It's the end of an era over at Manchester United. David Gill, who has served as the club's chief executive for a decade, has announced that he plans to step down in a few months' time.
Gill, 55, is to be replaced by the current executive vice-chairman Edward Woodward, who has been credited with the massive uptick in Man U's commercial fortunes in recent years. In the second half of 2011 alone, Manchester United scored a 74% profit rise to £22.3m. Manchester United is also now ranked as the third richest club in the world.
Gill is leaving to focus on his election campaign to win a seat on Uefa's executive commitee as the Football Association’s representative. He's not (as was previously mooted) after David Bernstein's role as chair of the Football Association itself. Gill is not cutting all ties with the Red Devils, however, and will remain on United's board.
Manager Alex Ferguson has made no secret of his disappointment at Gill's departure: 'Him [Gill] stepping down is a big loss to me,' he said. 'But the fact that he is staying on the board encourages me that the reason for his departure is heartfelt – that he believes it is time for the club to move on.
'If I could have found a way of persuading him to stay I would love to have done that. But he has made his decision and I respect him for it. He has been, and will continue to be, a fantastic success for Manchester United. He has all the qualities of successful people ingrained in him: energy, honesty, integrity, personality and decision-making ability. I wish him well in whatever new challenges he will tackle in the future.'
It's a heartfelt send off from Ferguson, who has purportedly had a fairly tempestuous relationship with Gill in recent years. Ferguson admits, 'Of course we have had a million arguments,' and Gill himself was quoted as saying, 'I wouldn’t say I’m exempt from the hairdryer, but I would say I can give as good as I get'.
Gill's decision marks an end to a decade of success, controversy and change at the club. Under his stewardship, Man Utd have won four league titles and the much-coveted champions league. He originally opposed the leveraged takeover by the club's American owners, the Glazer family, saying that 'debt is the road to ruin', but managed to maintain good relations with his new paymasters once the deal was done - a fact that caused much rancour with a number of Man U fans. However, it is said that Woodward's appointment (he is already a trusted adviser to the Glazer family) will tighten the family's grip on the club.
Gill's resignation statement reads: 'It has been a very hard decision because I love this club and, as the fans’ banner says, it is, 'more than a religion’. But I am also of the view that all businesses need to refresh themselves and after 10 years in charge, I believe it is appropriate for someone new to pick up the baton.'
It will be interesting to see how the new baton-holder, Woodward, fares in Gill's shoes. Will he survive 'the hairdryer'? Or will Gill's departure prompt a rift in Man U's leadership. MT wouldn't like to play those odds...