Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has suggested that this summer will be an ‘important opportunity’ to continue the rebuild of the club. It has perhaps led to thoughts suggesting that the club will back the manager, currently Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, to continue the rebuild, bringing in the players the club needs to put the club in the right direction to head back in the right direction to glory.
Over the past seven seasons, Woodward has been responsible for the arrival and departure of three different managers; David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, and Jose Mourinho with Solskjaer the fourth manager in his time at the helm of the club. In terms of sponsorship and the commercial aspect of the club, Woodward cannot be faulted but in terms of spending that money, despite £684.16 million net being spent by the club, he has done badly.
United have signed 30 different players since Sir Alex Ferguson retired at the end of the 2012/13 season and 18 of them still remain – the majority of those between the summer of 2016 and the January 2020 transfer window. Many of the other players to have been brought in were either sold on at a loss or left as free agents. Many of the players have not worked out, which could be said for some of those that still remain at the club. Speaking about the rebuild, Woodward said:
“Our focus is on bringing in a combination of experience and the best young players with potential to develop further, fusing graduates from our academy with high-quality acquisitions.
“Our recruitment process focuses on analysis and selection of players over the course of a season, with a view to the following summer transfer window.
“As part of the rebuild we see this coming summer as an important opportunity.”
Solskjaer’s team, despite taking one step forward and two steps back at times this season, are still in contention in the UEFA Europa League, the Emirates FA Cup and despite dropping to eighth in the Premier League this weekend, as United did not play, they are still too distant of top four still with an opportunity to break into the UEFA Champions League places for next season. Woodward continued by saying:
“We remain in contention in the Europa League and the FA Cup, as well as for Champions League qualification, so there is still lots to play for.
“However, as a club and a board, we do recognise that we are not yet where we want to be. It is the overwhelming priority of everyone at the club to get us back to regularly challenging for Premier League and Champions League titles.
“Although progress may not always be smooth, everyone across the club is focused and committed on playing their part in helping achieve those aims.”
United have been a shambles of a club in the past seven years, seeing the U18s lack development, which seems to have changed in the recent seasons, the U23s relegated from the Premier League 2 Division One and working their way to promotion again in their second season in Division Two to signing some of Europe’s top young talents in Hannibal Mejbri, Mateo Mejia, and Dillon Hoogewerf. United have also done a lot of work in the background and continue to be linked with a Director of Football. Woodward continued by saying:
“Significant work has already been done – and investments made – to strengthen the academy and we’re pleased with the progress being made behind-the-scenes to ensure we have the right players, the right infrastructure, and the right culture to sustain long-term success.
“Similarly, there has been extensive work on our recruitment process, with considerable investment in scouting, data and analytics.
“The recruitment department is working to a clear plan and philosophy, along with Ole and his coaching staff.
“We had consistently taken the view that – because January is not an optimal time in terms of availability of players – we would only buy in January if players we had already targeted for the summer became available and we were pleased that this strategy played out with the signing of Bruno Fernandes.
“Bruno Fernandes and the players we brought in last summer are evidence that our process is the right one. There has been no shortage of investment in players over the past few years, with over £200m spent since Ole became manager; our aim is to ensure that we continue to achieve consistency in quality of recruitment.”
United have some great commercial elements which continues to drive revenue into the club. However, the hierarchy need to understand how it needs to be spent so United can move into the 21st century and actually start to move forward in terms of development. Whilst United have won two FA Community Shields, one Emirates FA Cup, one EFL (Carabao) Cup and one Europa League trophy, the Premier League is something that has always gotten away. Woodward concluded by saying:
“Off the pitch, it is important to note that the commercial elements of the club are geared to ensuring we have a self-sustaining model which supports investment in the playing side.
“Meanwhile we continuously look for ways to improve the experience of fans – from the £11 million investment to transform facilities for disabled supporters at Old Trafford, improvements in security, engagement with fan groups around stadium atmosphere or a potential rail seating trial, to ongoing reviews of match day catering and beverage provision.”
Obviously, as we have seen in recent years, Woodward is very good at talking about the future and giving the impression that things will soon change. After Mourinho was sacked, there were rumours of a Director of Football, which never materialised and now similar rumours are back, albeit carrying a little weight – although that means nothing. Could this be another false promise to get season ticket holders to renew in time for next season, giving them something to look forward to which may not come?
Or could it be that Woodward and the Glazer’s have all of a sudden realised that everything could soon fall apart if they continue to treat the supporters the way they have done since they took over the club, which has been even more obvious since Ferguson retired. United need something to go right to rebuild the club in the right direction. Supporters have become toxic on social media, moaning about anything and everything, which is problematic, for them more than the club, in my opinion.
This summer, things need to be done correctly by the club, backing the manager and ensuring the club gets rid of the players that have no future, of which there are many. These players will need to be replaced with the spaces in the squad filled after those who left in the summer were not replaced. United have a talented squad, especially when you delve into the academy but in terms of experience, leadership and ambition, within the squad, it is lacking and needs attention. Could this be the summer that Woodward actually delivers?