Wednesday 26 June 2019

Kevin Palmer: 'Alarm bells ringing loudly at Man United, but their biggest problem remains in place'

Ed Woodward realises United have endured a tough season (Martin Rickett/PA)
Ed Woodward realises United have endured a tough season (Martin Rickett/PA)
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

If the alarm bells were not ringing loudly enough for Manchester United supporters in the final weeks of the Premier League season, their eardrums must be bursting now.

Calls for a revolution at the heart of the Old Trafford money-making machine were being voiced long before Jose Mourinho became the latest high-profile manager to try and fail to bring the glory days back to a club that has been stuck in reverse gear since Alex Ferguson's retirement six years ago.

Yet it appeared that a new dawn was finally about to light up Old Trafford as news emerged in the early weeks of 2019 suggesting United were planning to appoint a sporting director who, it was assumed, would free-up executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward to do what he does best and set up lucrative sponsorship deals to add to the 72 'club partners' currently pumping money into the United brand.

It has been clear for many years that Woodward is horribly out of his depth negotiating transfer deals, with Angel Di Maria, Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez just three of his expensive mistakes in a list that has become long enough to ensure his role as United's chief transfer negotiator has become untenable.

Independent.ie can confirm that former Tottenham and current RB Leipzig Sporting Director Paul Mitchell was one of the respected names tentatively approached over the new role being created at United, with Woodward's apparent willingness to step away from transfer negotiations being welcomed by all parties and opening encouraged by United legend Gary Neville.

"What they should do to start with is shift the people that are in charge of the club back to the business side of club and back down to London," declared Neville in one of several critiques of United on Sky Sports at the back end of the Premier League season.

"Ed Woodward’s had his time doing the job. I think he’s had his chance personally. No problem with keeping him at the club. The revenue, the operating profit are pleasing the Glazer family enormously, but he’s had his chance in running the football side of the club.

"It’s got to the point where they’ve got to bring a different structure in. It’s a big football club, it’s a monster of a football club, so they’ve got to bring the best in class and step aside."

They were passionate comments that were met with unanimous approval by the club's fans, yet the last month suggests Woodward is in no mood to walk away from his powerful role amid suggestions that the new face in the 'Sporting Director' role will be little more than a buffer between the first team manager and the club's owners.

Former United players Rio Ferdinand, Darren Fletcher and current assistant manager Mike Phelan have been linked with a role that cynics will argue has been created to offer up an image of change rather than the genuine structural shift that is clearly required.

The end result appears to be that the failed policies of the past six years will continue at United this summer amid rumours that Woodward is already offering inflated transfer fees for high profile targets and suggestions that summer arrivals will be complemented by the arrival of young players such as Swansea's Daniel James and Newcastle midfielder Sam Longstaff.

This is not the model of change Neville and United fans were calling for, with a confused scouting structure at the club clearly failing to bring the right calibre of person and player to the club in recent years.

United's long-time chief scout is Jim Lawlor, who was put in place by Ferguson during his time as manager and he is assisted by Marcel Bout (a legacy of Louis van Gaal's managerial reign), with John Murtough installed as United's Head of Development after he arrived at the club on the advice of David Moyes during his doomed spell as manager.

The detachment between the club's first team coach and the club's hierarchy was evident during the reigns of Moyes and van Gaal, with Mourinho suggesting time and again that the current United set-up is dysfunctional and desperately needs a figurehead to pull the disparate views together.

However, Woodward appears to be keen to hold on to his position of power as he plots another summer of spending under his fourth manager, with Solskjaer lined up as his latest scape-goat if failure is served up again next season.

Rumours that Paul Pogba is set to be handed the United captaincy in a bid to keep him at the club will infuriate many supporters who witnessed the Frenchman's lacklustre displays at a time when his agent continued to link him with a move to Real Madrid, with poison that has polluted the club unlikely to be removed by Solskjaer so long as he has a failed transfer guru to do his bidding for him.

United need to implement radical changes before they can move forward and until that arrives, Manchester will continue to host street parades paying homage to the team of champions in blue who have neatly filled the void created by their muted neighbours.

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