Few people expected the club’s Head of Development to be given the job but he has played a key role in improving the club’s academy since 2013
A simple Google search of ‘Manchester United’ and ‘Director of Football’ would produce a long list of famous names.
Edwin van der Sar, Ralf Rangnick, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra – the number of rumoured candidates has grown and grown over the years, as players-turned-pundits argued that the club desperately needed to give someone with a background in the game a key role in transfer negotiations.
The role was always likely to be filled eventually but there won’t have been many interested observers who expected United’s Head of Football development John Murtough to be given the job.
In fact, after it was announced on Wednesday that Murtough had been appointed the club’s first ever ‘Football Director’, many outsiders were simply wondering who he was – let alone why he’d been chosen to fill such an important position.
However, Murtough has long been considered a key figure at Old Trafford.
He was brought to United by David Moyes in 2013, having previously worked for the Premier League. Regularly described as a ‘fixer’, Murtough was charged with improving the academy.
He excelled in that regard, playing a pivotal role in a change of policy which saw United adopt a more expansive, global approach to player recruitment, resulting in the arrival of the likes of Hannibal Mejbri and Alvaro Fernandez.
Murtough, who will report into Ed Woodward, was also integral to the establishment of the Women’s team in 2018.
Consequently, while United evaluated a number of external candidates, they regarded Murtough as the best option for the ‘Football Director’ role because of his already extensive knowledge of the club and his numerous success stories over the past eight years and he was considered to be a better option than the external candidates who were deemed inappropriate as they were only interested in recruitment.
Of course, his work is now going to come under more scrutiny than ever before.
One of the principal external criticisms of United’s management structure has long been that the signing of players is overseen by people “not from the football world”, as Evra put it last year.
Both Matthew Judge, who is the chief negotiator of new player deals, and executive vice-chairman Woodward are former investment bankers.
While Murtough doesn’t have the same background in the professional ranks as ex-United stars Evra, Ferdinand or Van der Sar, he does boast 23 years of experience within the game.
In addition, he will be assisted in his new role by another former fan favourite, Darren Fletcher, who had been working within Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s coaching staff this season.
The Scot will still be called upon to assist with training sessions when required but his new official title is Technical Director.
Again, United had considered external applicants but felt that Fletcher was the perfect fit, as he is humble, hard-working, intelligent and already a part of the old Ferguson-inspired culture that Solskjaer is trying to recreate at Old Trafford.
Fletcher will now be responsible for selling the club to potential new signings from a sporting and technical perspective.
But why now? Why the sudden revamp? After all, the ‘director of football’ debate had been raging around Old Trafford for many years.
It is understood former manager Jose Mourinho did not want somebody in that role as he believed it would undermine his authority, but as soon as Solskjaer was appointed on an interim basis in 2018, he was fully supportive of the club’s plans to overhaul their management structure.
It proved a slow process, though, as the club embarked upon major remedial work behind the scenes to improve its player recruitment process.
The shift in policy has been obvious to Old Trafford outsiders, though. United are no longer targeting expensive superstars. The focus now is on signing young players of enormous potential.
It is this strategy that United believe has helped them edge closer and closer to the top of the Premier League table over the past two years, and the hope now, of course, is that Murtough and Fletcher will prove the final pieces of the puzzle.
“These are hugely important appointments that reinforce the progress we have been making as a club in recent years in our relentless pursuit of success,” Woodward said.
He has overseen the biggest ever overhaul of transfer operations at Old Trafford but has always insisted that focus has been on evolution rather than revolution.
The net result, though, is that Woodward now believes he has a system in place that will make United even more successful in the transfer market than they have been in recent windows, which is precisely why he feels comfortable taking a step back.
The vast majority of transfer calls will now be taken by Murtough, while Fletcher will provide the kind of tactical and technical insight that has long been lacking in the recruitment process.
The transfer market is a notoriously tricky field but with these long overdue appointments, United have, at the very least, taken another important step forward on a journey they hope eventually ends in Premier League glory.