Manchester United Chief Executive Richard Arnold recently met with a group of fans in a leafy Cheshire pub to discuss the current issues surrounding the club. Heading off their planned protest outside his house, where they would no doubt have interrupted his day off chanting rude slogans and generally making a nuisance of themselves while he tried to watch (maybe) the latest episode of Stranger Things.
Arnold moved instead to meet the (presumably mild mannered – i.e. no petrol bombs or bricks wrapped in paper covered in nefarious and offensive language) mob with few home truths, thereby protecting the sanctity of his quiet Sunday afternoon at home.
Or so he thought.
Let’s get, first, to what was actually said.
In more or less the same language as the rest of us have succinctly summed it up, Arnold called last year ‘a fucking nightmare.’ Well, no industry jargon or businesses speak needed. Just plain old terrace words. A fucking nightmare. Not even the chief executive fees like sugar coating the worst season United have had since Ron Atkinson and his spray tan ran the club like it was a Marbella boozer in the mid 80’s.
Full points for honesty and transparency so far.
Arnold also admits that ‘we fucking burned through cash, more than anyone else in Europe’ and that, if you were to go to United’s training ground at Carrington and ask to see where the billion pounds were spent, it would more or less be nowhere to be seen. ‘We’ve blown through an enormous amount of money’ he opines, going on to say ‘I’m not thrilled where we are. It doesn’t sit well with me and ai worry how we get this sorted out for the future.’
Hardly reassuring. What are the plans for try future? If he doesn’t know, then who does? Johnny Rotten?
‘No future for you...’
Ok, thanks John.
There is good news, however.
The two people responsible for the leaks that have plagued the club behind the scenes these last few years have apparently been caught and disposed of, like rats caught in a trap behind your fridge. Arnold doesn’t expand on the subject or give any hint of who the culprits were. There is a sense among fans, though, that some of the players who have already departed the club this summer were the ones responsible for the leaks. We can all have a good guess about exactly which two players that might be, though that is another discussion for another time. So long as they are gone, that will suffice for now.
More good news. Despite their slovenly approach to buying players, there actually is money for the club to spend. Well, hooray.
“For this summer, the money the manager and the director of football, wants is there” Arnold said. “For the future, investing in a new stadium and a latest-and-greatest training ground we’ve got to do something. We’ve got to get investors in. I need that to do what I want for the club. I’ve got to have more cash now because no club in the world has the money to build a new stadium. You either borrow it or invest it. The money has got to come from somewhere.’
Arnold is prosaic about fans’ dislike of the Glazers, widely choosing not to try and sell his employers to the group when the subject comes up.
“You might not like our current owners - I can’t help that. I’m not here to defend (chairman) Joel (Glazer), he must speak for himself. But you have taken the time to come here and make your views known - and I respect that. If you want someone else to come in, they will see that the fans love the team and that is positive. I respect your passion, but I need some help from you’ he said.
He went on to ask for cooler heads to prevail in terms of how the protests actually take place.
“This has been horrible. A lot of our players are young, and they have had a torrid time. The abuse they got after the Euros; no wonder confidence was shot. I want to put the club back together to be successful. I want to do my bit. I answer every email, speak to fans. I can’t make you do anything, but we will have to stop the flares, (in case) someone gets hurt.”
True, the young players need protecting. The abuse that Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford got last summer after missing penalties in the Euro 2020 Final against Italy was beyond disgusting. When a similar thing happened to David Beckham in 1998, after being sent off against Argentina in the World Cup for lashing out at Diego Simeone, it was Alex Ferguson and the United fans that shielded the young superstar from the virile hatred being directed at him from every other direction outside of Old Trafford. The club closed ranks and protected its own. It needs to do that again.
True, the flares should not be directed at the pitch where it could injure one of our players. They should be directed towards the men lurking in the shadows where they might do some good.
The grey men behind the scenes at a United all have the air of ineffectual accountants, dull bank managers, weak and dithering bean counters. You know the type. Soft handshakes and an unnerving inability to look you on the eye. Friedrich Nietzsche called them ‘the Last Men.’ Arnold doesn’t come across quite as bad as that. He seems more like David Brent, the ‘cool’ manager who wants you to like him, having a pint with you in his casual clothes and hoping he’s becoming your friend. How do I know? Well, here’s where the story takes its dire turn. Arnold was blissfully unaware of the fact one of the fans was secretly filming him.
Now, while it’s good to have Arnold’s words come to light, we have to be disappointed by the method that achieved it. We can’t complain about people leaking information from the club, complain about a need for transparency at the club, then secretly film someone on a camera phone from under a bar room table. More than anything, this is indicative of the division and inability to get on the same page that continues to plague the club at every level, from the terraces all the way up to the board room. Sure, Arnold has his faults, but he was good enough to meet with these supporters and engage them in a full and frank discussion of the issues they wanted to get off their chest. He listened to their complaints. He may not be so quick to do so again.
Everybody knows that in order to speak to the guy at the top, you sometimes need the ear of someone a little lower down. Like Van Gough, these supporters may well have chopped off that ear to spite themselves.
I can’t say yet whether I trust Richard Arnold. Perhaps that is a discussion for another day. All any of us can do is take his words at face value and continue to watch how things play out. For now, he seems on the level. Sure, he may just be telling us what we want to hear, but this video will have put him in a compromising position with his bosses and may just serve to further poison an already considerably polluted well, deepening distrust between those who run the club, and those of us who truly love it.
Friedrich Nietzsche also famously said ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’
Let’s end on that note, and let’s hope to God it’s true.