Dan Ashworth


There was a time in football where no self-respecting fan would know what a ‘sporting director’ was, or certainly what the hell they did in the darkness behind the scenes.

However, as we peek further and further behind the curtain in the modern game, sporting directors are now celebrities within their own right, and recruiting a new one is often met with greater fanfare than a £30m wonderkid signing.

Dan Ashworth is the latest sporting director to get pulses racing, with the experienced 52-year-old closing in on a switch to Manchester United.

But who is Dan Ashworth and why are Man Utd so interested in bringing him to Old Trafford?

Dan Ashworth

Ashworth spent time with England / Dan Mullan/GettyImages

A sporting director is a chief executive usually tasked with overseeing the management of transfers, although the job description can be drastically different from club to club. With data analysis at the forefront of modern football, the importance of the role has significantly increased in recent years.

It’s a position that is quite often held by former footballers, which Ashworth technically is. However, unlike some other sporting directors, Ashworth only turned out for a handful of non-league clubs during his playing days.

After calling time on his playing career, Ashworth moved into several directorial and coaching roles at English clubs, such as Peterborough United and West Bromwich Albion. However, his big break came in 2012 when he was appointed as the Football Association’s director of elite development, where he helped set up the ‘England DNA’ plan which was tasked with aiding player development at national team level.

A move to Brighton & Hove Albion followed seven years later where he took up residence as the club’s technical director, after which he was headhunted by Newcastle United following the club’s Saudi Arabian investment. Ashworth was the Magpies’ sporting director until he officially resigned from his post in February 2024 after two successful years on Tyneside.

Jim Ratcliffe

Sir Jim Ratcliffe is transforming Man Utd’s hierarchy / Stu Forster/GettyImages

Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s partial takeover of Man Utd last Christmas Eve has led to the beginning of an overhaul of the club’s boardroom members, including the recent arrival of new CEO Omar Berrada from rivals Manchester City.

Ratcliffe has been interested in bringing in a new sporting director at Old Trafford as part of an almighty shake-up, with a number of candidates touted. However, it seems Man Utd are set to get their man after Ashworth announced his decision to leave Newcastle on 19 February.

However, it’s not quite so simple, with Ashworth still under contract at St. James’ Park. There is reportedly a clause in his deal that forbids him from joining another club until 2026, unless appropriate compensation is paid to Newcastle.

The Magpies are reportedly demanding £20m in compensation to allow Ashworth to join Man Utd, although the Red Devils are hoping to negotiate and ultimately lower that fee.

Sven Botman, Alexander Isak

Newcastle’s signing sunder Ashworth have been impressive / Stu Forster/GettyImages

Ashworth has impressed during his time at Newcastle after being employed to help shape the club’s future in 2022. That’s exactly what he has done, with the signings he has overseen helping Newcastle United qualify for the Champions League last season way ahead of schedule.

While Newcastle boss Eddie Howe has been instrumental in a number of the club’s player additions, Ashworth has helped the club acquire the likes of Alexander Isak, Anthony Gordon and Sven Botman – all of whom have been important signings for the Magpies.

However, Ashworth has also been vital in bolstering the club’s academy setup, as well as introducing a whole host of new departments that have helped make Newcastle a far more competitive side on and off the pitch.

Man Utd have identified Ashworth as a perfect candidate to help rebuild the infrastructure at Old Trafford, aiding the club in revolutionising what has been a pretty sorry state of affairs in the boardroom over recent seasons.

Ashworth will be able to offer the club a clear direction, as well as recruiting talented staff around him that can help achieve his vision. He is known for being a strong negotiator and delegator, and will help Ratcliffe build a more coherent structure within the Man Utd hierarchy.



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