Richard Arnold has stepped down as chief executive (CEO) of Manchester United as billionaire Jim Ratcliffe nears a deal to secure a minority stake in the English soccer giants.

The Premier League club today announced Arnold (pictured, center) will end his 16-year tenure with the side but will stay on to provide “transitional support” until the end of December.

Patrick Stewart will take over as interim chief executive, in addition to his existing role as general counsel.

The club said a search process will be carried out for a new permanent chief executive. 

Joel Glazer, executive co-chairman, said: “I would like to thank Richard for his outstanding service to Manchester United over the past 16 years and wish him all the best for his future endeavors.

“We are fortunate to be able to call on the deep knowledge and experience of Patrick Stewart to provide interim stability and continuity as we embark on a search for a new permanent CEO.”

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Arnold stepped up from his role as group managing director to replace Ed Woodward as CEO in February 2022 and has largely focused on overseeing commercial operations.

In this regard, he secured two major sponsorship deals in recent months – extending the kit supply deal with Adidas for another 10 years at a value of £900 million ($1.1 billion), and landing Qualcomm, the US communication technologies firm, as a new front-of-shirt sponsor from 2024-25.

The renewal with adidas will again make it the most lucrative commercial deal in the history of the top-flight Premier League.

Arnold initially joined Man United as commercial director in 2007 before moving into the group managing director role in 2013.

Prior to joining the club, he worked as managing director of Intervoice, finance director of GC Europe, and a senior manager at professional services firm PwC.

Arnold’s departure is the first indication that Ratcliffe’s deal to buy a 25% stake in Manchester United is close to completion.

The United board is understood to have recently voted to accept the bid from Ratcliffe, worth around £1.3 billion.

The 25% takeover would value the club at £6.2 billion, and reportedly also involves Ratcliffe, owner of petrochemical giant Ineos, taking full charge of the club’s sporting operations.

He is widely expected to hire Dave Brailsford as a senior figure on the sporting side. Brailsford serves as director of sport for Ineos and oversees the company’s portfolio of sports teams, which includes French Ligue 1 side Nice.

The on- and off-field performance of the club under its current owners, the Florida-based Glazer siblings, who initially instigated a review process and the consideration of a sale in November last year and employed the Raine Group to handle the process, has been a source of serious discontent amongst the United fanbase for many years.

The United board is made up of the six Glazer siblings, all majority shareholders.

Ratcliffe’s partial bid is now the only one remaining for the Glazers to consider following Sheikh Jassim’s formal withdrawal from the process. Both parties submitted initial bids at the same time.

UK media has widely reported that the Qatari Sheikh pulled out after the Glazers made their total asking price – believed to be £6.4 billion – for the club clear, with Jassim believing that valuation was unreasonably high.

Ratcliffe, meanwhile, will hope that this partial buyout is the first stage of a full takeover, as will United’s fanbase. Indeed, it was reported during the last round of the bidding process that Ratcliffe was prepared to accept 25% initially if there was an option to take full control and a majority stake in three years' time.

There have been mass protests against the Glazers’ ownership ever since they bought the club for £790 million in 2005, in a deal that loaded the debt from the deal onto the club’s own balance sheet in a leveraged buyout.

As well as Nice, Ineos owns Swiss club Lausanne, while outside soccer it has a minority stake in Formula 1 motor racing team Mercedes, as well as owning sailing team Ineos Britannia.