COMMENT: In the end, he went to them. On their territory. In their premises. Richard Arnold has done something we haven’t seen from Manchester United’s top brass in years. He actually addressed the fans directly…
Did Arnold expect the conversation to come out? 100 per cent. The United chief executive will neither be surprised by today’s headlines nor disappointed. He’ll know it’s an occasion where fans will ponder every detail of Saturday’s meeting at the Boot Inn in Cheshire. The title will not suffice. It’ll be what’s underneath that fans will unravel in great detail. And Arnold, by tackling things head-on, came away with an enhanced reputation. Here’s United’s best man breaking things down to a dozen fans on a sunny afternoon. No flowery language. No PR spin. Arnold looked those in front of him in the eye and said it directly.
For this column, the big story to come from Saturday was Arnold’s admission that additional funds are needed for the stadium and training ground.
“For the future, to invest in a new stadium and that sort of thing, for a £250million training ground, we have to do something, we have to bring in investors,” he said. declared.
“I need it to do what I want for the club – I need to have more money than I have now.”
Read between the lines and it looks like Arnold is preparing fans for naming rights deals for Old Trafford and Carrington – and that’s if they choose to stay and renovate. As he says in another soundbite, United have “f***ing burnt money. We’ve spent a billion pounds on players, we’ve spent more than anyone in Europe.” But with no results at the end of this expenditure, there are no funds available to upgrade the stadium and training facility on club terms. It looks like United are set to follow Manchester City’s lead regarding the Etihad Stadium and Etihad Campus.
For this column, it is a title. This is breaking news. Although the big story that comes out of this summit is simply that it happened. For United fans – and anyone simply interested – it’s worth taking a look at the clip that has been doing the rounds. As we say, even if the headlines this morning suggest something pompous, it was just a bunch of men talking in everyday language. It was a calm, good-faith conversation between a club manager and a random group of supporters…something very rare in today’s FC Corporate football culture.
Indeed, one only has to compare what you see in the clip to a later response from a club spokesperson to recognize how rare – and real – this encounter was.
“Richard has heard that a group of fans have met at a pub near his home,” the United representative said after the club was approached by
“He met them, offered them all a drink, listened to their views and told them what the club was doing to achieve success on the pitch, improve the stadium and enhance engagement with the fans.”
Twirl. PR. If we hadn’t seen the clip. If the quotes came from second and third hand sources. It would have been dismissed as a mere “awareness” exercise with a select group and handpicked “official” supporters. But this meeting was quite the opposite.
It was a reminder that football clubs are not legal entities – at least they shouldn’t be. They are made up of everyday people, supported by everyday people and united by the goal of seeing their team succeed.
Arnold was keen to highlight United’s English pair Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho and the struggles they faced last season. They weren’t suddenly bad players or bad rookies. There were reasons for their downfall.
“A lot of our players are young and they came back after a torrid time at the Euros. Rashford and Sancho… the abuse they went through,” insisted Arnold. “They came back to a difficult season with the crowd on them.
“I’m not surprised that their confidence is shot down. I want to get back together as a club and shoot for success.
“I’m going to do my part and make sure the money is there – that’s all I can do.”
Indeed, Arnold has made it clear that he is United’s chief executive. Not the director of football. Nor the manager. As we heard from inside the club, Arnold is a delegator. He will put the best people in their jobs and let them be. Just as his post was about John Murtough, the club’s head of football.
“This summer the money the manager and director of football wants is there. There you go, John, carry on,” Arnold said before returning meaningfully to his predecessor, Ed Woodward, “Do you want me to buy the players? Does that mean anything to you?”
A unique piece? Let’s hope not. Indeed, it would be welcome throughout the Premier League if more such impromptu summits took place between club management and the average fan. Some clubs try, although more often than not the perception remains of something scripted rather than authentic.
But United fans certainly saw something authentic on Saturday – and that’s a credit to everyone involved at the Boot Inn. Because when you break it all down, football clubs are everyday people.
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