Murtough & Fletcher promoted - but has leadership gap been filled?
Written by Simon Austin — March 10, 2021
MANCHESTER UNITED have promoted John Murtough from Head of Football Development to Football Director, with Darren Fletcher stepping up from first-team coach to Technical Director, as part of a revamp of leadership roles at the club.
For a long time, there have been calls for United to appoint a Sporting Director, like their rivals Manchester City and Liverpool, although it remains unclear whether these new positions will satisfy that clamour.
Fletcher does have the title of Technical Director, but his responsibilities are different to those you would traditionally associate with the role.
Last year, Dan Ashworth told TGG that his role as Brighton's Technical Director was to "sit in the middle of a wheel and bring together seven departments" - men's first team, women's first team, loans, Academy, recruitment, medical and performance, and wellbeing and psychology.
In contrast, Fletcher, who played more than 340 matches for the club, will offer "technical advice across all aspects of the football department" as well as "contributing to the communication and delivery of our football philosophy across all areas of the club."
The Scot will continue in his role as first-team coach, to which he was appointed in January, until the end of the season.
Murtough's role is closer to that of the traditional Sporting Director, although the appointment has underwhelmed many fans, largely because he has held senior positions at the club during a seven-and-a-half period in which they have underperformed on the pitch.
He will provide “overall leadership and responsibility for operations and strategy across all football functions” and “work day-to-day with (manager) Ole (Gunnar Solskjaer) to align recruitment and other strategies and to ensure that the first team has the best-in-class operational support it needs to succeed.”
Murtough joined United in November 2013 from the Premier League, where he was Head of Elite Performance, and has had the title of Head of Football Development at Old Trafford.
One of the major functions of this role has been to oversee big footballing projects. Last March, TGG reported that Murtough was heading up a working group looking into the implementation of a data science strategy at the club, although, to date, there have been no appointments.
In 2017, he led an overhaul of the club's scouting operation, resulting in more than 50 appointments around the world, and has also overseen changes to the Academy and the introduction of a women's team.
Crucially, he is both trusted and rated by Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward, who has relied on him to deliver changes to the football operation and to report back on what is happening in different departments.
However, Murtough is little known by either fans or media, as he has done hardly any interviews since arriving at United. One rare exception was in December 2019, when he spoke to sponsors Gulf Oil about United's Academy scouting operation.
Someone who has worked closely with him told TGG about Murtough's "excellent soft skills and extensive contacts list" and he is also said to be generous with his time with coaches in the Academy, women's and senior men's set-ups.
United have said that manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will "continue his role in the recruitment process, supported by extensive scouting and data analytics functions that will continue to report to John." Head of Corporate Development Matt Judge “will also report to John" and has the new title of Director of Football Negotiations.
Woodward said: “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.
“We have already made great strides forward in the way we run our football operations, and the benefits are visible in the resurgent pipeline of Academy talent reaching the first team and through our improved recruitment record.
“John has been integral to our progress in all these areas and his deep understanding of development ensures the club’s traditions of bringing young players through from Academy to first team will continue."
Murtough said: “This is such an exciting time for everyone at Manchester United with the first team, Academy and Women’s team all performing strongly, and plenty of development still to come.
“It’s a privilege to be part of that process, and an honour to lead Manchester United’s football department, working alongside Ole, Casey and so many other truly outstanding staff all dedicated to delivering success to this club.”
Fletcher, who was appointed as a first-team coach in January, added: “It is great to be back with the club and I am delighted to be taking on this new role.
"We are moving in the right direction and I am looking forward to continuing to work with Ole and his coaching team, and now with John as the Football Director, to help bring young players through and further develop the football side of the club. It’s fantastic to see that all the staff here are driving Manchester United forward towards a new era of success.”
United have been criticised for a lack of long-term thinking ever since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club in 2013. There have been a number of successors to the legendary manager (David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Solskjaer), each with a different style of play and approach. Inevitably, this has led to a big churn of players and staff and there hasn't been a unifying football figure to provide continuity.
The effect of this has been evident in other areas, aside from coaching and recruitment. For example, when Mourinho took over from Van Gaal, he dispensed with the recovery department that had been put in place by Head of Performance Tony Strudwick.
A symbol of this was the removal of the monitoring lounge, which was widely regarded as the best in the Premier League, with a massage and games room being put in its place. The club's former Head of Recovery, Robin Thorpe, told TGG: "The monitoring lounge - probably the best monitoring space in the world - that we’d developed under Sir Alex and Louis was turned into a medical room. Looking back, that was disappointing."
Similarly, Liverpool and Manchester City have developed sophisticated data science departments over the last few years, while United are still in the planning stages for theirs.