Success on the pitch does matter, Ed Woodward

“Playing performance doesn’t really have a meaningful impact on what we can do on the commercial side of the business.” I remember reading these words for the first time, just staring at my mobile phone for what must have been a full two minutes and thinking to myself “well, that’s that, that’s our club now might as well get used to it.” That was Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward addressing the club’s shareholders.

A lot has been said about ‘The United Way’ in the last five years and how it’s been lost, most of the blame being aimed at United’s now former managers. That blame has been without a doubt been misplaced. ‘The United Way’, if there really is one, can be summed up in two quotes from my point of view, one from Sir Matt Busby which goes; “At Manchester United, we strive for perfection and if we fail, we might just have to settle for excellence.”

The second is a quote from Sir Alex Ferguson; “The most romantic club in the history of world football, and that would never change.” Two men that have built Manchester United in their image, an image built on hard work, unparalleled football and ultimately winning.  It’s now 2019 and that image has fallen into obscurity and Ed Woodard’s playing performance quote provides more than enough proof of that.

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United used to be a club that strives to win trophies and anything less for the fans was deemed a failure. For Ed Woodward and the Glazer family, success has a very different meaning. Success for the United hierarchy is attained by maximising profits, made possible by a top four finish and with it the financial bounties that UEFA Champions League qualification brings with it. Where’s the evidence in that?

Major investment (not by the Glazers but from the club’s own money) on player recruitment has come about in seasons where the club has missed out on the top four, and in the last three years, United have only invested 19% of their turnover on recruiting football players. Want an even more depressing statistic? According to Swiss Ramble, in the last ten years, United have only invested 32% in player recruitment whilst Liverpool and Manchester City’s investment stand at 54% and 64% respectively.

The fact this season saw the least investment in years (United have invested £8 million less than Bournemouth have this season) after finishing second and reaching the Emirates FA Cup final speaks volumes about Woodward’s priorities and targets. I’d write down how much the club has spent on the debt brought about by the Glazer family, but I don’t think any of us can handle that level of disappointment.

Hiring Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seems to have eased the pressure off Woodward from United fans, with the Norwegian bringing back the much-needed stinging counter-attacking football the United squads of old were notorious for and winning eight out of eight matches. The Solskjaer appointment was a rare masterstroke for Woodward, a manager the fans could never hate and an excuse to miss out on spending in the January transfer window.

No permanent manager, no permanent signings, another entry to the ever-growing book of ‘Glazer Economics 101 – How to make your club work for you’. Whilst the Solskjaer appointment has taken the heat of Woodward and the Glazers for the time being, what comes next will either see him exonerated and (partially) forgiven or even more hated by the United faithful. The next managerial and director of football (if that ever comes to pass) appointment must be perfect, no more excuses.

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Whilst I feel that Solskjaer might be a shoe-in for the manager’s job (if not fans might just riot), the Director of Football or Sports Director position remains one shrouded in mystery. It’s obvious to everyone and their aunt by now that Ed Woodward should sooner be trusted with the entire US nuclear arsenal than with managing another transfer window at United.

Too often have agents for players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Antoine Griezmann and Gareth Bale used United and Woodward to secure a better contract at their clubs and Woodward fell into their trap by pursuing them and missing out on other targets which could have proven the difference for United. The catastrophe that was last summer’s transfer window and failing to sign any defensive recruits proved to be the final straw for many and with good reason too.

Other than Woodward’s mishaps in the transfer market, United’s wage bill is also suffering, almost hitting the £300 million mark second only to Barcelona. The contracts situation is also a dire one at United with Anthony Martial and David De Gea both on the last year of their contracts and this time there’s no extension. Whilst Woodward’s success on the commercial aspect of United, selling the name to every other company in the galaxy, he needs to remind himself that he is not a football man and that United is a football club and not a marketing agency and that their success is measured in trophies, not sponsorships.

Written by John Grech

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