Leeds United named Barnsley’s Ben Mansford as their new chief executive yesterday, an appointment which brought to mind the progress and vision seen all too briefly at Elland Road last summer.
Leeds entered this close season with a fragile skeleton of senior management but little by little owner Massimo Cellino is filling the gaps as he did 12 months ago. Mansford comes to Elland Road with the task of keeping United’s business ticking in the manner of Adam Pearson before him.
Pearson, the former Hull City owner, was part of the staff assembled by Cellino before the 2015-16 season amid much optimism in Leeds. That team fell apart quickly with Pearson quitting as executive director less than five weeks into the campaign and Cellino sacking head coach Uwe Rosler after 12 competitive games, but Mansford’s arrival is an example of the Italian’s willingness to try again.
United under Cellino’s guidance have existed for long periods with inadequate numbers of key staff, but in the past month the club have landed head coach Garry Monk, his assistant Pep Clotet and a new goalkeeping coach in Darryl Flahavan, the former Southend United keeper and a one-time loanee at Elland Road.
Mansford, who worked as Barnsley’s chief executive for three years, will take responsibility for the football side of United’s operations, leaving existing executive director Paul Bell – recruited by Cellino from Sheffield Wednesday in January – to concentrate on commercial matters.
Leeds have struck a number of sponsorship deals since the end of the recent season, including a three-year contract with new shirt sponsor 32Red. At the same time, one long-time sponsor, Crosswater, has threatened to withdraw its support in protest at Cellino’s management of the club.
Barnsley were reluctant to lose Mansford and their owner, Patrick Cryne, attempted to talk him into staying at Oakwell last week, but Mansford opted to take up the offer from Elland Road after repeated meetings with Cellino. Cellino said yesterday that Mansford’s appointment would “allow me to focus purely on my role as chairman and the running of the club”.
The 59-year-old spoke last summer about the way in which Pearson’s involvement and experience had lifted pressure from his shoulders.
Mansford, 36, started his career as a sports lawyer for Leeds-based solicitors Walker Morris, representing Farsley Celtic during their bitter legal fight with the Football Association in 2005. He later joined the Wasserman Media Group as a football agent, representing former United players Fabian Delph and Tom Lees.
“Leeds is a city I know well and throughout my career in football I’ve experienced the atmosphere at Elland Road and the fantastic supporters the club has,” Mansford said. “The chance to work to take this club forward was one I had to take.”
Barnsley recruited Mansford as chief executive in June 2013. The club were relegated from the Championship at the end of the 2013-14 season and Mansford oversaw a substantial overhaul of Barnsley’s squad in which 21 players left and 16 joined. Among the signings which followed relegation were Sam Winnall – a striker Leeds bid for in January – and midfielder Conor Hourihane. Both went to Oakwell for six-figure fees.
Barnsley went through three managers in his spell as chief executive, but the club rode the loss of Lee Johnson to Bristol City in February of this year, fighting on to win the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and the League One play-off final. Two of Mansford’s final acts at Oakwell last week were to secure a permanent deal with caretaker manager Paul Heckingbottom and agree new terms with winger Adam Hammill. Ex-Leeds left-back Aidy White finalised a new contract prior to Mansford’s departure yesterday.
Cellino attended the League One play-off final and saw Barnsley inflict a 3-1 defeat on Millwall. He was interested in a number of Barnsley’s players, including on-loan Manchester United striker Ashley Fletcher, who Leeds are vying to sign this summer, but he is understood to have approached Mansford the following week while United were in the final throes of appointing Monk. The various appointments at Elland Road have eased the public frustration which Cellino was facing after Leeds trailed in 13th in the Championship this season. Cellino said: “It’s important that we continue to grow our football club on and off the pitch and I believe that Ben has the skills required to help us achieve our targets. He did a fantastic job at Barnsley and has an excellent reputation in the game. Ben’s arrival will now allow me to focus purely on my role as chairman and the running of the club.”
Mansford is expected to meet with Cellino later this week, with player recruitment an immediate priority. United have lined up a deal for Swedish striker Marcus Antonsson and are hopeful of tempting Fletcher to accept an offer of a move to Yorkshire over the chance of a contract extension at Manchester United.
Monk also plans to sign at least one centre-back and a new goalkeeper to replace existing first choice Marco Silvestri.