In Aaron Sorkin’s short-lived series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, there’s a scene where showrunner Danny Tripp, played by Bradley Whitford, is advising Matt Albie, played by Matthew Perry, that time is running out on their careers. “One day Chevy Chase woke up, and he wasn’t funny anymore,” Tripp tells Albie. A light switch flicked and one of America’s great institutions lost their greatest talent becoming a punchline in the process.
Manchester United are in danger of becoming that punchline. Through sheer negligence and gross mismanagement, Manchester United are falling behind the teams that used to be the butt of the jokes. Roy Keane once spoke of Sir Alex Ferguson’s minimalist team talk at White Hart Lane. Lads, it’s Tottenham. The tables have turned. As the Glazer family carelessly funnel money out of Manchester United, this once-great institution loses its lustre, its standing and the time it will take to ever regain that crown becomes even greater.
As recently as 2007, AC Milan were unquestionably the kings of European football. Now, they are nowhere. Manchester United risk falling into that very same hole.
Whether your problems with Manchester United’s management are with the Glazer family or with Chief Executive Ed Woodward – both are fraught with difficulty – it is evident that Ed Woodward is the most immediate, and perhaps solvable problem. His position as Chief Executive of Manchester United has become a joke in itself. City once had the laughable Garry Cook, but the Blues were eventually freed from his buffoonery whereas Woodward’s own brand of incompetence has continued.
In June, Louis Van Gaal gave an interview regarding his time at Manchester United. The ex-Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager said:
“At Bayern, the people in charge are football men. I always appreciated that … At Manchester United, on the other hand, Ed Woodward was installed as CEO - somebody with zero understanding of football who was previously an investment banker … It cannot be a good thing when a club is run solely from a commercially-driven perspective.”
In the view of one of the preeminent football coaches of his generation, Ed Woodward is not running Manchester United Football Club with a footballing perspective, it’s all about the money. Here’s the short-sightedness of that philosophy: making money is all well and fine, but if the team is not performing, that money will eventually dry up.
This is one of the core elements that Woodward does not understand. AC Milan were making money in 2007 but selling your best players while replacing them with Kevin-Prince Boateng and you’re no longer going to be a money-making superpower.
Now you could suggest that Louis Van Gaal is merely a disgruntled former employee of Ed Woodward’s using his soapbox to turn the knife in the man who fired him (though Van Gaal was also fired from Barcelona and Bayern Munich). Yet, Ed Woodward’s own words would suggest that he is not operating Manchester United from a footballing perspective.
In 2018, Woodward told a shareholder’s conference call that “playing performance doesn’t really have a meaningful impact on what we can do on the commercial side of the business.” It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about money.
What Woodward doesn’t get is that for the 650 million Manchester United fans worldwide, football is the business. It is the only thing that matters. To the supporters (currently) giving their money to the football club, it is winning football matches and winning leagues rather than official tyre sponsors in India which matter.
And what do those five Glazers really think about Manchester United? Merely an unlimited money pit perhaps? Darcie Glazer-Kassewitz, who sits on the Manchester United Board of Directors and has taken out two loans this summer using her Manchester United shares as collateral, was asked at a Tampa Bay Buccaneers practise last week about the discontent among the fans in Manchester.
Did she answer? No. She just turned and walked away from the question, her responsibility and any sense of common decency with regards to tenure ship of Manchester United.
During the week, news reports emerged on the BBC that Manchester United were planning to appoint a Director of Football to oversee transfers and squad management in future transfer windows. It was proposed as a panacea to the ails of the window United had just endured, and something which could take the heat off Woodward in the short term. The problem with this however is that United leaked the exact same story twelve months ago, and nothing has happened since.
This is the key problem. Both the Glazers and Woodward are allowing the club to stagnate, and the Director of Football problem – something which has been ailing the club since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure – has been allowed to drag on for twelve months since United first suggested that they were going to address it. What’s more, these are only the blatantly obvious signs of mismanagement. What else is going on behind the scenes that the world does not know about?
In the last twelve months, United have slumped further. Manchester United fans have hurt time and time again not comprehending the negligence going on in Manchester; parents have seen their kids develop love for other teams which are better run and playing better football. Supporting Manchester United is a tough job these days, and can any parent really convince their child that they should support Manchester United over one of the legitimately good teams?
Of course, you could argue that a Director of Football is only something that gets brought up when a transfer window goes awry, and it certainly gets discussed more frequently then. But it has been a pressing concern at Old Trafford for years. On Friday, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer downplayed the lack of transfer activity this summer suggesting that United are in a “long term rebuild.”
Does Solskjaer not realise that United fans have been hearing that since 2013? That this is the fourth rebuild? What’s more, few fans genuinely see Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as Manchester United’s long-term solution, so are they just going to be hearing that from another manager in eighteen months?
Speaking on Off the Ball on Friday night, football journalist Miguel Delaney told the show that “Woodward doesn’t seem willing to give up control over transfers to someone else.” Ed Woodward has desperately failed in the area of player acquisition at Manchester United, but there is more to the Director of Football role than merely buying players.
Taking a look at Manchester United’s current squad shows an extremely unequal distribution of playing talent. Possessing four goalkeepers, thirteen defenders, six midfielders, seven attackers and Juan Mata — is he a midfielder or an attacker, we still don’t know — the Manchester United squad is oversized, undercooked and unprepared for the season ahead. This is another reason that Manchester United need a person with skill and expertise in the area of squad management.
For as long as these things continue and for as long as Ed Woodward is in his unbridled, unchecked position of power at Manchester United, the Red Devils will continue to be a failing club. They have fallen past City, Liverpool and Tottenham; they are currently on the brink with Arsenal and Chelsea but they could be pushed over that edge in the coming weeks too.
There is little point now saying ‘let’s wait and see how the season is going.’ The club and its current management structure is rotten. Until Ed Woodward is gone — and Woodward is not a man acting in the best interest of the football club — Manchester United will not manage the miracle panacea of chance signings and youth players coming through at the right time to bring them back to the glory days.
The rot has set in. Right now, its course appears terminal. Had United signed Christian Eriksen or Paulo Dybala, it would merely have papered over the cracks. This is a problem far more serious. The fans need to stand up and defend their club irrespective of results. This is a club far too important to allow incompetent businessmen to undermine, pillage and discard it and then scurry off to their next job running Hewlett-Packard.
Lads, it’s Manchester United; one of football’s greatest ever clubs, the club of Busby, Edwards, Cantwell, Best, Ferguson, Cantona, Keane, Greenwood and you.
Now is the time to stand up and fight for something you believe in. If you don’t believe in Manchester United after the past twenty-five years then football may not be for you.