As one of the strangest, most turbulent seasons in Manchester United’s history draws to a close, this week Red Billy puts Chief Executive Ed Woodward on trial for crimes committed in Old Trafford’s corridors of power. Guilty or not guilty?
1. Phil Jones’ new contract
It’s been widely reported that Phil Jones’ new four-year contract is worth £120,000 a week, more than doubling his previous £50,000 per week. Woodward is being lambasted on social media for signing a deal such as this with a player most fans would agree is backup at best, and yet allowing Ander Herrera to leave on a free transfer.
However, it’s hard to see where this £120,000 figure has come from. Some reports claim the Daily Mail to be their source. Well, I can tell you, it is true that the Daily Mail reported Jones’ new contract was in the region of £120,000. But that report was in 2015 when he signed his previous contract, now known to be £50,000.
Even if the Mail has run a similar story in 2019, which I haven’t been able to verify, it doesn’t make it any more true than it was in 2015, or indeed than the £75,000 the same paper reported he had signed for in 2014.
Let’s face it: for all Woodward’s faults, he is first and foremost a businessman. Why would he need to pay Jonesy £120k a week to stay at Old Trafford? It seems a very unlikely figure. Somewhere around the £85,000 a week mark is a lot more plausible.
Verdict: Not guilty.
2. Ashley Young’s contract extension
Woodward has also been lambasted for extending Ashley Young’s contract for one-year at a reported cost of £110,000 per week. Facts are hard to come by, but this figure is that of Young’s previous four-year contract. A number of reports emerged in November suggesting that Young was going to take a pay cut in order to secure his one-year extension, so it is quite possible that he has done so, and that it will later emerge that Young is also on, say £85,000 or so per week.
Verdict: Not guilty.
3. Letting Ander Herrera go on a free
Most reports suggest that Herrera was holding out for a pay increase from £85,000 to £200,000 per week, which would make his new wage packet the same size as that of Eden Hazard, more than double that of Mo Salah and three times that of Christian Eriksen.
Would Ed have been right to agree to that figure? Not for me. And was Herrera really holding out for it? Reports suggest he will sign a £160k per week contract at PSG, so would he not have signed for a similar amount at Old Trafford?
We can only speculate as to Woodward’s final take-it-or-leave-it offer. I’m guessing at something around £125,000, which some would argue would be true market value.
Verdict: Not guilty.
4. Paying Alexis Sanchez too much
It’s no secret that Sanchez is one of the world’s top paid footballers and yet has been as useful as a chocolate fireguard since he arrived at Old Trafford. His salary – £391,000 a week plus £75,000 per game – has not just placed a huge financial burden on the club, but has reportedly also led to a lot of dressing room unrest, with other players demanding huge rises to bring them parity.
But wouldn’t most of us have done what Ed did at the time? It was a free transfer from a rival club of one of the best attacking players in the world, a deal which would normally have cost maybe £80-£100 million plus, say £250,000 per week in wages. But Woodward should have known better than us and didn’t consider the effect it would have on the dressing room.
5. Choosing Pogba over Mourinho
If reports are to be believed, this season’s problems started due to a clash of personalities between former manager José Mourinho and star player Paul Pogba. Mourinho called Pogba a “virus” and embarrassing footage of training ground bust-ups emerged.
Ultimately, one of them had to go, and it’s probable that Woodward made the decision to sack Mourinho for commercial reasons, with the highly marketable Pogba being worth close to half a billion in revenue. This could, unfortunately, prove to be very short-sighted, with reports suggesting Pogba will demand to leave this summer anyway.
6. Giving Solskjaer the permanent appointment too soon.
Why didn’t Woodward just wait until the end of the season before making Olé Gunnar Solskjaer’s manager role permanent? There seemed to be no advantage to announcing it when he did. Solskjaer was going nowhere, he wouldn’t have been stolen by another club and he would have happily waited until June. So why did Ed do it?
The fact is that there must be dressing room issues at a club when a team goes from winning 15 of 17 games to winning only two of the next 12. The bubble had already burst by March28 when the appointment was made, after back-to-back defeats by Arsenal and Wolves in the FA Cup, so was it made in an attempt to steady an already sinking ship?
If Solskjaer’s authority was already being undermined in the dressing room in March, Woodward may have made the appointment permanent to strengthen his position and keep the players in check. If so, it hasn’t appear to work, but may ultimately prove to be the right thing to do.
At the end of the day, surely the worst manager in the world should be able to win more than two from 12 with the squad at Solskjaer’s disposal, so the problem cannot be the manager – making Woodward right to back him when he did.
Verdict: Not guilty.
7. Failing to appoint a Director of Football
Many of Woodward’s recent contract negotiations could and should have been performed by an experienced Director of Football, an expert with a football background who understands the game. This is true of many other of Woodward’s questionable decisions, such as whether or not Mourinho got his centre back last Summer, or Perisic the Summer before, or even going back further to Wayne Rooney’s ridiculous five-year final contract.
Reports have suggested that whilst saying he was in favour of such an appointment, Mourinho was believed by the board to be the stumbling block and would prove very difficult to work with. But even if true, that does not explain why nobody has been appointed in the six months since Mourinho left. Perhaps Ed is too much of a control freak to delegate that amount of power to someone else.
Whilst Woodward can be blamed by fans for a lot of things over which he has no control, or that simply aren’t true, it’s clear that many of this season’s problems have been brought about by mistakes that the Chief Executive himself has made.
The appointment of a Director of Football is long overdue and one crucial decision that Woodward must get right.