He will replace Paddy Harverson, who is to fill the new role of communications secretary for Prince Charles from 2 February after three years at Old Trafford.
Townsend, former press secretary to Minister for Sport Richard Caborn, and head of sports communications at the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), said: ‘The interest in Manchester United is phenomenal. There is so much media attention that that will probably take up most of my time.’ Townsend will head a team of seven and report to Manchester United chief executive David Gill.
He will arrive in the thick of the furore over Rio Ferdinand’s suspension last month for failing to attend a drugs test, but refused to comment on how he would handle the story. His current position at the DCMS has yet to be filled, but his new role will cover Manchester United’s community and charity work, media relations, internal comms and public affairs.
He said: ‘Paddy and the club have made a huge difference in the way it has communicated with the various stakeholders, be they shareholders or supporters.’