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Woodward and the Glazers have turned Manchester United into nothing more than a hollow brand

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United are trading on past glories, while falling behind their most hated rivals

Everton FC v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Two months have passed since that night in Paris. An evening which Gary Neville recently described as one of his best as a Manchester United fan. Overturning Paris Saint-Germain remains United’s best performance of the season – notably without Paul Pogba. United fans started to daydream about unity and progress under one of their own. A magical evening on the back of an impressive run of results, a side of the same players unrecognisable from last year.

Ed Woodward had seen enough to give Ole Gunnar Solskjær the reigns permanently. That then immediately set off a rapid decline in results and performances. Nice one, Ed. In fairness to Woodward, many others in his position would have done similar. Solskjær was getting a remarkably good tune out of the squad and the supporters, and plans for next season needed planning. The clamour for Solskjær to be hired proper was widespread and justifiable.

Rather than a springboard for the final stretch of the season, United unravelled heavily in the league and cups. Optimism has drained away and perennial problems are back in focus sharper than ever. Chances to qualify for the Champions League have been squandered after making up ground and, worse, witnessing English sides deeper into the competition pulling off greater feats of life-affirming escapology.

United and Liverpool have an intrinsic link in seesawing fortunes going back decades – two local behemoths having yawning stints at suffering and succeeding. The comparison between City and United is a neat one – £1bn in/£1bn out – but it’s Liverpool’s progress where United should feel most aggrieved. Liverpool’s new owners had a clear strategy more suited to United’s budget in the first decade of Glazer ownership. United simply relied on the genius of Ferguson to keep plates spinning on the field and then incoherently threw money at the deficit after he left.

Sheer arrogance on United’s part. No succession planning beyond letting Ferguson do the interviews for his replacement. But no matter. United are too big, too lucrative, too successful to fail. A theory which Woodward is severely testing having overseen a dereliction of duty under any standards spanning six years. Woodward has shown where his strengths lie in monetising the club but badly needs to relinquish control of football matters before United slip further behind. Whether Woodward could stomach no longer being an oft-talked about club chief executive remains to be seen.

Solskjær has shown in recent weeks that he is prepared to freeze out players who he feels aren’t on board. There is an opportunity for United to refrain from pandering to star names chasing big paychecks and get back to basics under a manager who wants to rebuild in their image. High profile managers in Louis van Gaal and José Mourinho haven’t worked primarily because their style was at odds with the club’s and success demands total buy-in. Solskjær may not be good enough to haul United back in contention, but he represents an opportunity to rebuild appropriately.

Solskjær will need help with recruitment if his time at Cardiff City is anything to go by. Woodward cannot continue to orchestrate transfer activity if United want to avoid wasting another two years of hiring, buying and firing another collection of players and manager. The worry is that a man who wields way too much power enjoys playing real-life Football Manager appallingly and the perverse kudos it brings him.

The Glazers are very happy with their board member for two reasons. First, and most obviously, Woodward generates buckets of cash for the club in innovative and novel ways. Less obvious is that Woodward acts as a convenient buffer for fans’ ire when things aren’t working out – and he is, quite rightly, copping loads at the moment. Apathy amongst supporters is sadly rife and any sentiment during managerial sackings have quickly passed. Again, that may be different under Solskjær were Woodward to mess him around as he did with Van Gaal and Mourinho – and crucially were Solskjær to make references to it with the club at heart. Unfortunately, there have been recent murmurings in interviews succumbing to the Glazer party line but, hopefully, that is just Solskjær getting his feet under the table.

Woodward appears hell-bent on employing a watered-down director of football to essentially report into him. Links with ex-players in Darren Fletcher and Rio Ferdinand for the role smacks of pliable inexperience and a lack of authority with the sheen of a recognisable name. Not dissimilar to the current manager.

A fish rots from the head and United have been stinking the place out for too long given their resources. If Woodward wants to control football matters, he should be judged on them as such and be removed – or remove himself – to instigate fundamental change that will take time and thought to administer with the requisite experience. United are fast turning into a hollow brand trying to keep up appearances and it’s getting more and more expensive and difficult. The gap between their old rivals, meanwhile, is growing and showing no signs of slowing down.

United shouldn’t be scared of selling expensive players, they should be terrified of being left out of sight still trading on past glories. There is enough patience from fans for a restructure and clearing the decks in the squad, whether under Solskjær or someone else who’ll fit the mould. Is there an appetite from the board for genuine progress over instant gratification? It will have to come from Woodward, if so.