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Dan Ashworth: Profile And His 6 Best Signings

Dan Ashworth: Profile And His 6 Best Signings

In the last few years, the role of the sporting director in football has become much more visible. These days, the vast majority of fans have a level of knowledge about the executives operating at their club — and their key strengths and weaknesses — that simply didn't exist as little as 15 years ago. Several football directors and executives have become prominent names within the sport, and demand for figures who can transform the fortunes of a club off the pitch is higher than ever.

That development was highlighted by the recent news that Manchester United are set to hand Newcastle United a huge compensation deal in order to secure the services of their currently contracted sporting director Dan Ashworth. As the Red Devils look to restructure their boardroom and executive set-up, it seems as though a top priority is getting in someone with a proven track record of delivering success in the Premier League, and Ashworth certainly fits that description.

But why is Dan Ashworth so in demand, and what makes him special? In this article, we'll be answering those questions by giving you an in-depth profile of the man being linked with one of the most lucrative behind-the-scenes jobs in English football. We'll explain Ashworth's career trajectory so far before guiding you through a list of some of the best Dan Ashworth signings — transfers that have made the world of football sit up and take notice.

Who Is Dan Ashworth?

53-year-old football director Dan Ashworth has become a well-known figure in English football over the last few years. Born in Norfolk in 1971, he spent time in the youth team at Norwich City FC before playing non-league football at Eastbourne Town, St. Leonards and Wisbech Town. After retiring, he stayed in the football industry, becoming academy director at Peterborough United in 2000 before moving to nearby Cambridge United as Centre of Excellence Director the following year.

Ashworth later worked as youth team assistant and youth team manager at West Brom, before eventually getting his big break in September 2012, when he was chosen by the FA to become Director of Elite Development as part of their plan to restructure English football and create the so-called "England DNA". 

Ashworth's role in ushering in the Elite Player Performance Plan got the attention of clubs across the country, and in 2018 he was appointed by Brighton & Hove Albion as Technical Director. His stellar work at Brighton — where he contributed heavily to their establishment as one of the Premier League's best-run clubs — convinced Newcastle United, newly flush with Saudi money, to appoint him as Sporting Director in February 2022. He played a key role in helping secure the club's Champions League status last season; however, interest from Manchester United has scuppered the Magpies' plans and left Ashworth's employment situation up in the air.

The Dan Ashworth Man Utd Situation Explained

Over the past decade, Manchester United — one of the most successful clubs in the history of English football — have consistently underperformed. A number of factors have contributed to their serial disappointments, from profligacy in the transfer market to the hiring of coaches who have failed to live up to high expectations in the wake of legendary boss Sir Alex Ferguson.

Following the arrival of Sir Jim Ratcliffe as a minority owner earlier this year, the club have been making some efforts to try to address this ongoing underperformance. When it comes to putting a club on an upward trajectory, one of the most crucial steps to make is the appointment of a competent and ambitious sporting director. United's intentions in this matter were made clear in February 2024, when they made an official approach for Dan Ashworth. However, with Ashworth contracted at his current club Newcastle United until 2026 — and his contract stating that he cannot work for anyone else unless compensation is agreed — the Magpies are expecting a significant cash injection to make up for the loss of their prized executive.

After expressing his desire to join United, Ashworth was placed on gardening leave until 2026 by Newcastle; in theory, this move could keep the 53-year-old in limbo for over two years, with his switch to Manchester very much dependent on whether the two clubs can agree on a compensation fee. Newcastle are reportedly seeking something in the region of £20 million, while their Premier League rivals are said to only be willing to pay around £10 million. Exactly how this situation resolves itself will likely depend on how much extra United are happy to stump up.

"We are naturally disappointed that Dan has chosen to leave," said Newcastle United's chief executive Darren Earles. "However, our exciting journey doesn't stop and the process to recruit a new sporting director will begin immediately."

Dan Ashworth Signings: 6 Of The Best

Ashworth didn't havea huge amount of time to get stuck into his work at Newcastle United, having only been appointed as technical director in 2022. However, both in the north east and at his previous clubs, he's been involved in some marquee signings.

#1. Romelu Lukaku

Before the FA brought him into the England set-up, Ashworth was working at West Brom, where he plucked out a couple of uncut gems at key points in their careers. Probably the pick of the bunch was Belgian international Romelu Lukaku, who the west midlands club acquired on loan from Chelsea. In the decade-plus since, Lukaku has gone on to score 121 Premier League goals, as well as bagging plenty in Serie A with Inter and Roma.

#2. Moises Caicedo

The Chelsea side Moises Caicedo is currently settling into is not the most stable, but it's likely his quality will soon start to show, following a British record transfer last summer — it took a staggering total of £115m for the Blues to persuade Brighton & Hove Albion to part with their prized central midfielder. This is a testament to the foundations Ashworth helped put in place at Brighton, where he first signed Caicedo in 2021 from Ecuadorian club Independiente del Valle for a bargain £4m. That's a stunning potential profit of £111m for the Seagulls.

#3. Karou Mitoma

Another player who has impressed at Brighton following an Ashworth-led signing is Japanese international Karou Mitoma, the rapid winger whose excellent dribbling skills have ignited countless games for both club and country. Mitoma signed for Brighton from J-League side Kawasaki Frontale in 2021 for just £2.5m, according to reports. While the club have managed to keep him on the books thus far, they're likely to make a big profit when they do eventually sell him on.

#4. Leandro Trossard

Brighton's signing of young Belgian star Leandro Trossard from Genk in 2019 reportedly cost them around £15m. In January 2023, the south coast club almost doubled their money, selling the forward to Arsenal in a deal worth roughly £27 million. Since then, Trossard has played a major part in two title charges for the Gunners.

#5. Anthony Gordon

When Newcastle United spent a whopping £45m on Anthony Gordon in January 2023, a few people raised their eyebrows. The Liverpudlian had impressed for his local side Everton, but he's taken his game to the next level since joining the Toon. After an electric 2023/24 campaign in which he's looked like one of the most dangerous and industrious forward players in the league, Gordon is likely to be heading to Euro 2024 with England. 

#6. Alexander Isak

Isak is the most expensive player Ashworth has ever signed, costing Newcastle £63 million when the club acquired him from La Liga side Real Sociedad in the summer of 2022. The tall, skillful striker had bagged 44 goals in 131 games for the Spanish club, a very decent return, but he's taken his goalscoring to new heights at Newcastle, notching 31 goals in 61 games so far for the club. It's without doubt a sharp bit of business from Ashworth.

Dan Ashworth Signings: A Few That Haven't Worked Out (Yet)

One of the things that Ashworth has become known for is his cannyness in the transfer market, but not all his signings have hit the ground running.

Sandro Tonali

Tonali undeniably has star quality. That much was made clear both in his time at AC Milan and in his handful of appearances in the Premier League. However, a devastating 10-month gambling ban has prevented him from making a real impact at Newcastle following Ashworth's rumoured €70 million signing of the midfielder in January 2023. The sporting director has received some criticism for the move, but Tonali has undoubted quality and may still come good.

Matt Target

28-year-old full-back Matt Target has had an admirable Premier League career, but his time at Newcastle United has not gone particularly well. Ashworth sanctioned a £15m move for Target in June 2022, and since then problems with injuries and performance levels have meant that the left-back's £100,000-per-week contract doesn't seem like the best investment.

Andi Zeqiri

Brighton's transfer strategy is all about calculated risk, so not all their signings are going to pay off. One player who didn't enjoy the best time with the Seagulls is Swiss striker Andi Zequiri, who Ashworth reportedly signed for around £3.5m in 2020. He struggled to break into the first team and was shipped out to Augsburg and Basel before joining Genk for £2.4m last year having only scored once for Brighton.

Despite these underwhelming signings, Ashworth is still widely regarded as one of the best in the business. Manchester United have a top professional on their hands, as long as they can get the deal over the line.

Check out our guide to Financial Fair Play to find out how Ashworth has managed to remain within the rules while signing world-class stars at Newcastle United.