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Red Devils Advocate: Why Ed Woodward should be cut a little more slack

Red Devils Advocate is our weekly column which aims to spark debate by providing balance and opposition to the common feeling among Manchester United fans. This week: some reasons why Ed Woodward deserves a bit more credit.

Sunderland v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward is a man who often bears the brunt of fans’ frustrations.

The former accountant and investment banker is tasked with running arguably the biggest football club in the world, with a vast and passionate fan base, so maybe it’s no surprise that he has his detractors. After all, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

The main reasons that United supporters have their doubts about Woodward, stem from the 44-year-old’s reputation for being naive when it comes to the machinations of the transfer market.

Having assisted the Glazer family during their successful takeover of the club in 2005, Woodward was appointed to a role in which he oversaw financial planning at United, before heading up the commercial and media operations department.

When David Gill stepped down from his position as CEO in 2013, Woodward was promoted into the top operational role which he currently occupies.

It was a summer of unprecedented change, as Gill’s departure was coupled with the retirement of manager Sir Alex Ferguson, after 26 years in charge at Old Trafford.

David Moyes was appointed United manager, and with the squad in need of reinforcement, despite having just won the Premier League, a summer of significant transfer activity was anticipated; if for no other reason than to appease worried fans, assuring them that the ship would continue to sail smoothly through the managerial transition.

Manchester United Training Session Photo by Paul Thomas/Getty Images

But the futile pursuits of Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcântara ended in failure — not to mention the whole debacle surrounding an alleged United delegation sent to Bilbao to secure the signing of Ander Herrera. Moyes had identified Everton pair Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini as primary targets, but a derisory offer for the former, as well as a failure to capitalise on the latter’s expiring release-clause, saw United enter deadline day without having made any major additions.

Anxiety was setting in among fans, who feared that a potentially key transfer window had been grossly mishandled by Woodward; the new chief appeared out of his depth. And, as the transfer deadline loomed, the signing of Fellaini for significantly more than the cost of his previous contractual buyout clause, did nothing to allay supporters’ fears.

The following summer, Louis van Gaal replaced Moyes, and United had a much busier summer, with the British record £59.7 million capture of Ángel di María the highlight of a transfer window which saw Marcos Rojo, Dailey Blind, Herrera and Radamel Falcao brought in.

Yet only a year later, the two highest-profile signings were shipped out, with di María and Falcao branded monumental flops. And further time was wasted on ill-fated attempts to sign Thomas Müller from Bayern Munich and Sergio Ramos from Real Madrid.

Woodward had earned the unwanted reputation of being considered a bumbling idiot when it came to transfer dealings.

But, despite his failings, there are reasons we should consider ourselves lucky to have Woodward at the helm.

Woodward has done an exceptional job of generating record levels of revenue for United, with the club on track to overtake Real Madrid as the world’s highest grossing football club in the coming year or two.

The club may face derision for the ridiculous amount of endorsement deals that Woodward has secured, but the financial health he has fostered is what has enabled United to afford to make a potentially world record breaking bid for Paul Pogba, while still having money to spare for other squad improvements.

His marketing expertise may be responsible for some cringeworthy moments — "Hello Charles" — but we can’t expect to have our cake and eat it too. If we want to claim that United is the biggest and most powerful club on the planet, we need a well-oiled marketing machine to drive the business side of the club forward.

And if you think that United, as one of the most recognisable sports brands in the world, would be experiencing similar financial health, regardless of who is running the show, think again.

Take Barcelona as a key example: the Catalan club is one of the three biggest in the world by almost any metric, battling United and Real Madrid for supremecy.

They have the most successful team of the last two decades, and, in Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez, they boast some of the most marketable players in the world.

Yet they were unable to secure a shirt sponsorship deal for the coming season, and their failure to capitalise of the popularity of their team and players, means that Barça are currently struggling to compete in the transfer market, while desperately trying to reconcile their spiralling wage bill with the need to renew contracts for key players such as Neymar and Sergio Busquets.

Barcelona would love to be in the race to sign Paul Pogba this summer — and indeed Barça was believed to be the player’s preferred destination — but they have been completely priced out of the market.

As much as we get frustrated with Woodward, many Barcelona fans would love to have a figure like him running their club.

It is true that United could benefit from appointing a director of football to oversee transfer business with an expert eye, and perhaps it is an ego issue that has prevented Woodward from loosening his grip on the glamorous duty of player negotiations.

And maybe the criticism of Woodward’s blind loyalty to van Gaal, when it was clear that a managerial change was needed last season, is valid. But nobody really knows what went on behind the scenes; it is entirely viable that plans to appoint José Mourinho were being hatched long before the Portguese coach rocked up at Old Trafford.

So for all his faults — and he does have plenty — there are many reasons why Woodward should be cut a little more slack. Some of the work he has done over the last three years has put the club in a position to reclaim its place among Europe’s elite.