New Manchester United CEO Omar Berrada meets club executives while on Man City gardening leave

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Manchester United’s incoming chief executive Omar Berrada has already started to meet a series of the club’s leading executives even as he sees out his period of gardening leave at Manchester City.

United announced in January that the club had appointed Berrada as their new CEO, saying in a club statement that United are “determined to put football and performance on the pitch back at the heart of everything we do,” before adding that “Omar’s appointment represents the first step on this journey.”

While City did not block Berrada’s move, they have imposed a period of gardening leave as Berrada is due to take up his role at Old Trafford in the summer, ahead of the 2024-25 season.

However, The Athletic has learned that the executive has already met and spoken with a number of United’s executive leadership team since his appointment to gain a greater understanding of the club’s processes. Berrada has also offered a viewpoint on potential hires, with United seeking to revamp the club’s operations under Sir Jim Ratcliffe.

United declined to comment for this report but club sources insist that both Berrada and the club are respectful of the need to be compliant with the terms of his departure from City.

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Berrada had been the chief football operations officer at City Football Group, which ultimately owns City and a host of other clubs across the globe. He operated closely with City director of football Txiki Begiristain on matters including transfer deals and contracts. He was involved in the high-profile signing of striker Erling Haaland in the summer of 2022.

United’s decision to appoint Berrada ties in with an overhaul of the club’s structure after the Glazer family sold 27.7 per cent of the club to Ratcliffe and INEOS in recent months.

Berrada was the first of a series of hires INEOS wish to make, with the club currently attempting to extract Newcastle United sporting director Dan Ashworth, who has been placed on gardening leave after informing the Saudi-owned club that he wishes to leave.

United are also aiming to secure two more hires; with Southampton director of football Jason Wilcox — an ally of Berrada from his City days — in line for a potential technical director role, while United are also seeking to hire a head of recruitment, or a role to that effect.

While gardening leave may conjure images of Berrada tending to plant pots and turning off his Wifi, the reality is that many executives in such a position will use that period to get ahead on their upcoming roles, research the organisation they are heading into and maintain contacts with key industry officials.

There is no suggestion that Berrada has been representing United officially in any external meetings or that he has started work on United’s premises. During the conversations that persuaded the executive to swap City for United, the parties discussed the future vision, as well as candidates for key hires United would be targeting.

During an interview with journalists from the British and international media at INEOS’ HQ in London last week, Ratcliffe praised City for not standing in Berrada’s way — contrasting it with Newcastle’s apparent intransigence on Ashworth.

He said: “We had a very grown-up conversation with Manchester City about Omar (Berrada). They were very, very disappointed in Omar’s decision. But we had a very grown-up conversation with them and when things calmed down we sorted it out very amicably, really. At the end of the day, they could accept why Omar wanted to take on that challenge and they didn’t want to stand in his way.

“And you look at Pep Guardiola with his footballers: if he has a footballer who doesn’t want to play for Manchester City, then he says fine, you can leave Manchester City. He doesn’t tell him to sit in a garden for one-and-a-half years. He doesn’t do that.”

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Ratcliffe is installing a new structure at United (Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

Ratcliffe explained last week that the new CEO will have a significant role in shaping not only the club’s business but also the football team’s style of play.

He said: “It’ll be us, plus the CEO, sporting director, probably the recruitment guys what that style of football is and that will be the Manchester United style of football. And the coach will have to play that style of football. We’re not going to oscillate from a Jose Mourinho style to a Pep Guardiola style. That’s not the way we will run the club.

“We’ll decide what the style of football is and then we’ll want coaches who can play that type football. Otherwise you’re changing everything all the time, you change your coach, you’ve got the wrong squad, the wrong trainer, we won’t do that. In modern football you need to decide what’s your path and you stuck to your path and build your organisation.”

While Berrada cannot officially assume his role, Patrick Stewart is working as United’s interim CEO — a position he has filled since Richard Arnold exited the club in late 2023 following a breakdown of relations with Joel Glazer. Stewart is United’s most senior lawyer and joined the club in 2006, becoming their chief legal officer and general counsel.

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Meanwhile, Phil Lynch, United’s CEO of digital products and experiences, and formerly the club’s CEO of media, is also leaving the club for another role within sport. Lynch was briefly in the eye of a public storm in 2021, when he explained in an interview how the club seeks to influence fan opinion about players.

He said: “We pull, twice a day, fan sentiment graphs for every one of our players. We have certain thresholds that alert us when we see fan sentiment going one way — be that a personal issue, an on-pitch performance issue and when that happens, we then start to work with the player and his team individually to try and counter that narrative a little bit.”

The club’s former captain Gary Neville, in a quote tweet, said: “Creating Robots on and off the pitch! Get the f@@k away from them. It’s a football club. He makes controlling fans sound like he’s trying to win a general election!’.”

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Lynch is leaving his role at the club (Gualter Fatia/Getty Images)

While many colleagues admired Lynch, the American media executive became symbolic of a United approach under the Glazers that was perceived externally to be overly corporate and led by a commercial focus, and United under INEOS have made very clear that the club is seeking a new football-first direction. Fairly or unfairly, his departure may be seen as a symbolic break.

Ratcliffe said last week that INEOS believe the club’s commercial potential will be driven by results on the field. He said: “We’re really, really clear about that — it’s football-led. So if we’re successful on the pitch, then everything else will follow. In Manchester United a bit, I think, in the last 10 years or so, it’s if you’re really good in commercial and you make lots of money, then you’ll be successful in football because you’ve got lots of money to spend.

“But I think that’s flawed because it only lasts for a certain while and you start to degrade the brand if you’re not careful. But we’re really clear that football will drive the club. If we’re really successful at football, then commercial will follow. And we’ll make more money. And you make more money in football if you’re successful because there are effectively bonuses for every championship you finish up in. But also the value of the brand grows and the sponsorship and everything else improves as a consequence.”

(Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)





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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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