Manchester United have sprung a major surprise by hiring Omar Berrada, a leading figure at their neighbours and rivals Manchester City, as their new chief executive.
The news — broken exclusively by The Athletic — represents the first significant hire of the INEOS era at Old Trafford and will cause conversations around Premier League boardrooms.
Here, we explain Berrada’s background and why this hire matters.
Who is Omar Berrada?
Berrada is the chief football operations officer at City Football Group (CFG) which owns Manchester City and 12 other clubs around the world.
He joined City in 2011, serving as head of international business development, director of partnership sales and then senior vice president group commercial director, before becoming the club’s chief operating officer in 2016.
In 2020, he was promoted to a senior role at City Football Group.
As with many other senior officials at City — including manager Pep Guardiola — Berrada spent several years working at Barcelona during a very successful period for the club, though he is French-Moroccan rather than Catalan.
How important is a CEO at a football club?
There are effectively two parts to running the business of a football club.
One is the sporting side, overseeing transfers and contract negotiations. The other is pretty much everything else: sponsorship, infrastructure, and the various issues that come with running a business that employs over 1,000 people.
In both areas, Manchester City have been far better than their cross-city rivals over the past decade.
Ed Woodward, effective chief executive of Manchester United from 2012 to 2022, was criticised for taking too much of a role in footballing matters despite having no background in sport.
But United’s structure is now undergoing significant change.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s INEOS company has agreed to buy a 25 per cent stake in the club — although the purchase has yet to be formally ratified by the Premier League — and United have been looking for a CEO to succeed Richard Arnold, who left Old Trafford in November. United’s head of legal Patrick Stewart had been appointed as his replacement on an interim basis.
Berrada was identified and pursued by INEOS but with endorsement from the Glazer family, who still own the majority of the club, in what was ultimately a joint decision.
The plan is for Berrada to take executive leadership of both the business and sporting areas, and will also have a seat on the club board of directors as he reports to United’s owners.
So what does it mean for Manchester United?
It is a huge coup.
United’s reputation has been hammered over the past decade as Sir Alex Ferguson’s title-winning machine has fallen into decline on and off the pitch.
Although the Glazer family still own a majority of the club, selling a minority stake to INEOS and hiring a very capable chief executive from their rivals can be seen as a sign that things might be changing.
After Martin Edwards, Peter Kenyon, David Gill, Woodward, Arnold and Patrick Stewart, Berrada will become United’s first chief executive hired externally rather than promoted from an existing role.
United are still arguably the best-supported club in the world and make huge amounts of commercial revenue despite misfiring on the pitch.
The ingredients are there for the club to taste success again with better leadership.
And what about for City?
It is a blow.
Berrada was highly regarded at City and considered a likely successor to director of football Txiki Begiristain, who also came from Barcelona. The news that he is leaving has come as a major surprise, although City chief executive Ferran Soriano will continue to effectively run the club day to day.
While City’s domination of English football would never have happened without their wealthy Abu Dhabi-based owners, even their fiercest rivals would concede that the club is well-run.
City have become shrewd operators in the transfer market and, unlike United, make a lot of money from player sales.
After winning five titles in six years, City are comfortably the dominant force in English football, let alone Manchester; a situation which is not going to change any time soon and runs far deeper than one executive.
But after a rocky start to the season and the looming cloud of the Premier League’s 115 charges for alleged breaches of financial regulations, the club’s dominance feels less secure than it has done at other times — and Berrada’s defection won’t help the sense of unease.
Was he at City during the period in which they were accused by the Premier League of breaking profit and sustainability rules?
Last February, the Premier League issued City with a charge sheet of 115 alleged breaches of its financial rules across nine seasons.
The charges laid against City span from 2009 to 2018, the last two years of which Berrada was in the role of chief operating officer, a senior position within the club.
There is no suggestion that Berrada is implicated in any potential wrongdoing — and City have strenuously denied the charges. The club last year said they would look forward to the opportunity to “put to rest, once and for all” a protracted investigation that had begun in 2018.
How rare is it for big English clubs to hire each other’s executives?
Unusual, but not unprecedented.
Peter Kenyon, United chief executive from 2000 to 2003, caused surprise when he moved to the same role at Chelsea, overseeing a period of dominance for the west London club under their new owner Roman Abramovich.
On the playing side, it was once fairly common for Manchester United players to end up at City later on in their careers when there was a big gulf between the clubs.
However, now the two are fierce rivals and City have surpassed United in terms of trophies in recent years, it has become very rare. A notable exception is Argentinian striker Carlos Tevez, who played for United between 2007 and 2009 before sensationally signing for City, helping them win their first Premier League title in 2012.
(Top photos: Getty Images)
Read the full article here