-term focus amid the amplified highs and lows that come with being one of the biggest clubs in the world is not easy, but Arnold needs to learn from Woodward’s reign.
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