Manchester United always tend to make the news when it’s transfers time. The Red Devils have had a bleak start to summer 2022 with no signings yet. Meanwhile, fans have had to watch their rivals snap up some top talents to better their futures.
A deal for Frenkie de Jong has been in the works for more than a month, but the haggling over fees continues.
All of it came to a head when club CEO Richard Arnold met a group of disgruntled fans at a pub near his home. Arnold explained that the money is present, and John Murtough is working day and night to get deals done.
Fans were somewhat assuaged by the situation, as Arnold was not leading the race for signatures himself.
However, Murtough is a man who is not the most recognizable name at the club. The director of football has kept a low profile before this year and is now central to the club’s recruitment strategy.
A man in the background
For starters, it is not like John Murtough is a nobody. He was a sports scientist at Everton during the time of David Moyes, before serving as the Premier League’s Head of Elite Performance.
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The pair moved to Old Trafford in 2013 when the Red Devils appointed Moyes as manager. After Moyes was sacked, Murtough stayed on in a variety of roles under former vice-chairman Ed Woodward. He was appointed Head of Football Development, overseeing the women’s team and academy.
Murtough was influential in the club signing exciting teenager Hannibal Mejbri, and revamping the women’s side. However, his big break would come in early 2021, thanks in no small part to Woodward. The ill-fated European Super League sojourn pushed Woodward’s future to the brink.
Fans were incensed at the thought of a breakaway league. Coupled with Woodward’s underwhelming transfer policies in recent years, his fate was sealed. The United board tapped Richard Arnold as the next CEO, and this was just the start. Changes were made at all levels regarding how the club functioned.
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Murtough was appointed the first-ever Director of Football in March 2021, with Darren Fletcher as Technical Director. However, his first full season would be far from ideal, culminating in a sorry end.
Hiring Rangnick and falling flat
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tenure came to an ignominious end in 2021, and Murtough needed a new manager. The club hierarchy passed on all available elite options to appoint Ralf Rangnick as interim boss.
Murtough was said to be instrumental in bringing the former RB Leipzig boss, but things would sour quickly. United continued to hemorrhage losses with no signs of a turnaround. Rangnick was critical of the squad and players, openly telling the media that most had to leave and United needed “open heart surgery.”
These kinds of comments irked Murtough, who felt Rangnick was letting the club down. By the end of Rangnick’s tenure, the pair were not even on speaking terms. Murtough went full throttle in hiring Erik ten Hag, with Rangnick relinquishing his consultancy role a few days later.
The mid-season blunder was a costly mistake as it now leaves the club in the Europa League, and unable to attract big stars.
Turning it around
However, it is not all doom and gloom for John Murtough right now. The negotiations with De Jong have been stretched, with Murtough unwilling to pay high. This is the kind of prudence that was missing during Woodward’s tenure.
Murtough has been playing the long game to not give into player or agents’ demands. That kind of mentality will sit well with the fans. Moreover, Murtough has also identified a wide array of targets, alongside Erik ten Hag. The pair are looking closely at Ajax, with Antony another top target. United have appointed Andy O’Boyle as the Deputy Director of Football.
O’Boyle is a former academy coach, who was most recently Head of Elite Performance with the Premier League. That should help Murtough in his job too. United look well set to make at least a few signings, as Murtough knows he has the money.
However, there would not be any unwise signing or splashing of money around. United are getting wiser and that is a good thing for all involved.