Sheffield United appointed Jonathan Morgan despite warnings over his reputation


Jonathan Morgan, the manager at the centre of the Football Association’s Maddy Cusack inquiry, was appointed by Sheffield United despite the club being warned by a senior executive that he “doesn’t have a great reputation” within women’s football.

New evidence shows the club’s head of football administration, Carl Shieber, was made aware of unspecified concerns during the recruitment process that led to Morgan being offered the job in February last year.

The Athletic has also established that Morgan was the subject of two previous complaints at Leicester City, one of his former clubs, relating to his alleged behaviour towards certain players. He denied any misconduct and no findings were made against him.

Morgan is being investigated by the FA after a complaint from Cusack’s parents, David and Deborah, about his alleged behaviour towards their daughter, United’s longest-serving player, before she took her own life, aged 27, last September.

Morgan has always denied any wrongdoing and was cleared in December by an external inquiry, commissioned by the club, of any bullying or inappropriate behaviour.


Bramall Lane pays tribute to Cusack last September (George Wood/Getty Images)

The club say they are satisfied with their recruitment process even though The Athletic has discovered that Zoe Johnson, then United’s head of women’s football, raised concerns at the time about Morgan allegedly having a poor reputation within the sport.

Johnson, formerly the manager of Sheffield FC’s women’s team, was in a seemingly good position to judge Morgan because she had previously had a short spell coaching with him at Leicester.

Her concerns were raised in an email to Shieber after being asked to deliver a report on five managerial candidates.

She acknowledged that in pure football terms, Morgan was an impressive coach with a good CV and worthy of being interviewed for the job. Having raised the subject of his reputation, however, she also expressed misgivings about whether he was the right “fit”. She explained that she was not sure he was and would be interested to know what her colleagues made of him.

Johnson spoke more positively about two of the other candidates. She did, however, recognise that Morgan had won promotion to the Women’s Super League with Leicester and had better credentials than some of the people who had applied for the job with less coaching experience and fewer qualifications.

Johnson left Sheffield United shortly afterwards to become the managing director of women’s and girls’ football at Brighton & Hove Albion. She was not involved, therefore, when her former club appointed Morgan two months later.

What was not known at the time was that Morgan had previously embarked on a secret three-year relationship at Leicester with one of his players.

The girl, supported by her family, has accused him of taking advantage of her immaturity, saying she was 17 when the relationship started. Morgan, who was then in his late 20s, says she was 18 but has accepted it was wrong to embark on what the girl’s mother has described as an “inappropriate and immoral” relationship.

When this was revealed by The Athletic last month, Morgan was sacked from Bramall Lane and dropped by his agent, Jo Tongue, a director of Women in Football.

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Jo Tongue dropped Jonathan Morgan as a client (Eamonn M McCormack/Getty Images)

Now 35, Morgan says he has been the victim of a “witch hunt” since the story was first reported about Cusack’s parents delivering a seven-page complaint to United alleging that his behaviour had contributed to their daughter’s emotional anguish.

Morgan had denied any wrongdoing relating to the two previous complaints at Leicester, the first of which was about his managerial conduct and ended with the complainant, a first-team player, receiving a financial settlement in February 2019, in relation to her contract.

The second investigation, in May 2021, was instigated after an anonymous letter of complaint was sent to Leicester’s board members, as well as the FA, citing a wide-ranging number of dressing-room issues.

Players were asked about claims that Morgan publicly discussed his sexual exploits and had used a highly derogatory term to describe a member of his team. The investigation cleared Morgan, who called the allegations “wholly untrue”. He was not sanctioned and resumed work.

Leicester declined to comment, citing the confidentiality of HR issues, when asked if they had made Sheffield United aware of the complaints.

Several witnesses, including former team-mates of Cusack in Sheffield, have told The Athletic that they, too, were aware of Morgan having a poor reputation before he was appointed as United’s manager. One former United player, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivities of the case, questioned whether the club had looked into it deeply enough and asked themselves, “‘Is this the kind of person we want at the club?’. Maybe they did that and decided to hire him anyway.”

Morgan’s case is that none of the complaints at either Sheffield United or Leicester has been upheld and there has never been any real evidence to support the claims. He has, however, declined to comment.

When contacted by The Athletic about the flags raised by Johnson, Sheffield United suggested that her email had identified Morgan as the strongest candidate of five options. This, however, was later established to be wrong. The club denies that they set out to mislead our reporting.

In a statement, United said they took “great pride” in their recruitment practices and that a “full and thorough” process was carried out. This involved obtaining two references from previous clubs, without any concerns being highlighted, as well as the usual Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. Morgan also supplied references of his own.

The complaint from the Cusack family came in the form of a 3,350-word document written by Cusack’s father, David, in which he mentioned he was aware that Johnson had raised concerns about Morgan not having a good reputation.

David, a solicitor, also gave evidence of a similar theme to the club’s external inquiry, which was conducted by Safecall, a Sunderland-based company that specialises in whistleblowing services.

“Why were these views, if made, disregarded (by United) given the safeguarding implications?” he wrote.

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(From left) Sheffield United women’s captain Sophie Barker, Maddy Cusack’s sister and mother and former player Tony Currie (Darren Staples/AFP via Getty Images)

To the family’s dismay, the club did not let them see a copy of Safecall’s report. Instead, the club’s chief executive, Stephen Bettis, wrote a letter to Cusack’s parents just before Christmas to say the complaint had been dismissed and there was no evidence of wrongdoing. It was the fourth complaint Morgan had faced in his various managerial positions over a four-year period, including one from a former team-mate of Cusack’s in Sheffield relating to alleged mistreatment towards the end of last season. He denied any wrongdoing and was not subject to disciplinary action.

Bettis did, however, acknowledge in his letter that Morgan could “divide opinion” among the people who were interviewed. Some found him supportive and caring, while others saw him as “isolating, quite authoritative and intimidating”.

Cusack, a former England Under-19 international, had previously been a Leicester player under Morgan’s management before moving to Sheffield United in 2019. Morgan went on to manage Burnley’s women’s team before the job came up at Bramall Lane, where Cusack worked as a marketing executive to go with her role as a first-team player.

An inquest has been opened into her death and the police say there are no suspicious circumstances.

Responding to questions about Johnson’s email, United said the club’s recruitment process was “robustly audited” and included “taking on board feedback and recommendations from those who had previously worked with applicants”.

Morgan spent nine months at Burnley and previously had eight years managing Leicester, where his sister, Jade, was the general manager and their father, Rohan, owned the club until King Power’s takeover in 2020.

“With regards to the appointment of Jonathan Morgan, the references were received from two previous clubs and did not highlight any concern,” United’s statement added. “The process was examined by the independent (Safecall) investigation and the documentation was shared with the Football Association’s integrity team.

(Top photo: Steve Bardens – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)





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