Patrick Stewart has been at Manchester United long enough to have seen a Champions League win, the club’s listing on the New York Stock Exchange, Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement — and the subsequent decade of underachievement.
Stewart joined United in 2006, becoming their chief legal officer and general counsel, responsible for overseeing the club’s legal and regulatory affairs, and managing relationships with key stakeholders, such as the Premier League.
Apart from the name he shares with the famous Star Trek actor, relatively little is known about Stewart. But he will be thrust into the spotlight when he becomes United’s interim chief executive following Richard Arnold’s departure.
How long, though, will Stewart be in his new role? Uncertainty continues to loom large at Old Trafford, with senior figures unsure what Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s proposed minority investment will mean for their careers.
Ratcliffe, the British billionaire behind petrochemicals company INEOS, is likely to want to appoint people he knows in key roles — such as Sir David Brailsford, the man behind Great Britain’s cycling success and the director of sport at INEOS.
But until further clarity is provided, Stewart is going to be responsible for managing the club and will play a key role in the transition phase when INEOS’ deal is ratified. Stewart has been working closely on the minority investment in recent weeks and was appointed to the club’s PLC board at the end of 2022.
The expectation is that Jean-Claude Blanc, the former Juventus chief executive who left a prominent role at Paris Saint-Germain in December to oversee INEOS’ sports portfolio, will eventually succeed Arnold as United’s permanent CEO. But who is the man to steer the ship in the meantime?
When he joined United from TEAM Marketing in 2006, Stewart became one of the first in-house lawyers at a Premier League club and was tasked with setting up a legal department.
Such is his importance behind the scenes, Stewart signs off almost everything associated with the club, whether that is a record-breaking commercial deal, such as their renewal with kit supplier Adidas, or a first-team player’s contract extension.
Those behind the scenes at Old Trafford describe the interim chief executive as a level-headed influence, who quietly and neutrally goes about his business. Alongside Arnold, Stewart travels to the majority of United’s matches — home and away — and is a regular fixture in directors’ boxes.
His influence at United extends beyond the boardroom, with Stewart appearing at the Premier League’s shareholder meetings — the regular get-togethers attended by representatives of the 20 clubs in the English top flight.
A source who has attended these meetings, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect relationships, said: “He handles the Premier League meetings well and isn’t afraid to get involved in policy matters. He is a process-driven lawyer and a nice enough guy.
“If you don’t want to end up in a legal mess and need someone to manage a short-term process, then Patrick is more than capable of being that person.”
Stewart also sits on multiple Premier League and Football Association committees.
One of those includes the FA’s working group, created in February and dubbed ‘NewCo’, to establish how the English women’s professional game should look in the future. The plan behind the committee is to work towards the creation of a new company responsible for running the Women’s Super League, taking the responsibility away from the FA.
His other responsibilities include being on the Premier League’s legal advisory group and their medical working group. He is also a member of the legal working group for the European Club Association (ECA).
If his various committees, coupled with his day-to-day role at United, are not enough to keep him busy, then Stewart is also an arbitrator at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) after being nominated for the role by the ECA in 2018.
In more recent times, Stewart was on United’s panel that fed into Arnold and conducted an internal investigation into Mason Greenwood after criminal charges against the forward, which he always denied, were discontinued. United performed a U-turn on keeping Greenwood after The Athletic detailed their plan to bring him back.
“We have concluded that the material posted online did not provide a full picture and that Mason did not commit the offences in respect of which he was originally charged,” a club statement read.
Stewart’s 17 years at Old Trafford have provided him with the experience and nous to make his appointment to interim CEO a logical one.
It is unlikely he will get comfortable in the chair, though, with Ratcliffe’s impending investment edging closer to being made official.
But given the upheaval he has witnessed in nearly two decades at United, you would not expect Stewart to be too flustered by his new responsibilities.
(Top photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images)