Manchester United fans tend to get incredibly excited whenever a morsel of news crops up regarding Paul Mitchell and a possible role at the club.
It’s very possible, however, that the Mitchell love-in is restricted to United aficionados on social media and that many more casual supporters aren’t familiar with him. It may seem strange to some, therefore, that someone who never kicked a ball in the Premier League, nor has ever held a managerial or coaching role, can illicit such excitement from United fans in the same way a transfer target does.
So here it is; a potted history of Mitchell’s career in football and how he was elevated to near deity status in the eyes of so many fans in 2022.
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Mitchell was a workmanlike defensive player during his fairly short professional career, joining Wigan Athletic’s academy after a brief stint with Man City as a child. The Stalybridge-born utility man enjoyed a consistent spell in the Wigan side, after loans with Halifax and Swindon, before moving to Milton Keynes in 2006. He captained MK Dons in his first season but injury struck in February 2007 in the form of a complicated leg break and Mitchell never made a full recovery.
To say he made the best of himself after being forced to retire in 2009 at the age of 27 is an understatement. Mitchell quickly became MK Dons’ head of recruitment, enjoying numerous transfer successes, then went on to work with Mauricio Pochettino in the same role at Southampton. His record making under-the-radar signings was virtually unparalleled by the time of his departure in 2014 following Pochettino to Tottenham.
Since leaving Spurs in 2016, Mitchell has commanded high ranking positions at RB Leipzig and Monaco in similar director roles. In the past six years he’s also heavily been linked with a job at United, since they had no sporting directors of any kind until John Murtough and Darren Fletcher were appointed as football director and technical director respectively in March 2021.
Ralf Rangnick’s arrival at Old Trafford only heightened the speculation that Mitchell might join him, even if Pochettino — another former colleague and friend — has been pipped in the race to become United’s next permanent manager by Erik ten Hag.
Rangnick and Mitchell worked together at RB Leipzig and the pair even watched a United Youth Cup match in February, sitting next to each other. United sources moved to downplay Mitchell’s attendance, insisting he was seeing family back in Manchester. Mitchell himself clarified that was the case.
Still, it’s hard to shake off the links to United and the spate of recent departures at the club have fuelled speculation further. First, there was the news that two senior recruitment figures were leaving United, in chief scout Jim Lawlor and head of global scouting Marcel Bout. Then came the bombshell that director of football negotiations Matt Judge will also resign from his position. United will inevitably fill these roles in some shape.
There’s also the fact Rangnick has taken the Austria national team job, and will only stay on at United in a vague advisory capacity. It’s been claimed this may now be limited to just a few days per month. Some had hoped the German might be given a greater role, similar to the one he held at Leipzig as sporting director, while Mitchell was head of recruitment.
So even though United have Murtough and Fletcher in situ, it feels like everything is set up for a new figurehead to arrive in line with Ten Hag, to assist with recruitment. That’s been the buzz word in many of Rangnick’s recent interviews, with the German stressing the importance of getting key transfer decisions right.
“For me, the most important point is recruitment now,” he said earlier this week. “It’s not only about identifying those players, it’s about meeting them and convincing them to join this club, even though we will not be playing in the Champions League.”
That’s not an area in which United have excelled in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era; the era of Ed Woodward (now departed), Judge (departing), Lawlor, Bout and others. But there’s the sense United, thanks to the enlightening words of Rangnick, the appointment of Ten Hag, and possibly another arrival in the recruitment unit, things could change.
A lad from Stalybridge might still be the answer.