Manchester United have appointed Omar Berrada as their new CEO as they enter the INEOS era in earnest. While the sale of 25% of club shares is yet to be ratified, Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his team have already begun work to lay the foundations for their era of sporting control.
Usually an appointment of a CEO is met with a shrug by the average fan. The players on the pitch and the manager in the dugout taking precedence over the executives in the boardroom. But given United’s decade of struggle since Sir Alex Ferguson and, crucially, David Gill departed in 2013, fans of the Red Devils are more interested in football governance than most.
Still, very few boardroom additions have been celebrated with quite the fervour of Berrada. The reason? Because the Paris-born Moroccan is joining the Red Devils from local rivals Manchester City.
The two clubs do love celebrating any sort of victory over the other. Names as diverse as Carlos Tevez, Alexis Sanchez, Cristiano Ronaldo, Charlie McNeill, Brian Kidd and Owen Hargreaves have been the subject of inter-club boasting over the years. For many fans on the red side of Manchester, Berrada’s move across the city is cherished for its very nature. Anyone swapping blue for red is someone to be celebrated.
Such tribality is understandable. So much of football is underpinned by the pull of ‘us vs them’. The move for Berrada looks brilliant on paper. A real statement of intent from INEOS as weakening a rival while strengthening yourselves is another core tenet of football. But the genuine quality of this move is not in the egg-smearing on City’s faces, rather it’s in the capture of the sort of asset United have long needed in a position of power.
The Old Trafford club has usually looked outside of football when appointing people in positions of executive power. The club’s two previous permanent CEOs, Ed Woodward and Richard Arnold, were promoted from within the organisation having held legal and commercial positions.
This contrasts vastly with Berrada’s career roles. After holding senior posts at Barcelona, Berrada moved to City in 2011. He was appointed as chief operating officer in 2016 before a promotion in 2020 saw him take over football operations for the whole City Football Group. His work across a portfolio of clubs under that banner makes him an ideal candidate for Old Trafford. The fact he was front and centre as City grew from what Ferguson once derisively termed “noisy neighbours” into perennial Premier League champions and eventual treble winners is instructive.
Berrada has not only been inside two outstanding football organisations during periods of sustained success, but he has been an important part of those achievements. The 46-year-old was heavily involved in the deal that brought Erling Haaland to the Etihad in 2022. Berrada is a man who knows what a successful football business looks like.
It is the ‘football’ half of that phrase, rather than the ‘business’, that INEOS are keen to emphasise. In an official statement announcing Berrada’s appointment, United said: “The Club is determined to put football and performance on the pitch back at the heart of everything we do. Omar’s appointment represents the first step on this journey.”
Fans will have fun with the fact he was poached from City. So they should. We must never lose the cheeky, needling side of football. But in truth, Berrada would be a great appointment had he come from Arsenal, Chelsea, Brighton & Hove Albion or straight from Barcelona. The tribal victory is enjoyable for the supporters, but they can take solace that this isn’t some symbolic win. United have long needed a richly experienced football executive heading up their operation. Berrada can be that man.