Richard Arnold, Manchester United’s new chief executive, admitted that the club “burned” large sums of money during a heartfelt meeting with disaffected fans that was secretly filmed.
Leaked footage shows Arnold bluntly admitting the club has been through a “nightmare year” – and the emergence of the video on social media sparked warnings that other club owners and executives would become even less likely to informally engage with fans.
“Fair play for Richard Arnold – every fan complains about not having access to people at the top of their club, that’s the reason they can’t,” said Jamie Carragher, a former England and Liverpool centre-back.
Supporters were planning a protest outside Arnold’s home amid continued unrest over the Glazer family estate.
Arnold, who replaced Ed Woodward earlier this year, was told that a group of about 15 fans had gathered at the Boot Inn in Cheshire and then arrived at the pub. He bought the fans a round of drinks and they clarified the matter by discussing a range of topics, including the owners and United’s pursuit of Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong.
Arnold is believed to have asked fans not to film or record the chat, which lasted about an hour, but parts of the conversation surfaced on social media. Arnold was aware of the risk of this happening, but is still a little disappointed by the apparent breach of trust.
United recorded their fewest Premier League points as they finished sixth last year, and even ended the season with a neutral goal difference. The terrible season was played against a backdrop of ongoing protests against the Glazer family estate. “We’ve spent a billion pounds on gamers over the last 10 years, we’ve spent more than anyone in Europe,” Arnold tells fans in the video.
“I’m not happy where we are. It’s not easy… I worry… we have to work this out for the future.
“You can’t go to our boot camp and say, ‘By the way, show me where the 1 billion pounds are here.’ I don’t think we did well with the money we spent historically. Last year was a nightmare. I was hating every game. We spent a huge amount of money.
Despite his damning assessment of past spending, Arnold stressed that finances would not be a constraining factor in this summer’s transfer market. More investment is needed, however, for capital projects like the stadium and training ground.
“The money that the manager and the football director [John Murtough] want to be there,” he said. “I’m not here to defend [chairman] Joel [Glazer]. He must speak for himself. You might not like our current owners – I can’t help it.
“For the future, to invest in a new stadium … to make a £250m training ground, we have to do something. We have to attract investors.
“I need that to do what I want for the club. I have to have more money than we have now because… no club in the world has the money to build a new stadium. Either you borrow or someone else invests. The money has to come from somewhere.”
Arnold also urged fans to support the team, admitting that players like Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho were impacted by the abuse that followed last summer’s Euro 2020 final defeat by Italy on penalties.
“You took the time to come here and get your opinions out there — and I respect that,” Arnold said. “I respect your passion. I need your help. Many of our players are young – they’ve been through terrible times – Rashford, Sancho, the abuse they suffered after the Euro. They are back. The crowd is over them. I’m not surprised that their confidence has dropped. I want to put us back together as a club, so that we are together, all fighting to succeed.”
A new era is about to begin at Old Trafford following the appointment of Erik ten Hag to replace caretaker manager Ralf Rangnick, who took over from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in November.
A Manchester United spokesman said: “Richard heard that a group of fans had gathered in a pub near his home.
“He went to meet them, bought everyone a drink, listened to their opinions and explained what the club is doing to succeed on the pitch, improve the stadium and strengthen engagement with the fans.”
The incident comes 2 and a half years after Woodward’s home in Cheshire was attacked by angry fans.