The clock is ticking for Ed Woodward at Manchester United

by Sam Peoples

Football is a cyclical sport. Dips in form, peaks and troughs, can happen for both players individually and for teams as a whole. Since 1892, Manchester United’s entire 124-year history includes 23 different managers but there are only three who have really stood the test of time.

  • Ernest Mangnall promoted the club to the First Division in 1906 and won our first title two years later. In our formative years he stands out having a win-ratio second only to Sir Alex, with two titles and one FA Cup in nine years (1903-1912)
  • Sir Matt Busby meticulously constructed what was considered to be the team of the century and after the Munich Air Disaster masterminded the ‘Busby Babes’, earning five titles, two FA Cups and the famous 1968 European Cup a decade after the disaster (1945-1969 plus 1970-1971)
  • Sir Alex Ferguson was the greatest there ever was or will be! The brains behind the bulk of United’s trophy case, with 38 pieces of silverware in 27 years. He achieved The Impossible Dream (1986-2013)

If anything, this clearly demonstrates that finding top quality talent off the pitch is equally as important as on the pitch. Arguably there could not have been a better partnership than that of Sir Alex Ferguson and one of the most renown administrators in the business, David Gill.

Unfortunately, stuck with disinterested owners and a new, incompetent chief executive, we could be staring down the barrel of another prolonged recession reminiscent of the post-Busby era, in which fans had to witness Liverpool’s meteoric rise to power. Waiting for the club to come through with another ‘Busby’ will seriously jeopardise Ferguson’s invaluable legacy in ‘knocking them off their f**king perch’.

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During that great depression, excluding League Cups and the Charity Shield, Liverpool won 15 domestic titles (not to mention seven major European trophies as well). In stark contrast, United only managed four. We fell from grace and invariably became a sporadic FA Cup winning side who were incapable of competing with Liverpool in a 42 game season. We had to rely on the unpredictability of a knock-out phase competition to earn silverware and even then, we only won four in 30 years.

Looking deeper than Sir Alex, a major change of the guard at such a turbulent time was extremely poor business acumen which exposed a lack of foresight. Surely it would’ve been prudent to stagger the hand-off, by having Gill remain for a temporary adjustment period. After the change, the Three Wise Men (Ferguson, Charlton and Gill) were sequestered on the outside of the power-circle, fulfilling mere cursory consultative roles and their advice doesn’t seem to be followed.

To make matters worse, the Glazers appointed their lieutenant as the chief executive – a foot-soldier from the predatory 2005 takeover. He’s an ex-investment banker with no sporting background. With no clue and having to learn on the job, clubs and agents took full advantage of his naivety and lack of experience in that field, taking him to the cleaners on farcical deals. The root of all the club’s problems, a systemic failure by and upon this club, is Woodward.

Nobody questions his credentials as a business man, he’s an excellent one, but a footballing man he is not. Usually the managers receive the brunt of the blame for failures but Woodward’s not without fault here. It’s his fundamental task to guide the club into the right direction (if only to secure the coffers for the trust-fund babies of Malcolm Glazer…).

Owen Gibson’s article in The Guardian a few years ago (9/8/2013) succinctly encapsulated the blunder: “Personal relationships are all, bluffs & double bluffs abound & there is little honour among thieves… Whilst the commercial strategy he devised has helped turn the world a shade of red… he’s struggled without close personal relationships with those handful of executives who run the biggest clubs in Europe that Gill had worked so hard to build up over the years”

His position, seemingly bulletproof, is showing cracks in the armour. Moyes and van Gaal (clear misfits) have only led us into cul-de-sacs, forcing the fans to endure three seasons of monotonous football. The club went from a powerhouse in European football to being used as a pawn in the transfer market, with players finagling better deals at other clubs. The empty seats at home to Crystal Palace are a massive indicator of the dissatisfaction of these past two and a half years.

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No amount of commercial success can ameliorate the pathetic performances on the pitch or the knock-on effect upon the underlying value of the club’s stock floated on the NYSE. If this decrepit strategy continues, eventually the sponsorships will evaporate and further compounding our problems. Paul Hayward of the Telegraph provides an apt description: “United have become a deal-making factory with an expensive football team attached.”

With the impending departure of van Gaal, you would think Woodward’s time is also coming to an end. This game-plan of handing over to Ryan Giggs could result in proving that successful players don’t necessarily make for successful managers and there’s no way the club can take that risk this summer.

It’s worth remembering the parable of Wilf McGuinness. A member of the Busby Babes yet a poor manager with a less than 37% win ratio during his time. Could Giggs become the next McGuinness or our very own Guardiola. It’s quite the gamble. Can we afford it? Possible solutions could involve appointing Jose Mourinho immediately and redirecting Woodward to a strictly commercial side of the business to work in tandem with Jamieson Reigle (United’s commercial director). After all, that’s where Woodward built his reputation.

Perhaps this run into Wembley to reclaim the FA Cup after 12 years could be the catalyst to spark United’s resurgence as it once did in the 1989-90 season for Alex Ferguson but I highly doubt it will be van Gaal who benefits from it and I’d hope it would mark the end of Woodward at United in a footballing capacity. Let him slip into the background where he’s succeeded before and bring in a football man to do the role he cannot.

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