Woodward heralds the ‘start of a new journey’
United believe Solskjaer is still the right manager Vice-chairman denies commerce takes priority
Ed Woodward has launched a robust defence of his running of Manchester United and insisted it was “insulting” to suggest the club’s commercial arm took priority over the football operation.
The United executive vice-chairman also moved to quash doubts about the immediate future of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer by offering his staunchest backing yet for the manager ahead of Sunday’s visit of Premier League leaders Liverpool to Old Trafford and claimed the club were at the “start of a new journey”.
Despite spending more than £850million in the six years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired and having the largest annual wage bill in the Premier League at £332million, United could find themselves in the relegation zone by Monday night should they lose to Liverpool and other results go against them.
Woodward has overseen the running of the club during that period and is coming in for mounting criticism from supporters who are angered and frustrated by the Glazers’ ownership.
But while Woodward is thought to recognise that mistakes have been made, particularly around the recruitment of players, he has refuted claims that the club’s priority has been commercial expansion over football and shot down any suggestion that he and the club’s money men decide transfer policy.
In an address to around 400 staff, including Solskjaer, at the club’s annual meeting at Old Trafford a fortnight ago, Woodward said: “Like other clubs, our commercial business allows us to reinvest in the football side. It’s how these two interact with each other at United that results in us having a competitive advantage in this area. What’s important is the commercial side is never allowed to take priority over the football side. There is a myth that we have non-football people making football decisions, and it’s insulting to the people who work on the football side in this club.
“We’ve expanded our recruitment department in recent years and we believe this now runs in an efficient way. Player recommendations and decisions are worked on by this department and by the manager, not by senior management.”
United believe their struggles in the transfer market were born of a number of mistakes, including the decision to entrust David Moyes with the one-off structure Ferguson presided over for 27 years and giving Louis van Gaal carte blanche to bring in too many players who did not fit the club and lacked X-factor, such as Daley Blind.
Van Gaal’s strike-rate was considered to be significantly below five out of 10 when the view internally is that more than seven out of 10 recruits must be big successes. Equally, they feel some signings, including Alexis Sanchez, have simply been unable to cope with the weight of expectation of playing for the club. United believe they have a far more robust recruitment operation now in place and, in Solskjaer, a manager whose outlook is in sync with the club’s three-pillar ethos of wanting to win trophies playing attacking football, while giving youth its chance.
Nonetheless, United have won just five of the 21 matches since Solskjaer was appointed as permanent manager and their dearth of goals this season has raised serious questions about their decision not to bring in replacements for the departed Romelu Lukaku.
Yet regardless of the pressing need for a striker, it is thought United have little appetite to make what might be considered a panic signing in January. One source suggested it can be “fool’s gold” buying in the winter window. A move for the veteran Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic, over whom they held talks in the summer, seems unlikely at this stage.
United have made their worst start to a season for 30 years, but Woodward believes the club have the right man at the helm in Solskjaer, who is said to retain 100 per cent support.
There is also a belief that injuries to key personnel have taken their toll, but that a cold-eyed decision to lose a series of experienced players in the summer as part of a so-called “cultural reboot” was the right way to go.
“The middle section of last season, after Ole’s arrival, feels most relevant to what we want to achieve,” Woodward said. “We saw a team playing fast, fluid football, with a clear representation of the philosophy the manager wants.
“Ole has also instilled the discipline back into an environment where we may have lacked it in recent years. He is building a squad that respects the club’s history. No one is bigger than the club.
“The changes we saw over the summer have resulted in a very young squad. But it’s also a squad with the players and the culture that provide a base camp for us to build and grow from as we start our new journey.”
Defensive: Ed Woodward has hit out at mounting criticism from supporters