The top sporting directors Newcastle United could replace Dan Ashworth with - including wonderkid specialist

Five star candidates to replace the outgoing Dan Ashworth as Newcastle United's sporting director.
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

We live in a strange new world, one in which superstar sporting directors are now at the the centre of the news cycle and can apparently command vast prices for their services – as Newcastle United fans are finding out after Dan Ashworth was placed on gardening leave following interest from Manchester United. Just two years after he was poached from Brighton & Hove Albion, it is now reported that Newcastle will demand as much as £15m to release him from his contract. Once upon a time, that kind of money bought you Alan Shearer.

You might wonder if this is the start of a cycle in which huge transfer fees are paid for men in suits on a regular basis. Perhaps young fans will hold up signs asking if they can have their brogues after a game. Maybe transfer columns will be filled with stories about hot new technical directors making waves in the Belgian Pro League. We’ve certainly moved on from an era in which most fans would struggle to name the members of their team’s board.

Manchester United are unlikely to wait out the 20 remaining months of Ashworth’s contract as they look to kick start the Ineos-fuelled project, so while Newcastle will lose one of the most respected directors in the game, they will likely at least have some cash to spend on their next appointment. So who should they sign? An exciting directorial talent or a proven performer at the top of their suit-and-tie game? Let’s take a look at some of the options Newcastle could consider for the role once Ashworth’s departure has been confirmed.

The top class sporting directors Newcastle United could replace Dan Ashworth with

Paul Mitchell

One of the most important jobs of a sporting director is overseeing the identification and signing of young talent, and that is one of the biggest strings Ashworth has in his bow – as well as his work behind the scenes for Brighton, where he signed plenty of talented players who would go on to be sold for a substantial profit, he was also credited with drastically improving England’s youth teams while acting as director of elite development at the FA.

Mitchell is another director with a reputation for identifying talent. Previously a scout who worked with Mauricio Pochettino at both Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur, he was credited with helping the latter sign Dele Alli, Son Heung-Min and Toby Alderweireld among others, and went on to work as head of recruitment at RB Leizpig, a club heavily focused on youth development – there he picked up young prospects like Matheus Cunha, now scoring freely for Wolves, and Nordi Mukiele who went on to sign for Paris Saint-Germain.

He then went on to serve as AS Monaco’s sporting director for three years, again overseeing a youth-first approach to transfer work which included the signing of Axel Disasi. Mitchell left Monaco amid links with the job at Manchester United and remains a free agent. In the negatives column, he doesn’t seem to have updated his stock LinkedIn page since leaving Monaco, which isn’t very executive of him. According to him, he has “proven I can deliver as an individual and as part of a strong team,” which just goes to show that top football executives write the same awful cover letters as the rest of us.

Phil Giles

Sporting directors need to do more than just find and sign wonderkids, however. The best have a track record of forging teams with a collective identity which suit the needs of the manager, and it’s even better if they can do so on a budget. Newcastle might be wealthy, but with profit and sustainability rules preventing them from bringing the full might of Saudi wealth to the table, they may also want someone who has proven they can find talent on the cheap.

Giles has been Brentford’s director of football since 2015 and has brought a stats-driven approach to recruitment which has seen them become one of the unlikeliest Premier League success stories of recent years. Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo are among the brilliant budget signings he can boast of having been involved in, and there’s no argument that he’s been at the head of a project which has worked minor miracles without being able to splash big cash.

With a doctorate in statistics from the University of Newcastle and prior work with betting and trading companies, he’s certainly the geekiest option available and more likely to appeal to Amanda Staveley and her fellow board members if they’ve read Moneyball. Which doesn’t seem especially implausible.

Michael Edwards

The former performance analyst spend 11 years as sporting director at Liverpool before leaving the role in 2022 – and reportedly rejected an approach from the club to return to the role just weeks ago. He may well be happier in his current role as a consultant for a company that are, apparently, “dedicated to helping sporting organisations improve their decision making through insightful statistical analysis”. Or perhaps he could be tempted back to football by a giant wad of cash. Only he knows.

Either way, he was credited with helping Jürgen Klopp to build the team which went on to win the Premier League and Champions League and has a substantial body of Premier League experience – do directors need to “know the league” as well? If so, his name will likely be on Newcastle’s shortlist. Apparently he believes the most important element of the job is building good relationships with agents, which makes sense considering the kind of money involved in top-end deals these days.


Arguably the first superstar sporting director, Monchi made his name at Sevilla, where he spent 16 years helping the club to emerge from La Segunda to become a force in European football. Jesús Navas, José Antonio Reyes and Sergio Ramos are among the household names who developed at the club as he massively increased their scouting and academy recruitment reach, all while generating consistent profits in the transfer market.

After leaving Sevilla in 2016, he had a brief spell at Roma before heading back to Seville, but has now taken the behind-the-scenes reins up at Aston Villa, with his summer’s work in the market widely praised as Unai Emery’s club surge up the league ladder.

Given that he’s only been in Birmingham since last summer, Newcastle would have to spend top dollar to prise him away, but then as they’ve just found out the hard way, it’s certainly possible to go out and get the best even when they’re employed. Perhaps they should splash the Ashworth cash on an actual player, but maybe going out and getting one of the biggest names in the business is the way to go.

Tiago Pinto

A human resources graduate who worked for Benfica for eight years from 2012, Pinto received a lot of the credit for a successful period for one of Portugal’s most storied clubs and was praised for finding ways to get top dollar out of players like João Félix, Victor Lindelöf, Raúl Jiménez and Ederson, among others, as the club consistently turned a huge transfer profit while winning titles.

All of that good work earned him a move to AS Roma in 2020 where he brought José Mourinho in as manager and signed players like Pablo Dybala and Romelu Lukaku on budget-friendly deals, as well as restructuring the way youth players were brought into the first team.

That all ended in 2024 when he paid the price for Roma’s failure to qualify for the Champions League, and he was fired in January – and last May, Benfica were placed under investigation for transfer-related financial fraud relating to transaction made during Pinto’s tenure. Which may make him a controversial choice, although no charges have been filed against the club or Pinto. He likely has enough credit in the bank from his time at Benfica to get a chance at a big job at another big club, and Newcastle wouldn’t have to pay through the nose to get him.