United chief Woodward has clear picture of success
Old Trafford chief has no targets for Van Gaal as long as he is winning
Published 23/07/2014 | 02:30
What seemed like a baffling action from a Manchester United chief executive had a very potent logic to it, after all.
In the aftermath of the club's dismal 2-0 Champions League defeat at Olympiakos in late February, Ed Woodward was pictured taking what some interpreted to be a selfie with his camera phone in the Karaiskakis Stadium.
It was actually the scoreboard he was photographing, while director Mike Edelson sat in the seat beside him, head buried in hands.
It was the most desperate night of the many that United have encountered these past 12 months and Woodward wanted to capture the moment, as a screensaver to remind him that they would never, ever stoop this low again.
There is certainly some self-belief restored and it is the humanity of the new manager, Louis van Gaal, which has been most immediately striking to those ancillary staff who are not having to go through the new manager's daily double training sessions out here.
Small details – such as the Dutchman's touching affection for his wife Truus – have deconstructed the oversimplistic image of Van Gaal the autocrat.
But Woodward knows better than most about football's uncertainties, having just emerged from a crash course in them.
So convinced were United in Alex Ferguson's judgment that they sanctioned the 'Chosen One' banner for his anointed successor, David Moyes.
Woodward appreciates that was a mistake now and there is a marked change in outlook on the coming season, too. Only hours before that disaster in Athens, United were talking about storming back from their season of hell to clinch the 2014-15 Premier League, but now it is a different story.
"We don't have a target this season," said Woodward from United's Beverly Wilshire Hotel base made famous by Julia Roberts in 'Pretty Woman'.
"I am not sitting down and giving targets to anybody. We want to strive to win.
"That expectation comes with the history of the club. You have to accept that. I have to accept that. Everyone has to accept that. But let's be totally clear. We don't have a target."
Targets are one of the ropes they hang you with in football. Van Gaal would not welcome one and Woodward, who needs only four words to describe the Dutchman's strong personality – "Have you met Louis?!" – is wise to avoid one. But a return to the top four is the minimum requirement for building a personal credibility with the fans.
Woodward said of Van Gaal's appointment: "It never felt a difficult decision ... I felt it was a smooth process."
For all Woodward has done in building up United's commercial juggernaut, he finds his reputation – perhaps his future – shackled to Van Gaal. He "can't think" of a bigger decision than this appointment.
But Woodward has things to prove as well. As he prepared to leave town, the Real Madrid caravan was moving into LA, buoyed by the signature of James Rodriguez from Monaco – more evidence of how domestic and European rivals have outspent United.
The desire to sign Gareth Bale last summer proves that a willingness to go big was there at United.
"Of course" spending £70m on one player is within United's capabilities, insisted Woodward. And "no", the club is not afraid of doing that.
Van Gaal, however, seems adamant about establishing what talent he has before going for more; confident enough in his own methods not to be banging down Woodward's door.
"I want to see what these players can do," the manager said last week. "Then maybe I shall buy other players."
The emphasis was on the "I" in that last sentence.
"If Louis says, 'I want a player, get X, Y, Z', and it's achievable, then we'll end up with a top player" said Woodward. "We're not sitting on our hands waiting for Louis. He is very good at communicating clearly what he wants."
Woodward has faith in the new manager, but he rejected Van Gaal's contention last week that commercial commitments risk damaging United's football.
"If you look at the standard Premier League contract, every single player has six hours a week carved out for commercial and charitable activities," he said. "Our average over the last couple of years has been about 0.7 hours per week."
Woodward flew back to England last night, leaving Van Gaal to get on with the football end of things, beginning with tonight's match against Robbie Keane's LA Galaxy at the Pasadena Rose Bowl.
United's executive vice-chairman insisted that the Dutchman's arrival had generated a feel-good factor within the club, claiming that the 62-year-old's philosophy was "in sync" with the traditions of United.
"By some distance, his is the most important job in the club and we didn't take the decision lightly. We ran a process and we were looking for a manager who would sync with the Manchester United philosophy.
"If you pause and take a step back, it is attacking football, it is giving youth a chance – and both of those things are core to Louis' philosophy of football – and a track record.
"He brings so much energy to this that we felt he was the right choice.
"I'm expecting Louis to do well. He has impressed everyone around the club since he started – owners, players, coaching staff, Ryan Giggs, all the back-room staff. There is a real positive energy and buzz around the place." (© Independent News Service)