My final part on the struggles focuses on the role of the CEO, Mr. Ed Woodward. Arguably the owners, the Glazers might even be roped into this but that would be a topic for another day.
While it is common knowledge that United are severely missing Sir Alex Ferguson on the manager’s bench, it must also be noted that United miss David Gill too in the boardroom. The struggles we are seeing now of United on the pitch can be linked back to the decision making of Mr. Woodward.
The CEO at a football club is judged to be doing well if no-one really talks about him. Since United is not doing well on the pitch, he has to take some responsibility for his hiring and signings or lack of.
From the onset, he was relentless in his pursuit to sign Cesc Fabregas or Toni Kross to replace the retired Paul Scholes. I always felt that right from the start either target was unrealistic. Manchester United is one of the most popular clubs in the world and the richest but that was a new Manchester United. Under a relatively unknown manager in David Moyes, in the eyes of players playing outside of England, it was never going to be an attractive proposition. Fabregas has played in England and would know Moyes isn’t exactly known for his style of football. Moreover, with his previous bad blood with the club while at Arsenal, it was always unlikely he would join United.
Woodward spent most of the summer transfer window chasing either player to sign and failed as I had expected he would. In desperation, he paid over the odds for the signing of Marouane Fellaini. It is not exactly a glamour signing or the right profile of a midfielder to replace Scholes. Personally, I don’t feel he is not suited for United, I just feel he is not worth the amount United paid to sign him.
In terms of hiring and sacking of managers, I feel he was right to sack Moyes although some would argue that he was not given enough time to get things right. I feel Moyes is out of depth to manage a big club like United and it showed as much. His first managerial appointment was that of Louis Van Gaal and at the time of his appointment, it looked like an appointment that could set United on their way back to its glory days due to his track record and his successful showing at the 2014 World Cup with the Netherlands team.
That appointment didn’t quite work out as well. Van Gaal seemed out of touch with modern football. He had a promising first season where he oversaw United’s qualification into the Champions League once again after missing out on Europe the season before. In his second season, he hit a rocky patch which saw United eliminated from their Champions League group stage and the team was struggling to win. There were very strong rumors that Van Gaal would be sacked at the end of 2015 but it didn’t transpire and he was sacked immediately after he won the FA Cup at the end of the season. The manner with which the sacking was conducted left a bitter taste to the mouth.
Next was the hiring of Jose Mourinho. He has also got a very good track record and has been successful in the recent past. It was a hiring that caused some mixed feelings among the supporters but he had the credentials to be the man to guide United to glory again. Once again after a promising first season where United won the Community Shield, League Cup and Europa League, Mourinho’s United has just deteriorated in terms of football and results.
As far as signings made by Woodward go, it has looked like a scattergun approach considering the different managers he has had to work with. Some of the biggest signings made have not worked. Angel Di Maria was the first to be signed but left after one season suggesting that his heart was never in it for United. Paul Pogba’s signing is next and while the club might recoup his huge transfer fee through the sale of merchandise and his endorsements, he has not had the impact we hope he would on the pitch.
Then there were the signings of players like Falcao who was returning after a terrible season and we couldn’t see the best of him. Bastian Schweinsteiger looked past his prime. Daley Blind and Matteo Darmian had their moments but did not do enough to nail down a place in the starting line-up.
Juan Mata and Ander Herrera are two signings made that have become fan favorites for their attachment to the club, endeavor on the pitch and quality. Marcos Rojo had his best season in Mourinho’s first season but a serious knee injury has since limited his appearances. Anthony Martial has had his moments but not been consistent. He has age on his side though.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic would have to be the best signing made at zero cost. Some had doubts on whether he would be able to cut it in England at an advanced age but he did more than just that until a serious knee injury curtailed his time at United. Nemanja Matic has also been a steady signing.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s case is a curious one. After a slow start in his debut season, he had an explosive season which strangely he could not reproduce in his second season. His replacement, Alexis Sanchez has looked lost and not produced the kind of form that is expected of him since his signing.
Luke Shaw has had a difficult time at the club with injury and weight issues but is now finding his feet as is Victor Lindelof. Sergio Romero has been a more than capable understudy to David De Gea. Eric Baily had a very good debut season before falling down the pecking order after a series of injuries. The jury is still out on Fred and Diogo Dalot.
Mr. Woodward has done very well on the commercial side as a business in getting new sponsors and partners for the club despite the club not quite doing as well as they did in the past. However, it is on the football side of things where I feel his decisions and judgments have not been vindicated.
It might be that he is not exactly a football person or has not been advised well or just unlucky. United’s last 2 managers, current one included might have a successful past but are out of touch with modern football. They are both stubbornly stuck in their ways.
The signings made have been mixed which brings me to the question on who decides on the signings to make. He failed to sign a centre-back that Mourinho wanted and that has been seen as not backing his manager despite doing just that in the previous transfer windows. If he has no faith in the manager’s choice, why then is he still manager at the club and was there an extension given to his contract.
For a long time now, Mourinho looks like a dead man walking and it is just a matter of time before he is sacked unless things take a dramatic turn this season. United cannot keep hiring and firing managers as this leads to a lack of stability. There has been some success and silverware collected along the way but it has not been the main one that the club should be fighting for, the league title and the Champions League. The next managerial appointment has to be very carefully assessed.
The scouting of players and manager has also not been very good and that is something that needs to be looked at. It is a known fact that United are looking to hire a Director of Football who will be in charge of signing players and hiring a manager and that is the right move for the club to take. Who that person is and how effective he will remain is to be seen and I hope the right person is hired. It is not necessary to sign the biggest names if they don’t fit in with the manager’s plans and is not what the club needs. The club needs to always make the right signings, quality players that will value-add the team, not glamorous signings because that doesn’t always work.