As Manchester United supporters gathered in a local pub on Saturday afternoon, they were intent on giving Richard Arnold a piece of their mind. Instead, they got one of his as the club chief executive headed out to address their concerns.
Fans had been protesting outside Arnold’s home, but when the CEO became aware of where they were gathering, he opted to meet them instead. He bought drinks for the group and spoke with what subsequently appeared to be remarkable candor for one of the most powerful figures at the club.
Arnold may not have been aware that one of the group had their phone pointed in his direction as he described last season, calling the 2021-22 season a “nightmare” and warned the club had “burned through” £1 billion on players, with little sign at the training ground that they had gotten value for money.
A Manchester United spokesperson confirmed the meeting, saying: “Richard heard that a group of fans had gathered in a pub near his house. He went to meet them, bought them all a drink, listened to their views, and explained what the club is doing to deliver success on the pitch, improve the stadium and strengthen engagement with fans.”
He also told them that funds are available to strengthen Erik ten Hag’s squad at a time when supporters are growing frustrated over the lack of immediate action in the transfer market for their new manager. United are in talks with Barcelona over the signing of Frenkie De Jong.
“Money is not a consideration on who we want,” Arnold said in a video posted on social media. “The manager wants [De Jong], and they have actually done the work. He’s a great player.
“Is it 100 or 200 [million]? I don’t know. Get who you [expletive] want.”
It is perhaps not the wisest of moves to publicly proclaim that money is no object in the pursuit of De Jong, whose sale Barcelona are considering so that they can steady their own finances.
Arnold added that he would not take much of a role in transfer dealings, which will be led by Ten Hag and football director John Murtough.
He said, “Do you want me buying the players? Does that not ring a bell?”
That would appear to be a coded reference to Arnold’s predecessor, Ed Woodward, who was said to play an outsized role in recruitment given his prior inexperience in football.
Woodward officially left the club in February, midway through their worst Premier League campaign from a points perspective. They recorded just 58 points, seeing them scrape into sixth position as fans heightened the pressure on the Glazer family that owns the club. Arnold insisted there was a long-term plan to address United’s decline on and off the pitch — plans are afoot to redevelop Old Trafford as the stadium shows its age — and urged fans to give him their backing.
“I respect your passion, but I need some help from you,” he said. “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 (where Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho missed penalties in England’s shootout loss to Italy), 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.”