Comment: Man United’s problems will not disperse so long as Ed Woodward remains in post
While the future of Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal continues to dominate the soccer agenda, it is the lead role being played in the Old Trafford farce by his promoter-in-chief Ed Woodward that should be of greater concern to the club’s owners.
Reputation counts for so much when you are the figurehead of a sporting giant and while Van Gaal’s stint as United manager looks set to leave an unpleasant full stop on his decorated career, the Glazer family in charge of United’s destiny should perhaps be focusing their gaze on the smiling chartered accountant they have endorsed as salesman-in-chief of their brand as they look inspire a revival.
The hugely impressive sponsorship deals Woodward has secured since he succeeded David Gill in the most prominent role on the United board in the summer of 2013 confirm that this is a negotiator with immense talents, but those skills have not been portable into the murky world of player transfers.
United look set to reclaim their position as the most valuable football club in the world later this year and Woodward can take a healthy chunk of the credit for that, yet commercial brilliance has been desperately compromised by Woodward’s inability to adapt to a sporting world he has been made a look a little naive operating in.
Woodward is blatantly in the wrong job and should be reassigned to focus his attentions on what he excels at, which is setting up commercial deals around the world that are keen to have the United logo attached to their branding.
There is a theory that Woodward is desperately backing Van Gaal as he fears for his own future if he finally admits his dream manager has actually turned into a damaging force on the club, with his loyalty to his manager in danger of making him look like some kind of super-fan of the veteran Dutchman.
However, the Glazers should have spotted long ago that the pup they have running their English sporting franchise is harming its image following a succession of inexplicable mistakes that should have seen him moved to an alternative role within the club long ago.
Such a move should not be seen as a demotion for an accountant who has little or no experience working within football, never mind negotiating transfers to sign the world’s biggest footballers.
Most of us too would also be left floundering if we were in the executive vice-chairman role at the club and, bizarrely, the man in that very role gives off all the same vibes.
Woodward’s rise from a financial background to one of the most prestigious roles in world football is as rapid as it has been ill-judged and the trouble is, United’s faltering reputation on the field is being propped up by their rarely interviewed boardroom star.
The end result will be that Woodward’s talks over United's new official toilet roll partner or maybe a deal to crown the club’s official lettuce supplier will soon be have the fading impact of a club that is losing its aura the longer they are away from chasing trophies.
It is a conflict of interest the Glazers never imagined when they handed Woodward control and a problem they need to resolve swiftly.
An adviser in the Glazers as they controversially took control of United in 2005, Woodward initially assumed the role of commercial operations at Old Trafford and excelled in his position as he inflated the club’s non-sporting income in impressive fashion.
How those achievements saw him nominated as a suitable candidate to succeed the hugely well-connected Gill following his decision to step down as United’s chief executive in 2013 is a question only the Glazers can answer and the timing of what now appears to be their biggest mistake could not have been more unfortunate.
Gill’s exit coincided with Alex Ferguson’s decision to retire as United manager and the Glazers would have been wise to appoint a proven soccer executive in his place. What they did was hire a novice they knew would be loyal to their cause and it has proved to be a desperate error.
Woodward has made attempts to sign virtually every elite player in world football over the last two and a half years and despite offering vast sums of cash to land his targets, the only one he managed to snare turned out to be the biggest flop in Premier League history, with Angel Di Maria the sole marquee name Woodward has attracted to Old Trafford during his chaotic three years at the helm.
In his other transfer manoeuvrings, Woodward has looked like a guy excited to be playing real life fantasy football from the moment he was put in charge of United’s transfer kitty, with his story of transfer near misses turning United into a laughing stock.
Toni Kroos, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels, Thomas Muller, Sergio Ramos, Gareth Bale and Neymar are some of the A-list players United’s transfer guru has tried and failed to sign, with Woodward looking somehwat out of his depth as he has gone after a host of stars he had little or no chance of getting. Such madness would never been allowed to happen when the Ferguson/Gill double act were calling the shots.
Then, when he has failed to sign the player he has been chasing, United leak a suggestion to the media to claim they were not interested in signing the player in question anyway.
This chain of events occurred with their failed bids to sign Fabregas, Kroos and, most recently, Spanish international Pedro last August. Surely no-one believes any of that nonsense at this stage.
Woodward has tried and failed to prove himself on the football stage and when Van Gaal finally goes, his chief cheerleader should be invited to resume his role as a commercial deal maker that will be so important to the future of a club still dripping with debt burdened on the club by their owners.
The Van Gaal issue will be resolved by United at some point in the next few weeks and month, but United’s problems will not disperse so long as Woodward is allowed to remain in post as string puller in chief.
The quicker the Glazers work that out, the better it will be for all connected with Manchester United.