Good riddance and thanks for nothing, Ed Woodward

The day is finally here: the happy, glorious day Edward Gareth Woodward is no longer an employee of Manchester United Football Club. You’ve no idea how long I’ve looked forward to writing those words.

United’s much maligned CEO has stepped down from his role with Richard Arnold coming in – this move could yet prove to be akin to shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic but, on the other hand, surely Arnold cannot be any worse than his predecessor.

There can be little doubt Woodward was very good at making money for the club, which is, of course, exactly why the Glazer family rated him so highly. Indeed, United’s commercial value has tripled on his nine year watch but so vast is the club’s financial clout you don’t exactly have to be a genius to significantly swell the coffers. Ultimately, he will be judged by a string of failures which brought one of the world’s most iconic sporting institutions to its knees.

The problem came in someone with no football experience calling the shots and making all the major football decisions in the corridors of power, often in lieu of those with vastly superior nous and knowledge.
When United’s then manager Jose Mourinho approached his boss with a list of signings he wanted in the summer of 2018, Woodward – having offered the firebrand Portuguese a new deal – vetoed his manager’s wishes. Instead, we ended up with Fred, Diogo Dalot and a 50-year-old Stoke reject in Lee Grant.

Mourinho, arguably the most successful boss of his generation, saw the door slammed shut by a man who probably didn’t even know who the names on the aforementioned list were. Then, to add insult to injury, one of those targets – Harry Maguire – was signed anyway twelve months later but with Mourinho now gone.

This was not Woodward’s most heinous act but it gives us a flavour of the dysfunctionality permeating through United from top to bottom throughout his chaotic nine year reign of terror.

Where’s the logic, the joined up thinking in backing your manager with a new deal, but refusing to allow him to strengthen the squad before you five months later? Mourinho went the same way as David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in being sent packing from Old Trafford – four managers all shown the door having failed to mount a serious challenge on the game’s major honours despite huge expenditure on the squad. Whether you think those men were ‘up to’ the job or not, such a high turnover of managers in a relatively short space of time ultimately leaves a black mark against the name and reputation of our now departed CEO. Millions spent with only an FA Cup, a League Cup and the Europa League to show for it – the latter two coming in 2017 with the Reds now on the cusp of their longest trophyless streak for almost 40 years (!) Indeed, as the plane which flew over Turf Moor in 2018 proclaimed, a true specialist in failure.

Woodward was the brainchild of the doomed, ill-fated Super League – the vanity project which caused uproar last year but then came crashing down a matter of days after Woodward and his power-hungry minions had got their greedy heads together in a money-grabbing bid to ruin the Beautiful Game forever. His decision to leave the club was apparently unrelated to the ESL debacle but you have to wonder if it served as the final nail in the proverbial coffin.

Then there was perhaps his biggest and most despicable act: a remark that should have seen him dismissed on the spot – when he said, at a shareholders meeting, United didn’t need to “do anything on the pitch to be successful.” That might hold sway from his point of view, but us fans only care what happens with the ball and not in the boardroom.

The dye was cast from virtually Woodward’s first day in office at United. He left the club’s pre-season tour of Australia on “urgent transfer business” but – whether he used Sat Nav or not – he quickly became lost in the murky depths of the transfer market. A rookie CEO and an unproven manager finding their feet in the aftermath of the retirement of English football’s greatest ever gaffer – in hindsight, United never had a hope. In the turbulent post-Ferguson years, Woodward’s presence has been the one constant, the common denominator, in a era which has seen one disappointment after another in the transfer market, behind the scenes and on the field. How many other football club CEOs would you recognise, or be able to name? They’re supposed to be in the background not the forefront.

Arnold takes the wheel with a plethora of problems – managerial uncertainty, contracts for some of the side’s biggest stars unresolved, and Mason Greenwood’s arrest. Woodward’s successor is expected to take more of a back seat when it comes to making the football decisions, focusing on the commercial side of the club and leaving on pitch matters to those more qualified such as technical director Darren Fletcher. We can only hope the incoming Arnold will learn from his mentor’s errors.

More Stories Ed Woodward Manchester United Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Richard Arnold

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