Maldini? Berta? Mitchell?: A deep(ish) dive into Ratcliffe’s six Man Utd sporting director targets

Will Ford
Dougie Freedman, Paul Mitchell and Paolo Maldini
Dougie Freedman, Paul Mitchell and Paolo Maldini are among the candidates to become Man Utd's sporting director.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe is about to take over the footballing sh*tshow at Manchester United and wants to hire the club’s first ever sporting director; about time too.

The Telegraph claimed this week that the Ineos boss has six men on his radar, two of whom come as a package deal, and we’ve looked at the previous directorships of those candidates, both sporting and technical, because we don’t pretend to know the difference.

We’ve scoured through the Transfermarkt to look at the notable transfer comings and goings at the clubs while they were in those roles and have assumed – with no actual knowledge – that they were solely responsible for those deals, and we’ve also included net spend as we’re guessing that’s one of the reasons Big Jim is ‘less than impressed’ with United’s recruitment.


Dougie Freedman

Crystal Palace (sporting director, August 2017 – present)
IN: Cheikhou Kouyate (£9m, West Ham), Vicente Guaita (free, Getafe), Jordan Ayew (£2.2m, Swansea), Eberechi Eze (£15m, QPR), Nathaniel Clyne (free, Liverpool), Marc Guehi (£20m, Chelsea), Joachim Andersen (£15m, Lyon), Michael Olise (£7m, Reading), Conor Gallagher (loan, Chelsea), Cheick Doucoure (£19m, Lens), Sam Johnstone (free, West Brom), Jefferson Lerma (free, Bournemouth)
OUT: Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£50m, Man Utd), Alexander Sorloth (£17m, RB Leipzig)
Net spend: -£160m

Yes Rio, “he works for Crystal Palace!” and he’s done a stand-up job. Signed for around £80m put together, each of Eze, Guehi, Andersen, Olise and Doucoure could easily be sold for £50m each, which would put Palace comfortably in the net spend black. They’re already among the Premier League’s lowest spenders, and have remained in the top flight relatively comfortably in Freedman’s time on the transfer tiller.

There will be inevitable questions from loud-mouthed This Is Manchester United-ites like Ferdinand as to whether Freedman has the Big Club experience, but we’re even less convinced by that typically manager-focused argument when it pertains to directors. Any of the previously mentioned five players would walk into the current United team. He’s clearly very good at spotting and signing top talent with plenty of room to improve. That’s the job.


Paul Mitchell

Monaco (sporting director, June 2020 – October 2023)
IN: Axel Disasi (£10m, Reims), Kevin Volland (£8m, Bayer Leverkusen), Caio Henrique (£6m, Atletico Madrid), Vanderson (£8m, Gremio)
OUT: Axel Disasi (£38m, Chelsea), Aurelien Tchouameni (£70m Real Madrid), Benoit Badiashile (£32m, Chelsea)
Net spend: +£31m

As head of scouting at Southampton before a stint with the Red Bull group, Mitchell can also be credited with landing Victor Wanyama, Dejan Lovren and Sadio Mane. Monaco were ninth the season before Mitchell joined, then qualified for the Champions League for two seasons on the trot, making a transfer profit in the process.


Lee Congerton

Hamburg (technical director, July 2011 – March 2014)
IN: Rafael van der Vaart (£10m, Tottenham), Hakan Calhonoglu (£1.6m, Karlsruher)
OUT: Son Heung-min (£10m, Bayer Leverkusen)
Net spend: -£2.5m

Sunderland (sporting director, March 2014 – December 2015)
Notable transfers:
IN: Patrick van Aanholt (£1.2m, Chelsea), Jermaine Defoe (£2.2m)
OUT: n/a
Net spend: -£48m

Atalanta (managing director professional football, March 2022 – present)
IN: Rasmus Hojlund (£16m, Sturm Graz), Ademola Lookman (£7m, RB Leipzig)
OUT: Cristian Romero (£40m, Tottenham), Rasmus Hojlund (£70m, Man Utd)
Net spend: +£104m

Chief scout at Chelsea between 2005 and 2011 when they won seven major trophies, so he must have been doing something right, and led the scouting department under Brendan Rodgers, first at Celtic and then at Leicester, signing Scott Sinclair, Odsonne Edouard, Youri Tielemans and Wesley Fofana.

Ayoze Perez for £30m isn’t quite so impressive, and he likely regrets selling Son Heung-min on the cheap in his time with Hamburg, but Hakan Calhonoglu and Rasmus Hojlund are examples of his ability to scour lesser leagues for budding young talent.


Paolo Maldini

AC Milan (technical director, June 2019 – June 2023)
IN: Rafael Leao (£42m, Lille), Theo Hernandez (£19m, Real Madrid), Ismael Bennacer (£14m, Empoli), Simon Kjaer (£2.5m, Sevilla), Fikayo Tomori (£28m Chelsea), Mike Maignan (£12m, Lille), Sandro Tonali (£11m, Brescia), Malick Thiaw (£6m, Schalke), Olivier Giroud (£2m, Chelsea)
OUT: Manuel Locatelli (£11m, Sassuolo), Lucas Paqueta (£20m, Lyon)
Net spend: -£172m

Playing career clout will get him through the door and AC Milan’s record since the legendary defender took up the technical director role could land him the job. The Serie A giants won their first Scudetto in a decade on his watch and got to the Champions League semi-final. The report in The Telegraph suggests he and Massara – who worked alongside Maldini at Milan – will come as a package deal should they join United.

Federico Massara and Paolo Maldini

Federico Massara and Paolo Maldini worked together at AC Milan.


Federico Massara

Roma (sporting director, October 2016 – April 2017/June 2018 – June 2019)
IN: Emerson Palmieri (£1.2m, Santos), Nicolo Zaniolo (£4m, Inter),
OUT: Alisson (£58m, Liverpool)
Net spend: -£11m

AC Milan (sporting director, June 2019 – June 2023)
IN: Rafael Leao (£42m, Lille), Theo Hernandez (£19m, Real Madrid), Ismael Bennacer (£14m, Empoli), Simon Kjaer (£2.5m, Sevilla), Fikayo Tomori (£28m Chelsea), Mike Maignan (£12m, Lille), Sandro Tonali (£11m, Brescia), Malick Thiaw (£6m, Schalke)
OUT: Manuel Locatelli (£11m, Sassuolo), Lucas Paqueta (£20m, Lyon)
Net spend: -£172m

Palmieri and Zaniolo were both smart signings in Massara’s short time with Roma, with the former sold to Chelsea for ten times what they paid for him and the latter now valued at around £25m. And although Massara wasn’t around for Tonali’s sale to Newcastle this summer, Milan will be delighted by the £40m they’ve made on a midfielder they presumably couldn’t wait to get rid of.


Andrea Berta

Parma (sporting director, January 2007 – September 2009)
Net spend: +£11m

Genoa (sporting director, September 2009 – June 2012)
IN: Kevin-Prince Boateng (Portsmouth, £4m),
OUT: Andrea Ranocchia (£11m, Inter), Stephan El Shaarawy (£18m, AC Milan), Kevin-Prince Boateng (£9m, AC Milan)
Net spend: +£11m

Atletico Madrid (technical director, May 2013 – July 2017/sporting director July 2017 – present)
IN: Toby Alderweireld (£5m, Atletico Madrid), David Villa (£1.8m, Barcelona), Antoine Griezmann (£27m, Real Sociedad), Jan Oblak (£13m, Benfica), Yannick Carrasco (£13m, Monaco), Diego Costa (£55m, Chelsea), Thomas Lemar (£68m Monaco), Rodri (£18m, Villarreal), Joao Felix (£120m, Benfica), Marcos Llorente (£27m, Real Madrid), Kieran Trippier (£20m Tottenham), Luis Suarez (£7m, Barcelona), Alvaro Morata (£32m, Chelsea)
OUT: Radamel Falcao (£40m, Monaco), Diego Costa (£35m, Chelsea),  Jackson Martinez (£39, GZ Evergrande), Arda Turan (£30m, Barcelona), Antoine Griezmann (£115m, Barcelona), Lucas Hernandez (£75m, Bayern Munich), Rodri (£65m, Man City), Thomas Partey (£45m, Arsenal), Matheus Cunha (£45m, Wolves)
Net spend: -£40m

Signing Boateng for £4m then sending him immediately on loan to Milan for a £2m fee before selling him permanently to them for £9m at the end of the season is genius. Genoa essentially received £7m for Boateng moving from Portsmouth to Milan.

Atletico Madrid winning the La Liga title immediately after he arrived did Berta’s reputation no harm, and they’ve finished no lower than third in the nine seasons since, winning the title again in 2020/21. There’s been some extraordinary transfer deals in that time and having so much success when you’re competing with two European juggernauts in Real Madrid and Barcelona is hugely impressive; even more so when you consider the respective net spends. Atletico Madrid: -£40m. Barcelona: -£517. Real Madrid: -£255m.