Manchester United has confirmed its chief executive of two years, Richard Arnold, “has decided to step down” as part of a “management transition”.
The development was revealed shortly after Sky News reported that Mr Arnold would be replaced by the club’s general counsel, Patrick Stewart, on an interim basis.
The change is taking place as the club’s owners finalise the sale of a minority stake to the petrochemicals billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe.
The club’s statement to the New York Stock Exchange said that Mr Arnold, who has held roles at United for 16 years, would provide transitional support until the end of December.
Executive co-chairman, Joel Glazer, said: “I would like to thank Richard for his outstanding service to Manchester United over the past 16 years, and wish him all the best for his future endeavours.
“We are fortunate to be able to call on the deep knowledge and experience of Patrick Stewart to provide interim stability and continuity as we embark on a search for a new permanent CEO.”
Mr Arnold said of his departure: “It has been an incredible privilege to serve this great football club for the past 16 years.
“Through highs and lows, the constant has been the dedication of our employees and fans. I would like to thank all of them for their loyalty and commitment and wish everyone associated with the club the very best for the future.”
Neither the club or Mr Arnold gave no reason for the decision but its statement suggested that it was of his own making.
One source told Sky’s City editor Mark Kleinman that Mr Stewart’s appointment as interim CEO would allow United’s new joint owners to identify the right long-term candidate to run the club.
United is expected to confirm, within days, Sky News’ exclusive revelations that Sir Jim’s Ineos Sports is acquiring a 25% stake.
Kleinman revealed earlier this month that Sir Jim is to commit $300m (£245m) from his multibillion pound fortune to overhauling United’s ageing infrastructure, in addition to the roughly £1.3bn he will spend on acquiring the stake.
The funds will be financed by Sir Jim personally and will not add to Manchester United’s existing borrowings.
Reports in recent weeks have suggested that the billionaire will take immediate control of football matters at the club, alongside Ineos Sports colleagues including Sir Dave Brailsford, the former cycling supremo.
Many United fans have expressed disquiet at the prospect of Sir Jim buying a minority stake given that it paves the way for the Glazers’ continued control.
The family, who paid just under £800m to buy the club in 2005, has remained inscrutable throughout the process and has said nothing of substance to the NYSE since the process of engaging with prospective buyers kicked off.
Earlier iterations of Sir Jim’s offers for the club, which focused on gaining outright control, included put-and-call arrangements that would become exercisable three years after a takeover to enable him to buy out the remainder of the club’s shares.
The Monaco-based billionaire, who owns the Ligue 1 side Nice, pitched a restructured deal last month in an attempt to unblock the ongoing impasse over United’s future.
In addition to the competing bids from Sir Jim and Sheikh Jassim, the Glazers received several credible offers for minority stakes or financing to fund investment in the club.
The Glazers’ tenure has been dogged by controversy and protests, with the absence of a Premier League title since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement as manager in 2013 fuelling fans’ anger at the debt-fuelled nature of their takeover.
“Love United, Hate Glazers” has become a familiar refrain during their tenure, with supporters critical of a perceived lack of investment in the club, even as the owners have reaped large dividends as a result of its ability to generate sizeable profits.