Tuesday 22 October 2019

Sam Wallace: 'Ed Woodward now the real king of Old Trafford - and the Glazers are happy to keep it that way'

Woodward: Delivered Mourinho news. Photo: Action Images via Reuters
Woodward: Delivered Mourinho news. Photo: Action Images via Reuters

Sam Wallace

As the dust settles on the third Manchester United managerial sacking of the post-Alex Ferguson era, the usual questions are asked about the man at the centre of the club, who arguably has more power at Old Trafford than even the great Scotsman did in his heyday.

It is Ed Woodward's club now, and the notion of the 47-year-old former investment banker being under any pressure from his bosses in Florida is as remote as United's chances of winning the Premier League this season. Those American venture capitalists who have seen their investment in the highest revenue-generating club in the world more than double in value since 2005 trust Woodward implicitly, and as long as they own United it will be his to run.

It was Woodward who delivered the news to Jose Mourinho face-to-face at the club's training ground yesterday morning, and it would have been Woodward who reached out to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Mike Phelan to steady the ship in the aftermath.

Not a natural hire-and-fire executive, Woodward has not enjoyed those awkward conversations over the years with David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, but accepts them as part of the job.

He first came to the Glazers' attention working for JP Morgan in the 2005 leveraged takeover, and moved to United to revolutionise the way in which top clubs approached commercial deals, breaking up their market according to territories and industry sector partnerships.

In the most recent Deloitte Football Money League, United retained their place at the top with an annual revenue of £581.2 million, with 48 per cent of that flowing from the commercial partnerships that Woodward had put in place.

As a businessman capable of reinventing the modern football goliath as a cash machine, Woodward is unparalleled, but it will be his appointment of Mourinho's successor that, outside of Florida, the club's executive vice-chairman will be judged upon.

Essex-born and an alumni of the independent Brentwood School where Frank Lampard was also educated, Woodward's first club were his hometown, non-league Chelmsford City. He studied physics at Bristol University and is generally regarded as having a formidable intellect.

While he was a rising star at United during the final years of the Ferguson-David Gill era, he was based in London and ran the Mayfair office where the club struck their first cycle of commercial partnership deals.

Nowadays, he leaves that operation to his friend and colleague Richard Arnold, managing director, although Woodward is likely to come in on the big deals.

He has a close team around him, including the head of corporate development, Matt Judge, whose dry-sounding title disguises the fact he does much of the preparatory work on transfer deals. Another member of the inner circle is Hemen Tseayo, the club's head of corporate finance.

Woodward has an office at the Carrington training ground and another at Old Trafford but spends most of his time at the former. He has long since relocated from south-west London to Cheshire.

It is Woodward's job to oversee the strategy of the club. It was reported yesterday that he and Mourinho were at loggerheads over a technical director, but if Woodward wants one then any manager under his command will have to accept that eventuality.

In recent years Woodward has asserted himself more in the politics of European football, and by virtue of the power and wealth of his club he has considerable influence at Premier League shareholder meetings.

The criticism of him that recurs is that he can take too much time over decisions, that his natural curiosity about the available options makes him over-deliberate.

At least the time frame for appointing the long-term successor to Mourinho next summer will give him some breathing space. In the past, circumstances have dictated that United have been forced to take whoever is available.

Whoever comes in, there is no prospect of the Glazers changing their mind about the man who is the real king of Old Trafford.

Telegraph.co.uk

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