A strangely timed homage to Manchester United’s CEO Richard Arnold has appeared in The Telegraph today.
Arnold took over the reins of Britain’s biggest club last year from the unpopular Ed Woodward, who resigned after the failed European Super League fiasco.
Having been secretly recorded in an impromptu meeting with fans at a pub near his home some months ago, Arnold has largely escaped the animosity that his predecessor attracted.
One of the pro-Glazer things Arnold said in that pub chat was that money was never an issue and that the club would buy whatever player the manager wanted.
However sincere that statement seemed at the time, it has not been corroborated by ensuing events as United have consistently been outbid on many targets and/or failed to stump up sufficient cash for others.
This mismatch between Arnold’s pledge and reality has never been more in evidence than the current transfer window, in which no money whatsoever is being made available for transfers.
United fans’ anger with the club’s owners is building to another crescendo as they see their rivals strengthening while an already thin Red Devils’ squad has lost three players – Cristiano Ronaldo, Donny van de Beek and now, Christian Eriksen – and yet only Wout Weghorst has been brought in on loan.
So on the day the window closes and the news of Eriksen’s extended absence is announced, it seems serendipitous to find a eulogy of the canny CEO adorning the pages of a trusted paper such as The Tele.
A cynical fan might be forgiven for suspecting that a favor might have been called in, or palms greased, to publish such pro-Arnold rhetoric on the day most likely to see him pilloried and held to account by hostile supporters.
The article talks about how Arnold has introduced a “no d—heads” policy at Old Trafford, getting rid of players who think they’re bigger than the club. Translation: you can thank Richard Arnold for getting rid of Paul Pogba and Cristiano Ronaldo. What a hero.
Then we get an “insider” saying how, unlike Woodward, Arnold never gets involved in football decisions but has simply attended meetings because he “wanted to make sure he understood why they were being made”. What a guy.
The article says that it was Arnold who went to the Glazers “to request the club’s owners significantly loosen the purse strings” to sign Casemiro. “Richard exerted just the right level of accountability”, the normally impartial James Ducker writes.
We then get an explanation of how “He was central to convincing the Glazers to allow United to spend around £75m more than they had budgeted for last summer; but he is also a man of principle.
“Extra money was coughed up on the understanding that there would be little if anything to spend this month.”
And because this so-called “alpha male” is so highly principled, he couldn’t go back on his word to the Glazers, so he smoothed tensions on both sides by calmly pointing out to Ten Hag, who was “privately angling for more funds to sign the Netherlands forward Cody Gakpo”, that a deal’s a deal.
“He’s pretty good at managing those tensions,” another source said.
He is then given credit in the article for “shifting power” away from the club’s Mayfair offices in Manchester.
He has also facilitated “the empowerment of key department heads, notably those running football,” Ducker says.
“Murtough, Ten Hag and their teams now have autonomy to dictate football matters, free of the influence of a small posse of corporate financiers, and the results have been clear for all to see, on and off the pitch.”
Ah, so United’s success on the pitch so far is due to Richard Arnold, not Erik ten Hag. Now so the article seems to be telling us.
We are then told how he was never Woodward’s sidekick, is not a friend of his and that he is not the “obnoxious” character that he is painted to be.
“Numerous United staff have commented … on how he always listens, runs a genuine open-door policy and ‘will take the mickey out of himself or hold his hands up when he’s wrong’.”
After several lines about what a jolly good chap he is, Ducker then explains how “Arnold – who declined to be interviewed for this article…”
… Modest as well then…
“ – has reopened the channels of communication with Sir Alex Ferguson and the club’s former chief executive David Gill and enjoys a strong relationship with both.”
But as if all that wasn’t enough, then comes the news that our intrepid CEO was “influential” in the Glazers’ decision not to take their most recent dividend payment, which resulted in £20 million being “reinvested in the club”.
The article is reminiscent of one published by The Sun reporter Neil Custis about Woodward when under the cosh during the January 2020 transfer window.
Perhaps Ducker is genuinely impressed with Arnold and wanted to write something positive precisely because he is now in the firing line. But fans are not likely to be impressed with what comes across as political rhetoric and if Woodward’s experience is anything to go by, this sort of article will make them more, not less, angry.
At the time of writing, United are reported to be making a last-minute effort to sign Bayern Munich’s Marcel Sabitzer and if that proves successful, the pressure will be off Arnold in any case. But the fact that this article was published this morning in the first place is surely an indication that somebody, somewhere thought some positive PR for the CEO was an urgent necessity.