Who is new Leeds United director Paraag Marathe and what has he done at the 49ers?

Seventeen years with the San Francisco 49ers have taken Paraag Marathe from the lower levels of the NFL franchise to a seat near the very top.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 24th May 2018, 10:30 am
Updated Thursday, 24th May 2018, 11:46 am
Paraag Marathe.
Paraag Marathe.

These days he holds the title of president of the 49ers enterprise and executive vice president of football operations. In layman’s terms he is the right-hand man of owner and chief executive Jed York.

When Marathe took on his current job in March of this year, the 49ers said that his remit would include the handling of “major investment opportunities for the club.” One opportunity has been realised today with the 49ers’ purchase of a minority stake in Leeds United and Marathe’s appointment to the board of directors at Elland Road. It is the latest step in a career which never seems to stand still.

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Paraag Marathe.

The son of immigrants from India, Marathe’s parents ran pizza restaurants in California and he grew up as a 49ers fan. After graduating with a business degree from Stanford University and a few years of work in management consultancy, Marathe - with no background in American football - joined the 49ers as their special projects manager in 2001. He gained a reputation for understanding statistics, finances and the workings of the NFL and began climbing the ladder. His profile grew in tandem, despite what reports in America describe as his tendency to avoid publicity.

Marathe moved roles after three years, becoming assistant to the club’s general manager and then took on the senior role of director of football operations. It was Marathe’s responsibility to negotiate contracts and the recruitment of players, manage the 49ers’ salary cap and ensure compliance with the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, a deal governing the distribution of revenues and employment rights for players in the sport.

In time, other opportunities came his way. He served as the 49ers president for two years and their chief operating officer for three years, overseeing the club’s move from its iconic Candlestick Park arena to the Levi’s Stadium, a ground with a capacity of almost 70,000 which opened in 2014.

Paraag Marathe.

Marathe said his choice of career and his involvement in professional sport had come as a surprise to his family. In a rare interview with The Mercury News, a newspaper published in San Jose, he said: “In Indian-American culture everyone’s got to be a doctor or engineer, or maybe a lawyer. Working in sports, my whole family - the ones who are in India and everywhere else - they just thought this was a hobby.” Marathe described his role with the 49ers as “75 per cent football related” and was scrutinised because of it.

The 49ers have endured some lean years since their golden era in the 1980s and early 1990s, when the club won the Super Bowl on five occasions. There was a Super Bowl appearance in 2012, while Marathe was chief operating officer, but the meagre performance of the 49ers and decisions over the appointment and sacking of head coaches - a process Marathe was involved in - resulted in criticism of him and York and questions about their influence behind the scenes.

In the recent NFL season, under head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch, the 49ers rallied from a shocking start which saw them record one win in 11 games to win five straight and finish with a record of 6-10.

While falling well short of post-season qualification, the upturn came after a trade for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from the New England Patriots, a canny move in the market that has observers believing the 49ers can contend for the next decade.

Paraag Marathe.

Marathe himself received a glowing reference from Mike Nolan, the 49ers head coach between 2005 and 2008. “Personally, I think he's one of the best at the job he does,” Nolan said in a television interview last year. “As far as the cap and contracts go and really putting together all the information, I’m just telling you the son-of-a-gun is good. I have absolutely zero questions in my mind about how good he is.” Marathe was philosophical about the criticism. “We’re measured by wins and losses,” he said. “We haven’t won and we have to get that straightened out.”

English football is new territory for Marathe, despite the 49ers already branched out into professional soccer. In 2015 they bought shares in Sacramento Republic, a minor league team based in San Francisco. Plans are afoot for a new 25,000 capacity stadium at a cost of around £200m and Sacramento have already pitched for entry into Major League Soccer (MLS).

Beyond the money the 49ers are paying for their stake in Leeds, United saw value in adding Marathe to the board at Elland Road, involving someone with a track record of working at a high level of professional sport and with one of the US’s more valuable NFL franchises. Marathe was in his early 20s when the 49ers first employed him. A little past his 40th birthday he has reached boardroom level in both the NFL and the EFL. Leeds wait to see what his knowledge and ideas will bring.