Manchester United will have a new chief executive as of 1 February when Richard Arnold officially begins his new role, succeeding outgoing executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
The appointment has been on the cards ever since Woodward confirmed his intention to step down in the wake of last April’s European super league scandal. As a key man in the club hierarchy already, Arnold was an early frontrunner for the job and the obvious choice to take over.
Trust and familiarity were key factors in Woodward’s accession to top man in 2013, with the Glazer family always likely to opt for another internal promotion this time around, rather than the alternative of turning day-to-day control of the club over to a newcomer.
Arnold already has over 15 years of experience as a high-ranking executive at United. He first arrived at Old Trafford as group commercial director back in 2007 and, since the 2013 reshuffle that saw Woodward succeed David Gill, has been serving the club as group managing director.
In his original commercial role, he worked closely with Woodward who was credited for nurturing the club’s commercial boom in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Both men have ultimately played key roles in maximising United’s commercial potential over the last 15 years.
After Woodward switched to the top job more than eight years ago, Arnold continued to oversee that growth and the business side of the club as director of ‘Manchester United plc’.
It was Arnold who is credited with sealing the club’s most recent shirt sponsorship deal with American software firm TeamViewer last year, a contract worth an estimated £235m.
His background is remarkably similar to that of Woodward. Both attended the University of Bristol at the same time in the early 1990s, where it is thought that Arnold first encountered United’s current head of corporate development and chief negotiator Matt Judge.
Both he and Woodward graduated in 1993, found a job at PricewaterhouseCoopers and went on to qualify as chartered accountants in 1996. But despite both attending Bristol at the same time, it is believed that the two did not become acquainted until starting their finance careers at PwC.
Upon leaving PwC in 1999, Arnold went on to hold senior or advisory roles with tech or telecommunication firms, before making the switch to United in 2007.
Under his commercial leadership, United opened offices in London, New York and Hong Kong to grow the business and strengthen commercial reach, while deals with adidas and Chevrolet are the two biggest he has overseen during his time at the club.
Despite now being responsible for all aspects of the club, business is expected to remain Arnold’s main focus in his new role as chief executive. That should mean handing more control and autonomy on sporting operations over to football executives like John Murtough.
United fans will be keen for a new era and fresh leadership off the pitch to signal a return to being competitive on the pitch, after several false dawns in recent years.