People with a good understanding of Manchester United believe Matt Judge’s position at the club became uncertain once Ed Woodward left. The pair had worked closely on signings, sales and contracts for eight years, to the point that Louis van Gaal sardonically referred to Judge as Woodward’s “right hand man”.
Woodward instructed the judge and set the parameters for the negotiations. Once Woodward left, that advice waned and frustrations would have arisen for Judge.
John Murtough’s promotion to a rung above Judge was also a move that sources say was difficult for him to handle, even though they get on well. Judge had previously reported directly to Woodward, but he did not have the same line in new general manager Richard Arnold.
These factors culminated in Judge’s decision to step down as United‘s director of football negotiations. Athleticism can reveal that Judge communicated his intention internally a fortnight ago, while reaching the final stages of contract talks for Erik ten Hag as United manager.
The judge had also discussed an alternative financial arrangement with a lawyer for Mauricio Pochettino a week before.
Ten Hag’s talks are not believed to have specifically triggered the judge’s call, but the closing of the deal for United’s new manager has created a definite moment to walk away.
That being said, Judge spoke with others about the nomination and his departure came as a big surprise to them. Judge will continue to hold those talks, as with assistant Mitchell van der Gaag, but will step back from transfers and as a result many agents who had him as their first port of call at United need to change their approach ahead of a window. of great importance at Old Trafford.
It is understood that he has a notice period of three months and the decision on how long this time spent on new agreements will rest with Murtough.
The latest developments at United were viewed with broad positivity among supporters when Athleticism announced the news on Friday. There was no love lost for Woodward after the Super League coup attempt and Judge, another former investment banker, falls into the same category.
Judge has come under intense scrutiny from fans since assuming his standing in the negotiations in 2014, under the spotlight shone by Van Gaal and later Patrice Evra, who said in September 2020: “A director sportsman from a major football club called me and asked me to tell Matthew Judge to answer his phone.
An intermediary even made this point jokingly directly to the judge at that time. The judge laughed at the accusation.
The jubilant reaction from United supporters was partly echoed within the club, where the reshuffle was kept under wraps. Some sources believe Judge bears a large responsibility for transfer spending comparable to that of Manchester City – £1.17bn since 2013 – but well below in terms of producing the same levels of performance on the pitch.
Under the judge’s watch, United failed to reach deals for Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham despite talks advancing after recommendations from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. United have also missed out on Joao Cancelo, who was reported ahead of his move to Manchester City. Some claim United moved forward with the move for Donny van de Beek because Ajax made him available at an affordable price, rather than the midfielder being actively scouted and approved.
Woodward, when he was executive vice president, was directly asked why Judge was placed in such an important position despite having experience outside of the sport. Woodward insisted that Judge’s experience handling multi-million pound transactions in the banking sector made him ideal for dealing calmly with football’s feverish talk. The judge was described as having a good poker face.
Judge became acquainted with Arnold at the University of Bristol in the early 1990s, with Woodward also present but on a different course. After graduating, Arnold and Woodward met on their first day of work at PricewaterhouseCoopers in 1993. Judge also got a job at the same accounting firm and would later become Woodward’s colleague again at JP Morgan, with the couple establishing a good relationship.
Two of those three Bristol alumni are now gone, but Arnold, installed as Woodward’s successor in February, has a solid power base. Former colleagues say United Woodward and Judge were very close but there was some separation with Arnold in recent years. Literally, in the halls of United’s Mayfair headquarters, Woodward’s office was on the same side as Judge’s, overlooking Green Park, while Arnold’s was a bit further away and he was mainly based at Old Trafford.
It was Woodward and Judge who jointly formulated the idea of extending player contracts in order to maintain asset value, whether on the spreadsheet or in the market. Critics argue it was a grossly flawed strategy which only served to underline the disconnect within the club between finance and football, with several United players earning top salaries while having a modest prospect of figuring.
The judge, for his part, never claimed to be a football expert and in the discussions repeatedly referred to the influence of the manager or United’s recruitment department. This caused delays in the process. At rival clubs, those negotiating are empowered to make value judgments about sporting merit and resolutions can be reached more quickly.
During the talks, Judge was also referring to the owners of United, which was mainly Joel Glazer, when the costs started to rise. Those on the other side of the trading table wondered if this was a technique to establish leverage or really the case. Either way, it added a time-consuming layer.
The summer window in 2020 has been particularly excruciating as talks for Jadon Sancho have dragged on for many months and crippled United from advancing alternatives as a result. Van de Beek arrived a month before the market closed but there was a frantic end to United’s dealings, with four players signing as the deadline approached. The judge agreed a deal for Edinson Cavani several weeks after the striker was first offered to United, with Alex Telles another suggested agent, although backed by scouting reports. Amad Diallo and Facundo Pellistri joined in deals worth a combined £47million, two wingers with nine first-team appearances between them since.
The heavy experience led Solskjaer, who also went without a replacement for Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez in 2019-20 until the arrival of Odion Ighalo on loan in January, launching an internal review of practices at United. Ighalo’s deal came from Judge and Woodward working in a war room at Mayfair HQ.
People at United accept that things haven’t worked out with Woodward’s structures and staff, so change is needed. It remains to be seen whether Murtough, who takes overall charge of recruitment from his office overlooking the Carrington training grounds, will be given that leeway as director of football.
The increased responsibility for Murtough is a significant change and while finalizing the terms of the deals may include United general counsel Patrick Stewart and his team, sources familiar with the situation believe a break-in period will be required. Although a director with substantial knowledge, Murtough does not have years of experience closing senior-level deals. Murtough has been deeply involved in United’s recruitment processes over the past year, but for many agents Judge has been the primary point of contact.
There are no immediate plans for a similar judging replacement, with sources playing down the likelihood of Paul Mitchell joining the club. Murtough knows Mitchell professionally but there are no active talks at this time.
Ralf Rangnick has offered Mitchell to Arnold but the approval isn’t as substantial as once thought as the German’s advice is expected to be light, especially after his appointment as Austria manager.
However, the situation is being assessed and further appointments are expected. Andy O’Boyle, head of elite performance in the Premier League, is among the candidates who could become Murtough’s assistant as assistant director of football. An informal approach from Dan Ashworth eventually led both parties to decide that the move, as had been suggested, would not work.
Judge is the third high profile release in recent weeks after Jim Lawlor and Marcel Bout, two top scouts. Other departures are possible. Sources say a key improvement needed at United relates to due diligence on signings, fully establishing whether players have the right mentality and physiology to feature at the club.
Darren Fletcher, as technical director, will also get an enhanced role after Judge’s departure, in terms of assessing targets and selling United to them. This role is relatively new for him as well. It was January 2021 when Solskjaer hired him as the first-team coach.
Judge, whatever his background, had earned a reputation for professionalism. He was generally respected in the industry. These relationships will need to be re-established. His departure is welcomed by many, but there are also questions.