John Murtough praises United fans' impact
John Murtough has praised Manchester United fans for the “enormous lift” they have provided to the team since returning to stadiums this season.
The club’s Football Director said the support from United fans home and away had been “absolutely phenomenal”.
“A great example was the Leeds game, when Rafa Varane walked out onto the pitch,” said Murtough, recalling the French centre-back’s surprise pre-match unveiling after his arrival from Real Madrid in August.
“He’s about six foot four anyway, but I think he felt a foot taller walking back up that tunnel after you had all given him that welcome.”
Murtough, who leads the club’s football operations and strategy, said the vocal support from United fans did not go unnoticed by the players – and not just at Old Trafford.
“One thing that the players quote to me, especially the new players, is what it's like at away games as well – the support they have from the fans. So please don't underestimate the power and the energy that gives the team.”
Murtough made the remarks in a meeting with the club’s Fans’ Forum at Old Trafford, providing the assembled fan representatives with a fascinating account of the work being done behind the scenes to help Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Marc Skinner and their players achieve success.
Murtough was appointed the club’s first Football Director in March, to work alongside our former midfielder Darren Fletcher as Technical Director, and the pair were charged with ensuring the right structures, processes and culture are in place to deliver winning football.
“We have a long-term strategy and confidence in the direction that we’re going,” said Murtough. “Part of mine and Darren's appointments is to knit the football club together across all the departments – Academy, Women's team and the Men’s team, but also all the functions underneath that as well, whether that be medical, sports science or player recruitment.
“We want to achieve sustained success by building on those foundations and having a proper strategy and people in place. It’s key for us that the Manchester United culture rings through everything we do.”
Here are some more of the highlights from John’s wide-ranging discussion with fan representatives:
On the unique challenge of the Premier League:
“The Premier League is one of most competitive leagues in the world – players in from abroad and other leagues tell us how different it is – but we are 100% up for this challenge.
“We believe that we've got the talent and the character within the squad to succeed.”
On the importance of keeping calm and focused:
“One thing we do is just keep control – emotionally we don't get carried away, we don't deviate from our plan. Ole and the staff are very focused on that. We don't get distracted by what's said on social media, which can sometimes create fervour and hysteria. It’s part of the modern game, but we're very focused.”
On Darren Fletcher’s role:
“Darren anchors everything that we do to Manchester United values and culture as a player who’s come through the ranks and won trophies for us. Having him complement Ole and his staff is key.
“As an example…we recently signed an under-15 player. Darren was involved, and [Head of Academy] Nick Cox and the recruitment department, and when the parents met us with the player, they said ‘we met with you guys and you feel like a family, you're authentic in what you say, you're honest. You backed up that record of having an Academy player in the first team for over 4,000 games, and when we go around the building and we talk to people, there's a culture here, there's a history, there's a feeling of authenticity and genuineness’. And that's something that we really want to make sure we keep hold of and that's part of our plan going forward.”
On our commitment to youth:
“We’ve put in extensive work rebooting our youth system to continue traditions that started with Sir Matt and Sir Alex.
“We've got a massive commitment to youth development, and it's shown with the investment that we've had over the last few years, which has increased fivefold, on the pitch, but also off the pitch with new staff brought in.
“It’s key that we keep strengthening this pipeline of players coming through. Scott, Marcus, Dean and Mason in the first team, but also players like Axel and Brandon out on loan. Plus others, further down the line who are getting their first experiences of playing league football, which is great for them and for us.”
On playing football the Manchester United way:
“Another element is style of play, an identity to what Manchester United is.
“We talk to players and we talk to our coaching staff about playing fast, fluid attacking football, so when we link across all the age groups, there's a thread that runs through the football club.”
On building a winning squad:
“We're aiming for consistency and continuity in recruitment. We have a full process in place, making sure we’re planned in what we do.
“Squad development is never-ending and constantly evolving. We're sitting down with Ole and we're talking about future plans in terms of where the squad will go and how we think it will develop.
“We want to balance squads with the right profile in terms of positions and in terms of age. The current squad has good balance with young, exciting players coming through, and those in the middle in the prime of their careers. And then you've the more experienced group – we can learn a lot from them, and they’re already having an impact on some of the younger players.
“We want a squad that can challenge today but also in the future as well.”