Newcastle United sporting director Dan Ashworth appears to have little intention of leaving the club amid high praise from Gary Neville and speculation that he could be poached by Manchester United to the same job once Sir Jim Ratcliffe's 25% buy-in is complete.
Ashworth is widely regarded as one of the best sporting directors in the Premier League. He made his name at West Bromwich Albion 15 years ago, before a transformative stint as the FA's director of elite development and then playing a huge role in Brighton & Hove Albion's growth.
Now 52, he was hired by Newcastle last year and has overseen the newly megarich club's rapid resurgence through smart recruitment and measured spending.
Neville, who was part of the England coaching staff when Ashworth was at the FA, spoke glowingly about the sporting director in the wake of Newcastle's Carabao Cup win over Manchester United last week, hinting he is exactly the type of person the Old Trafford club is crying out for.
"On my way up to the gantry last night I bumped into Dan Ashworth," Neville posted on social media the morning after the game. "He transformed the FA's structure, set Brighton up for this incredible period of success and has now built a strong foundation for the new owners at Newcastle.
"He's comPetent, highly qualified and knows what he's doing. Will work with his coach, recruitment team and other departments coherently and calmly. In the last two matches Manchester United have played two clubs that have installed proper Football departments to support the team on the pitch and off it. The complete opposite of United. We haven't got a sporting director!"
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Ashworth has since sat down with members of the Newcastle press, apparently laughing off suggestions he could tempted to swap Tyneside for Manchester, in addition to firmly pledging his commitment to his ongoing project at Newcastle.
"That is the vision of the football club," he said, referring to breaking up the Premier League's established 'Big Six' clubs. "[The plan] is to fight and get into the top six on a regular basis and compete for trophies. I'm really pleased with the direction this club is heading. When I agreed to join, which was February 2022, I think Newcastle United were 19th in the league."
By the end of Ashworth's first year in the job, Newcastle had finished fourth in the Premier League – their highest placing since 2003, secured Champions League qualification for the first time over that same period, and reached a first cup final in 24 years.
"I'm really happy, [Newcastle] is a brilliant city, club and project. I'm thoroughly engaged in throwing myself into all of those things and really enjoying the challenge," he added.
"I literally saw Gary when walking into the directors' box [at Old Trafford] and he was going down the tunnel. I shouted 'Hello!' and that was it. I didn't have a conversation with Gary. He's written some very kind things. Thank you, Gary."
Manchester United are expected to usher in a new structure with Sir Jim Ratcliffe, who will lean on input from experts across his existing portfolio of highly successful sporting ventures. The British billionaire will sit on a new leadership committee at the top of the club alongside co-chairman Joel Glazer and trusted aide Sir Dave Brailsford, who is already director of sport for INEOS.
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Just below that trio will be the chief executive, Richard Arnold, responsible for running the business side of things, and the yet to be decided sporting director to head up football operations.
Paul Mitchell, the man best known for building Southampton and Tottenham teams for Mauricio Pochettino and with subsequent experience at RB Leipzig and Monaco, is a leading candidate.
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