“Dismal”, was how The Telegraph described Ed Woodward’s transfer window debut in 2013. The produce of 2014’s summer promised much, although looking back it can be said that only Daley Blind has proved his worth so far, with even his status as a regular starter now in question. Luke Shaw will be like a new signing in the 2016/17 season due to his injury woes, Ander Herrera continues to divide opinion amongst the United faithful, and both Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao failed to last more than a season at the club with most wishing that the same could be said of Marcos Rojo. If that was a let-down then the following year was something far more disappointing, with the third time lucky clause not being activated. Anthony Martial, the least impressive signing before a ball was kicked, actually being the only one to make a real impact, with Darmian, Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin and Memphis all underwhelming and former Sampdoria number two Sergio Romero performing like, well… a Sampdoria number two. Not the most impressive track record for the United chief, however, United look set to have the best transfer window in recent memory, and that’s largely in part to ‘Woody’.
Dubbed ‘the Ronaldo of football’s commercial sphere’ by Brand Finance, Woodward has never had a problem with the business side of things at the club, tractor partnerships and official noodle sponsors have been some of the humorous highlights of Manchester United’s countless commercial deals and the partnership with 20th Century Fox has spawned some videos that are both hilarious and cringe-worthy in equal measure. It’s these agreements though that help enable the flexing of the financial muscles in transfer windows that we’ve seen since Ed Woodward moved from the head of commercial and media operations to executive vice chairman. Ambitious attempts at signing Thomas Muller and Neymar amongst others show not only the obvious financially strength that United has, but also the character of a man who hadn’t experienced any failure in his commercial exploits, but would go on to experience many on the footballing side. Whether this confidence was a good thing initially is doubtful considering all of the failed moves and questionable managerial appointments which left many calling for him to be sacked. His promotion seemed like a bridge too far, so what changed?
Well for starters, this summer he’s kept it simple. Mourinho gave him the names and profile of players he wanted and that’s what he went for and got. The captures of Eric Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic led to Jose saying that United’s transfer business was “75 percent done.” The remaining 25% lies with a certain Paul Pogba and if stories are to be believed then a deal’s not too far off. Although plenty of time still remains in the window and it is unknown who may yet still become available, the stories of the club chasing the obviously unattainable players have been at a minimum and Woodward seems to be solely focussed on meeting Jose’s requests rather than looking further afield. This may also be a testament to the clarity of Mourinho’s planning compared to predecessors Moyes and van Gaal as well, however, Woodward deserves his credit.
Another factor in Ed Woodward’s development is what seems to be an improvement in his negotiating skills. Getting companies that would love to be affiliated with arguably the world’s biggest club to sign sponsorship agreements is a lot simpler than acquiring players for the most part, top players especially, and, although we don’t know the content of the dialogues between club representatives, it’s safe to assume that he has become more persuasive and thus, more productive. A look at this summer’s arrivals at Old Trafford shows that these are players that both had to be prised away from their clubs and/or convinced of our ‘project’, with Bailly and Mkhitaryan not for sale and Ibrahimovic having his choice of clubs after letting his contract run down. Even Pogba did not appear a realistic target until talks hit more advanced stages, and even so many fans are still in disbelief despite the convincing evidence supporting the idea that the record-breaking move will come off. The lack of public speaking this window was notable, and the silence appears to be golden; postponing his flight to China to conclude transfer business highlighted his drive and urgency and his work should soon come to completion.
Yes, money talks and yes, Mourinho is a welcome addition to the package that the club can now sell to players. However, would the deals of this summer have happened in the last few years at United whether Mourinho was in charge or not – unlikely? It seems as though Woodward’s finally grown into his role at the top of the tree, showing the competence that someone at his level at the club of such a standing should do, and the fans could be enjoying the fruit of his labour for seasons to come on the pitch, at long last.