Sunday 22 April 2018

Comment: Ed Woodward is in danger of ruining Man United's reputation

Ed Woodward's determination to target - and then failing to sign - superstars beyond his reach could hurt the club in the long run

Ed Woodward (right) and Louis van Gaal are in danger of spoiling Manchester United's reputation in the transfer market
Ed Woodward (right) and Louis van Gaal are in danger of spoiling Manchester United's reputation in the transfer market

Mark Ogden

Manchester United have certainly made their presence felt in the transfer market this summer, but it was surely never meant to be like this?

The inevitability of an ugly blame-game breaking out between United and Real Madrid over the David de Gea transfer fiasco - one which, it appears, was more to do with Real’s delaying tactics than United’s - has merely proved to be the latest unseemly episode in a transfer window that has inflicted reputational damage on the self-styled biggest club in the world.

United and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward have pursued a deliberate policy of targeting players employed by their super-club rivals, and in the case of De Gea, only engaging with Real during the final hours of the window.

Yet the end result has seen them prise an ageing Bastian Schweinsteiger from Bayern Munich, but miss out on the likes of Gareth Bale, Thomas Muller and Neymar, at the same time as infuriating Barcelona with protracted negotiations for Pedro Rodriguez before abandoning their interest in the player.

When Garry Cook, the gaffe-prone former Manchester City chief executive, accused AC Milan of ‘bottling it’ after the Italians pulled out of a £91m deal to sell Kaka in January 2009, his fighting talk left Europe’s elite suspicious of dealing with City and created a problem which required time and a change of approach to overcome.

Read more: 'Ridiculo' - How the Spanish press reacted to botched David De Gea transfer

Manchester United's goalkeeper David De Gea of Spain arrives at Soccer City grounds in Las Rozas, near Madrid, September 1, 2015
Manchester United's goalkeeper David De Gea of Spain arrives at Soccer City grounds in Las Rozas, near Madrid, September 1, 2015

United are now developing a similar reputation for bluster and unpredictability among the game’s powerbrokers and the only victims are likely to be themselves, with the best players, most influential agents and top clubs wary of engaging in transfer discussions with the club.

During the Sir Alex Ferguson-David Gill era, when the manager and chief executive worked in tandem, United were viewed with admiration and respect by their peers, even if soft-focus nostalgia has begun to overlook the transfers - Wesley Sneijder, Samir Nasri, Karim Benzema - which failed to happen on their watch.

But that respect is now ebbing away with Real president Florentino Perez understood to be exasperated by his dealings with Woodward, over De Gea, Sergio Ramos and Bale, and Barcelona also regarding the lengthy Pedro saga as lacking the decisiveness expected of a club of United’s stature.

Bayern, while losing the fight to hold onto Schweinsteiger, were meanwhile dismissive of United’s attempts to lure Muller from Bavaria.

United will justifiably argue that, as a three-time Champions League winner and commercial behemoth, they have every right to make life uncomfortable for their stellar rivals.

Woodward holds the belief that United have suffered for being too quick to capitulate in the past when Real, in particular, have come calling for their best players and the time has come for the club to land their own blows.

But United’s approach is flawed in the respect that they are fighting battles which they have no realistic hope of winning.

They are throwing stones at the windows at the Nou Camp and Bernabeu, but those inside are simply drawing the curtains and muttering under their breath about the noisy neighbour who will not get the message.

Woodward is still suffering from a view held by some in the game that, as the brains behind United’s formidable commercial growth, he must discover the hard way that the football side of the business requires more than the ability to sell shirt space.

It is an unforgiving battlefield, as Cook discovered at City, and United have failed to secure significant victories this summer, with De Gea’s aborted move only delaying the inevitability of his departure for Real next year.

Read more: Lesser lights' technicians show up Van Gaal's lack of sparkle

And attempting to lure the biggest stars from the biggest clubs was always going to end one way.

Big clubs do not sell their best players to their greatest rivals unless those players are regarded as being surplus to requirements.

No Premier League club can claim to have prised a Neymar from Barcelona or a Muller from Bayern Munich, be it United, Chelsea or Manchester City.

The reality is that, when the top stars move, it is one-way traffic from the Premier League to La Liga.

In contrast, Yaya Toure and Cesc Fabregas left Barcelona for City and Chelsea respectively after being shown the door, while the same applies to Real cast-offs Mesut Ozil and Angel di Maria at Arsenal and United.

Read more: United and Madrid in war of words over botched De Gea transfer

The very best are out of reach and United are not winning friends, or signing their top targets, by attempting to land a big one with their current strategy.

And that kind of failure is not good for anybody at Old Trafford.

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