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Ed Woodward: From zero to hero for Manchester United?

In the early hours of August 2013, Manchester United fans were led to believe that the club had agreed on a deal for Fabio Coentrao, only for the deal to fall through due to late paperwork. Funnily enough, two summers later, it would be Real Madrid that suffered due to a combination of late paperwork, and the infamous fax machine.

Not only did the Coentrao deal reek of incompetence, but it essentially summed up the David Moyes’ tenure at the club. In another turn of events, there was also the move for Ander Herrera in which lawyers turned up on behalf of Manchester United, but not on behalf, we really just know it was hilarious and caused a bit of humour on a dire day. One thing is for sure, Manchester United were aware of the complicated nature of the buyout clauses in Spain, yet due to missed players, the club ran around like mad men to complete a deal they had earmarked for the following transfer window. Needless to say, the deal did not materialise, and a devastated Ander Herrera was left high and dry, and forced to apologise to the Athletic Bilbao fans.

One man was thrown to the wolves, Ed Woodward. The man that the Glazers entrusted to formalise their takeover of Manchester United had become the executive vice-chairman at the club after David Gill had left his post for pastures new.

In taking up this new role, Ed Woodward, by all accounts, was hell-bent on bringing in star players to rival Real Madrid, with Manchester United bettering Real Madrid’s bid for Gareth Bale, and throwing all their eggs into a single basket with Cesc Fabregas. It all ended with the much maligned Marouane Fellaini being the only signing.

Even though the deal was done, it was done for a premium, as Ed Woodward’s insistence that United could sign others, dallied and Fellaini’s supposed release clause expired, with Manchester United paying £4 million more than what they could have expected to pay two weeks earlier.  Everything that could have gone wrong, eventually went wrong and with Ed Woodward talking the talk, he failed to walk the walk; his confident interviews, saying that Manchester United could do things in the market that other clubs could only dream of doing, ended with a transfer window that other clubs could only laugh at.

Fast forward four summers and Ed Woodward seems to have developed into a cult hero, with many creating memes about his ability in the market. The question most ask is this, how did he turn it around?

The biggest change between 2013 and now is the way in which Manchester United operate. During the course of 2013, there were more briefs to the media than ever before, and every day there seemed to be new info, with English journalists releasing snippet after snippet of transfer news. In the following four summers, the English media has become very hit and miss due to Manchester United shutting up shop, and continuing with transfers with great discretion. An example of this would be the deal for Anthony Martial.

AS Monaco had no intention of letting their star youngster leave and even informed clubs that he was not for sale. With Monaco no longer in the Champions League, they needed to sell and in came Manchester United. A move that showed United’s eye for talent and willingness to now pay what they deem is required; Manchester United sealed a deal for the talented Frenchman in time to finish off Liverpool at Old Trafford.

Another change in the transfer business done by Ed Woodward is the obsession with star players. Manchester United wanted to buy a star player for every position, and even though Ed Woodward still has a dabble, like the potential deal for Sergio Ramos, and the signing of Angel Di Maria, the club has changed its focus to identifying young talent and investing in these players so that the players may grow with the club, rather than purchasing older players and having to replace them within a few seasons.

The club has taken serious steps to find the next big star by expanding its scouting efforts around the world, including a massive overhaul in South America, as can be seen here. Not only has the club expanded scouting, but the club has pinched Juventus’ main man Javier Ribalta, the man seen by many as the reason behind The Old Lady’s revival.  Javier Ribalta will be in charge of scouting players and provide insight into other so that the club can identify a different number of targets and not throw all the efforts into a single signing.

We can clearly see the fruits of this approach as Manchester United can now move on from a target rather than be at the mercy of a club, as we have seen in the case of the Alvaro Morata saga (the club definitely loves a saga, doesn’t it?). Jose Mourinho revealed that a deal could not be done for the Spaniard, as shown here, but as soon as a deal could not be reached, United sent their deal for Lukaku into overdrive and completed the deal in a matter of days.

Not only did the club leave no trace of their talks with Lukaku’s representatives, they led Chelsea to believe that they had a free run at Lukaku, and stole him from under their nose. This foresight has led to a more efficient Manchester United.

The last, but not least, factor is the type of player purchased. A major detraction has been the purchase of players that the manager wanted, rather than what was best for the club. The club went blindly went with what the manager felt was right, and this saw the fall in quality that led the club down a dangerous path. Ed Woodward has now struck up a great relationship with Mino Raiola and to a lesser extent, Jorge Mendes. This has allowed the club to have access to have access to quality players, and in conjunction with the manager, the club can sign top quality players that both the club and manager will be happy with.

All of the above has seen the club transform itself from a laughing stock to a true power in the transfer market, and has taken Ed Woodward from the number 1 target of vitriol to a cult hero among a certain portion of Manchester United fans.

Written by Nate Pillay

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