Manchester United are preparing for change and the new regime is set to see the appointment of a sporting director at Old Trafford.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe is close to finalising a minority acquisition of the Premier League side and the British billionaire will take over football operations, with the appointment of a sporting director high on the agenda when his investment is finalised.
Richard Arnold has already been confirmed to be leaving his role as chief executive officer in the first signal of change, while several names have been linked with taking over the football side of operations.
We’ve looked at five candidates to become Manchester United’s next sporting director.
Manchester United Sporting Director – Who is in the frame?
Paul Mitchell continues to be linked with a return to the Premier League, having previously worked as head of recruitment at Southampton and Tottenham under Mauricio Pochettino.
Mitchell – who was born in Stalybridge in Greater Manchester and played for Wigan during his playing career – has been with AS Monaco since 2020, after a spell with RB Leipzig.
Mitchell was behind Spurs’ impressive period under Pochettino and was responsible for bringing Son Heung-min, Toby Alderweireld, Dele Alli and Kieran Trippier to north London, while his recruitment at Leipzig saw Christopher Nkunku move to the club from Paris Saint-Germain, evolving into one of the Bundesliga’s best after being on the fringes of the first-team in France.
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At Monaco, he brought in both Aurelien Tchouameni and Axel Disasi from divisional rivals before selling the duo on for huge profits.
Paolo Maldini and Ricky Massara
Paolo Maldini and Ricky Massara have been mentioned as a potential dual option for Manchester United, having been without a club since being relieved of their duties at AC Milan in June.
Their exits came amid friction with other board members, though each had a key role in Milan winning the Serie A title in 2021/22, the club’s first in 11 years.
Maldini – one of the most celebrated players in AC Milan’s history after a one-club career that included 902 appearances, seven league titles and five European Cup/Champions League wins – and Massara made several smart signings to make the Rossoneri competitive a the top end of the division once again.
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Theo Hernandez and Fikayo Tomori have developed into key figures at the San Siro after being underused and under-appreciated at former clubs, while Mike Maignan was brought in to replace the departing Gianluigi Donnarumma to much success.
Though the focus of Milan’s recent recruitment has been on emerging names, Maldini and Massara have shown an eye for older investments when required, with Olivier Giroud and Zlatan Ibrahimovic having each made solid contributions after signing as veteran additions.
The duo were named as Sporting Director of the Year at the 2022 Globe Soccer Awards.
Dougie Freedman is understood to be a candidate to move to Manchester United, having won admirers for his work at Crystal Palace.
Freedman, who had two spells with Palace as a player and a short stint as manager before moving into the club’s boardroom, has helped overhaul an ageing and stagnant squad at Selhurst Park. Palace had the oldest squad in the Premier League in both 2019/20 and 2020/21, but now boast a core of young talent that is attracting interest from wealthier rivals.
Palace signed Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze from Championship clubs, with the duo having been subject of interest from Chelsea and Manchester City respectively last summer, while the latter has broken into the England squad under Gareth Southgate.
Marc Guehi and Cheik Doucoure are also among the success stories of Freedman’s reign, a quartet that cost a combined £62m. Collectively, their combined value is worth around triple that figure right now.
🚨 Dougie Freedman is a real candidate to join Manchester United’s new recruitment team.
(Source: @alex_crook) pic.twitter.com/1xN3ia1tIi
— Transfer News Live (@DeadlineDayLive) November 17, 2023
Speaking on the speculation to The Rest is Football podcast, Palace chairman Steve Parish said the rumours show Freedman is doing an excellent job with the Eagles.
“You would have to get into the minds of those people [Manchester United decision makers] wouldn’t you?” he said. “I certainly don’t think there’s been any conversations. It’s flattering for the club.
“You guys live in the world where 50% of the stories in the media are true. 50% are not. We just don’t know which ones yet.
“[He’s been] really important. He’s a brilliant guy. He was the second manager I had at the club. He was instrumental in us getting promoted.
“He’s been instrumental, he saved the club [as a player] when we were about to get relegated from the Championship with a last-minute goal at Stockport. He got us promoted while playing for Wolves. He’s got a real affinity to the club and works really hard. We have signed some really good players and most importantly – the transfer window which is probably the hardest part of the job – it’s fun being involved in it with him.
“The fact he’s being linked with clubs like that show he’s doing the right thing.”
Lee Congerton’s long career in the background of top-level sides has taken in spells at Liverpool, Chelsea, Hamburg, West Brom, Sunderland, Celtic and Leicester.
Among his best signings at Leicester include the additions of James Justin and Wesley Fofana, with the latter leaving the Foxes for Chelsea in a £75m deal – more than double their initial investment – after just two seasons at the King Power Stadium.
The 51-year-old joined Italy’s Atalanta in 2022 and was instrumental in the signing of now-Manchester United forward Rasmus Hojlund from Sturm Graz. Hojlund signed for the Serie A side for a fee in the region of £15m, but returning the club a profit of over £50m last summer.
It’s the sort of eye for emerging talent that has been sorely lacking at Manchester United across the past decade, with a number of expensive and underperforming additions at Old Trafford.
Manchester United and Tottenham have each been linked with Andrea Berta, the current sporting director at Atletico Madrid.
Berta has been with Atletico for over a decade, a period which has seen the Spanish side reach two Champions League finals and twice win the La Liga title. Given the domestic dominance of Real Madrid and Barcelona, Atletico have been able to compete with the superpowers of Spanish football and Berta’s recruitment has been central to that.
The major success stories of his tenure include Radamel Falcao, Jan Oblak and Antoine Griezmann, each of who reached world-class status in an Atletico shirt.
United have been linked with luring the Italian to the Premier League in previous seasons and could reignite their interest in the transfer chief once Ratcliffe’s minority acquisition is sealed.
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