Manchester United: The obligations of Fletcher, Murtough

A sports writer once said modern football has modern problems and modern roles to sort them out. Hence, there is a need for someone to help sort them out, which is the introduction of new structural heads as sporting director, also dubbed as director of football, one such new role that has become synonymous with the power dynamics of football in our day and age. Remember, since Arsene Wenger left Arsenal, most clubs in England’s top flight have adopted the more continental approach of having a sporting director in charge of recruitment and off the pitch activity. Again, other than your regular administrative positions dealing with the finances and marketing departments of a football outfit, the position of technical football director has become an important mainstay over the years. Working mostly in the background these gentlemen or women control the total football outlook of the club from playing style to academy and scouting. These tasks are only a few of the many important functions of a Technical Director of Football for any club or football federation of a country.

For the first time in the Football Club’s history, Manchester United confirmed the appointment of a football director and technical director that will change how the club negotiates transfers. The positions have been widely discussed and rumoured for a while, with a list of big names in the game being linked with the positions, although the club have confirmed they have promoted from within. John Murtough, who has been with United for seven years and is currently head of football development, will be the new football director while Darren Fletcher, who joined Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s staff earlier this season, will be technical director.Now with the appointment of John Murtough and Darren Fletcher, the piece shall be taking a look into their biographies and the responsibilities expected of them in their roles in a not to familiar environment like Manchester United. First, who is Darren Fletcher? According to tynecastlefc.co.uk, Fletcher played his youth football at Hutchison Vale, Tynecastle Boys Club and Celtic Boys Club before being scouted by Manchester United. He first joined the Manchester United youth setup at the age of 11, and then signed with the club when he was aged 15. Fletcher said in 2020 that he had almost signed for Newcastle United instead, as some people advised him it would be harder to break into the Manchester United first team.

According to Studley, he progressed quickly with Manchester United, and could have become the youngest player ever to appear in their first team when he was selected in their squad for the final fixture of the 1999–2000 FA Premier League season, against Aston Villa on 14 May 2000. Again, according to BBC Sport, Fletcher broke into the Manchester United team during the 2003–04 campaign, playing a number of important matches and starting in United’s FA Cup Final win over Millwall in May 2004. Despite a slow start to the 2004–05 campaign, in which in the early part of the season he made very few competitive appearances, Fletcher again broke into the United first-team. On 1 January 2005, Fletcher scored his first goal at club level in a 2–0 win over Middlesbrough. Seemingly, February 2015, Fletcher signed for West Bromwich Albion on a free transfer. He made his debut on 8 February 2015 against Burnley, where he was given the captain ‘s armband. He scored his first goal for the club on 11 April 2015 against Leicester City, although the Baggies lost 3–2. Again, June 2017, Fletcher signed a two-year contract with Stoke City, effective from the expiration of his West Bromwich Albion contract on 1 July. He made his debut on 12 August as the team began their season with a 1–0 loss at Everton, playing the full 90 minutes.

Furthermore, Fletcher returned to Manchester United to coach their under-16 players, and in January 2021, he was promoted to first-team coach. Fletcher came through the ranks of Manchester United’s Youth Academy and spent 20 years with United, making 342 appearances for the club. With them, he won five Premier Leagues, one FA Cup, two League Cups , the UEFA Champions League, four FA Community Shields and the FIFA Club World Cup. Fletcher was included in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year for 2009–10. He was named vice-captain in his last season with the club. He joined West Bromwich Albion in February 2015, where he made 97 appearances. After leaving Albion in 2017, Fletcher had a two-year stint with Stoke City. He returned to Manchester United in a coaching capacity in October 2020, working with the club’s under-16s players, before being appointed to the first team in January 2021. For John Murtough, according to Manchester United Evening News and Tribunal.com, Murtough started his football career at Everton, where he worked alongside David Moyes as the club’s Sports Scientist in which he helped optimize player performances in training and organize special training sessions. He was then promoted to the Head of Performance in 2012, in which he played a part over improving all the technical departments within the club. In 2013, he followed David Moyes to United and became the Head of Football Development, mostly working at an academy level to help improve grassroots football. Murtough has overseen the improvement of the United academy and expansion of the scouting network within the club. He has also been directly involved in the signing of many talented youngsters over the years, with Murtough himself playing a big role over signing Hannibal Mejbri from AS Monaco. Today, as a Technical Director of Football which is also similar to Director of Football,  in simple terms is a staff member who goes out to find the best players for his/her club within a specified budget. However, as the role has changed over the years, other functions have been included. The first question is what are the role of Darren Fletcher as the technical director?

According to Collins Nwokolo, who listed the prominent roles of a technical director, the first role is offering technical football advice. Sometimes, clubs or national team federations employ a technical director as a kind of back-up  for a coach. These directors are usually hired for their in-depth tactical and technical knowledge of the game. They usually help to booster the tactical department of the coaching crew, especially when the head coach is seen as lacking in that area of expertise. Sometimes, technical directors have been required to take over the coaching duties of a team on an emergency basis when the head coach has for whatever reason been relieved of his duties. According to him, another role is player transfer. As stated in a previous paragraph, technical directors are sometimes solely responsible for finding the best players within a specific budget. This will involve scouting and player monitoring to ensure such players fit the needs and football philosophy of the coach or club. The director must also possess good negotiating skills so as to be able to get the best deals at the best price for his club. Many examples abound of this kind of technical director.

For instance, Michael Emenalo, who was Chelsea FC Technical Director of Football between 2011-2017, is also one of the best sporting directors in the world. This role will require a fair bit of running around the staff market. The important skills for a Technical Director are still quite similar to a Director of Football. Pundits say that “the Technical Director has great ‘Judging Staff Ability’ rating.

But, it’s all well and good being able to judge how good a certain staff member is, but what if he decides a certain man is right for the job but can’t get him to sign a decent contract?” That’s where negotiation comes in. A Technical Director is given a free-pass to do his job, and will need both the skills to find staff members and recruit them into the team.

For the director of football, according to goal.com, the role of a director of football (sometimes known as a sporting director or even ambiguously technical director is not always clearly defined, but they form a part of the senior management at a club and transfers are usually their chief remit. Their responsibilities can vary from club to club, with some being heavily involved in all aspects of the business, including the hiring and firing of managers, scouting, recruitment of players, long-term strategy and the improvement of facilities. In other cases, the role can be slightly more specialised, depending on an individual’s particular talents. Those who take up roles as directors of football usually have a history in the sport and a wide network of contacts, while others simply have a background in similar administrative roles.

Further explanation on goal.com, a director of football is very much different from a first-team manager, but they work closely with each other and occasionally situations have arisen whereby directors have temporarily taken the reins of a team. Day-to-day, they generally serve as a sort of buffer between the manager and the board of a club. The idea is to allow the manager to focus fully on preparation for games and on-field issues, while also providing input about potential targets. Many of the biggest clubs in the world employ a director of football. In the past it was predominantly a feature of continental European clubs, but the role has become central to the operation of a number of English clubs now too. The likes of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan have employed directors of football to varying levels of success.

Today, there is Kevin Thelwell for wolves in the Premier league, that under his leadership, the academy at the club had been reclassified as ‘Category One’ and one of the top in the country. There’s Luis Campos for Lille in France, Campos achieved unprecedented success while working in the background as director at Monaco when the club won the Ligue 1 and reached the last four of the Champions League. He turned in profits as well as results on the pitch for the club before moving on to Lille where he has continued to work wonders in his own mysterious ways. There’s Ralph Rangnick for Leipzig in Germany, As a director with the RB franchise, Rangnick worked his magic on the field as well as in the board room. Focusing primarily on RB Leipzig, Ragnick worked with the management and the off-pitch staff to take the newest club in Germany from the last tier to the Bundesliga as well as the Champions League semi-final.

There’s Micheal Edwards, while Jurgen Klopp has spearheaded the Liverpool revolution on the field, Michael Edwards’ astuteness in the transfer market and in scouting as well as his strategic acumen has helped Liverpool get success on the pitch and make profits.  Edwards, a great data analyst on players, has not only made great signings at value like Mohamed Salah but has also negotiated brilliant sales such as that of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona. There’s Txiki Begiristain, Txiki Begiristain arrived at Manchester City with great pedigree, having been part of the backroom when the Pep Guardiola revolution at Barcelona was taking place. Guardiola assembled one of the greatest football teams of all time that went on to win everything possible. Also is Michael Zorc, who made the role of the sporting director what it is today with the unbelievable turnaround he catalysed at Borussia Dortmund after taking over the role at the club. Zorc, a club legend as a player, retired at 36 and then took charge as the sporting director of the club during a period of crisis. During the Zorc era, Dortmund have won three Bundesliga titles, two German Cups and even reached the Champions League final in 2013 where they were pipped to the post by fierce rivals Bayern Munich.

Therein now, after it was announced on Wednesday that Murtough had been appointed the club’s first ever ‘Football Director’, many critics still looks sceptical and wondering who John was, let alone why he’d been chosen to fill such an an underscoring role. Howbeit, as read earlier, John has long been considered a key figure at Old Trafford. Regularly described as a ‘fixer’, Murtough was charged with improving the academy. John Murtough, who will report into Ed Woodward, was also integral to the establishment of the Women’s team in 2018. 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. Manchester United fans should give them this chance, and let’s watch them change the fortunes of Manchester United.

  • Ogungbile writes in via thedreamchaser65@gmail.com

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