Ole Gunnar Solskjaer management fiasco is Ed Woodward's latest and final gift to Manchester United
Ed Woodward is set to leave Manchester United imminently, and after eight years of consistent calamity it is worth recognising just what he has and has not delivered at Old Trafford. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is on the brink at United but will remain in charge against Tottenham Hotspur - which is Woodward's latest catastrophe.
‘I will always give it a good shot and fight back’ - Solskjaer
Manchester United appear set to stick with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for at least a few more days; that self-defeating attitude defines the approach of the departing Ed Woodward.
Woodward is due to leave United soon, after taking over from David Gill in 2013 at the same time as Sir Alex Ferguson quit as manager. Ferguson left a winning squad which needed serious work, whereas Gill left a successful business that needed disruption. Woodward disrupted and improved the business side, but he provided only negative disruption when it came to matters on the pitch.
The figures make it plain that Woodward has overseen a huge increase in revenue at Old Trafford. He has, though, been assisted by the low bar presented to him - United were evidently ripe to be further exploited, and opened up to the glamorous world of official paint partners. Woodward has parceled out sponsorship deals, welcomed broadcast revenue and advertising. Other clubs of a similar size, such as Real Madrid and Barcelona, are in a dreadful state financially. To that end: well done to Woodward. Good boy, ruffled hair, and so on.
But if the comparison is worth making on the spreadsheets, then it also has to be made when you consider the trophy hauls of United’s peers. Barcelona and Real Madrid have dominated La Liga, with only Atletico intruding. Paris Saint-Germain only lost their way in Ligue 1 when Lille won last year amid the coronavirus pandemic. Bayern Munich have ignored the idea of a Big Two or Big Four cartel to simply establish their own monopoly in Germany. All of them have found their way to Champions League finals, and most of them have secured Champions League trophies. Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool have achieved or exceeded expectations based on their financial heft or statistical acumen. Only United, of Europe’s biggest clubs, can be damned for palpable underperformance.
None of these clubs have failed in a single year on the scale of United during Woodford's entire tenure, to such an alarming degree or so consistently. Managers have come and gone, even executive teams have been refreshed and seen turnover. Only at United has there been a figurehead who can so cleanly be blamed for the disaster that unfolded, is unfolding, and with the legacy he has given the club, will continue to unfold. Of course the ultimate blame rests with the Glazer family for overseeing his footballing incompetence, and either not realising or caring they could do better, but for Woodward the practical blame is his. An able leader could have done far more with far less.
It is worth appraising the executive vice-chairman’s achievements. He has spent one billion pounds, and won mere baubles: the Europa League, the FA Cup and League Cup. He has no Premier League trophy, and he has no Champions League crown. He has managed to see United miss out on the Champions League places despite throwing huge sums at one player after another. He has paid Daley Blind more than £100,000 a week to be substandard as a central defender, wing-back and midfielder. He has brought in Angel Di Maria to a club he never wanted to experience. He promised Louis van Gaal that Sergio Ramos was on his way only to deliver one season after another of the Chris Smalling and Phil Jones experience.
Phil Jones of Manchester United poses with Caretaker Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after signing a contract extension at Aon Training Complex on February 07
Image credit: Getty Images
It is in the transfer market where his failings can be drawn so starkly. There have been summers where managers have asked for something very simple - Mourinho: a good central defender please - and been delivered nothing, or worse, guff. Radamel Falcao appeared for a year as he recovered from a knee injury that took him three years to overcome. Fred cost £50 million. Luke Shaw arrived only to ignore the idea that he should have a professional approach to his diet. Jones was given huge sums of money to remain at the club and not be good enough. Marcos Rojo is the world’s second-richest man after his Old Trafford boondoggle. Wayne Rooney was a Championship player, at best, and he was not booted out for his underperformance for a good half-decade.
Other figures at the club have had influence over all this, but the responsibility rests with the one man that the Glazers evidently respect and listen to. The problem is that he has earned no respect away from the accounting side of things. The scouting setup has identified no brilliant young performer to have broken through. The technical director is some bloke they already had, plus Darren Fletcher - but it took them five years of searching to realise the pair were already there. A billion pounds has left the club since the Glazers’ arrival in debt, and a billion in transfer expenditure. To paraphrase a famous banner: “Eight years of excuses and we’re still crap. Ta-ra, Edward.”