Manchester United fans could hardly believe their eyes as they checked social media at midday on Wednesday.
“We are pleased to announce the appointment of John Murtough as the club’s new Football Director, and Darren Fletcher as Technical Director,” read a simple tweet from the official club account.
The club initially intended to hire a ‘head of football’ as part of the restructure in the wake of Jose Mourinho’s sacking in December 2018, but after failing to do so in time for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first full season in charge many fans presumed the restructure was being ignored.
Instead it was simply being done behind the scenes. A ‘cultural reset’ which has been long in the making and has already seen Murtough orchestrate an overhaul of both the academy and recruitment department.
Indeed after the announcement was made on Wednesday it was a follow up piece explaining exactly who Murtough was that was read most by MEN readers, with many caught off guard by the unexpected appointment.
However, the club have no concerns.
The feeling amongst club hierarchy was that better known external candidates were synonymous solely with recruitment, whereas Murtough has a proven track record at the club – having overseen the overhaul of the academy and built the women’s team from scratch.
This summer will likely be the acid test. Work on signing new players has continued behind the scenes since the beginning of the year, but with key areas of the pitch in need of investment at the end of the season fans will soon make up their own minds on the two new appointments.
The mitigation is the current financial landscape.
United are still in a better position than most when it comes to this summer’s marketplace but there can be no ignoring the continued losses in both matchday and commercial revenue caused by the pandemic.
The fact all three kits achieved their best ever sales last year is an extraordinary feat considering the wider circumstances, but they could improve once again if there is a marquee name to parade in one this time around.
Solskjaer will continue to have an influential role in the recruitment process and Matt Judge, the transfer negotiator who previously occupied the title of ‘head of corporate development’, is now the director of football negotiations.
However, there will also be a key role for Fletcher to play as he looks to convince any possible new recruits of choosing a move to Old Trafford rather than anywhere else.
Perhaps the prime example of this will be in any pursuit of Erling Haaland.
One year ago he was Solskjaer’s main target in the January transfer window – and while his failed pursuit did open the door for Bruno Fernandes’ arrival, it is hard to look on the bright side after losing out on such a bona fide talent such as him.
Part of the reason why Haaland opted for a move to Borussia Dortmund instead of United is because there were doubts over Solskjaer’s long-term security at Old Trafford.
“It may well have been good, too, if we had chosen a different route,” father Alf-Inge admitted last March. “We’ll never get an answer to that. But we are very happy with the clubs he has been in.
“You have to go to a club where the whole club wants you, not just the coach.
“I think that’s the most important thing, in addition to how the club has been over the last five or ten years and what direction they’ve taken.
“Because it’s dangerous to just sign for a coach, because he can suddenly be sacked.”
It’s true that signing solely for a manager is never advisable, but with the restructure now clear to see United have at least proven that there is a wider project to consider regardless of who is at the helm.
This summer might well come to soon for a genuine pursuit of Haaland but the appointments of Murtough and Fletcher are certainly solid foundations to suggest why another future approach might well yield a different response.