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Can a Manchester United Sporting Director Bring Back Success?

In May 2017 Manchester United were officially named the richest club in the world. This beat Real Madrid’s eleven-year stay at the top of the list. But being rich hasn’t resulted in success on the pitch.

Manchester United Sporting Director and Success

The club have seen record revenue from sponsorship deals and increased kit purchases. This is due to the likes of Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining. With these riches, fans would be forgiven for thinking that a new golden age of success wouldn’t be too far away. However, the club have failed to win the Premier League title since Sir Alex Ferguson retired and have only managed one top four finish in that time.

Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward was once quoted as saying “We can do things in the market that other clubs can only dream of,” so why haven’t the club achieved the success on the pitch that they have off it? Woodward’s ability to get deals done and get them done quickly may have a lot to do with this.

Mr Woodward took his current role at the club in 2013 after David Gill stepped down. He is largely credited with helping the club achieve new levels of financial success. A number of lucrative sponsorship deals with the likes of Chevrolet and Adidas have all been acquired under his leadership. However, fans have been left increasingly frustrated over his dealings in the transfer market. Woodward has shown repeatedly to be naive when it comes to the purchasing of new players and flippant when selling, often getting rid of players for a lot less than their market value.

Struggles In The Market

In his first season in the role, David Moyes had just been appointed manager. The club had been heavily linked to buying a central midfielder and had put in a £30 million bid for then Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas. The club had supposedly received encouragement from the Fabregas camp over a potential deal. No deal came to pass as it emerged Fabregas wanted a new Barcelona contract.  In the past many players had used United’s name to get improved terms at their current club. This is a tactic Sir Alex Ferguson had spoken about many times but Woodward failed to spot it.

Once the club had finally given up the pointless pursuit of Fabregas, they turned their attention to Marouane Fellaini. Manager Moyes knew him extremely well from his time at Everton. Moyes had a £23.5 million release clause put into Fellaini’s Everton contract plus an expiry date. Instead of paying the release clause in full the club decided to try and negotiate a cheaper deal. This however backfired and the release clause then expired. By the time deadline day approached United still hadn’t managed a single incoming transfer and had gotten desperate.

With only minutes to go before the window slammed shut they’d managed to agree a £27.5 million deal with Everton for Fellaini. A full £4 million more than the original release clause. This unfortunately was a sign of things to come with Woodward at the head of the negotiating table.

Lessons Not Learned

Overspending and underselling was to be a theme of the clubs transfer activities during the next transfer window. £150 million was spent in the 2014/15 season. This included a then club record £59.9 million on Angel Di Maria. Di Maria only lasted one season at the club and was sold to PSG for £44 million. The deal was a failure for United and demonstrated more poor negotiating from Woodward.

That summer also saw the sale of England international Danny Welbeck to Arsenal for a measly £16 million. Welbeck was not always a regular starter. However, with the state of the market and English players having a premium on their heads, £16 million for a player who was an established international was another terrible bit of business.

Signs of improvement

The following summer transfer window was a mixed bag. Big money deals for Morgan Schneiderlin & Memphis Depay didn’t work out and both have since been sold. Matteo Darmian, a £12 million buy from Torino, was a shrewd bit of business. The full back has become a dependable player and put in many solid performances.

Deadline day that summer saw the capture of £36 million man Anthony Martial. Martial has been one of Woodward’s big successes in the transfer market. He’s firmly a fans favourite and looks a steal at £36 million as the price of players goes up every year.

The club also managed to secure goalkeeper Sergio Romero on a free transfer. Romero is also a firm fans favourite now. Although he is back up to David de Gea, he has shown some excellent displays when called upon, particularly in last seasons Europa League which United went on to win.

Was this window a sign Woodward was finally getting to grips with the role?

Mourinho Era

When Jose Mourinho was appointed manager in 2016, fans hoped it would signal a change on the pitch as well as off it. The club completed the signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic very early on and were also able to secure central defender Eric Bailly with minimal fuss. Henrikh Mkhitaryan soon followed and then, finally, the record buy of Paul Pogba was added.

The club were far more decisive and got their targets in much more smoothly than in previous windows.

Although the club finished sixth in the Premier League, it was thought that with a similar level of decisiveness a more successful season would follow.

Victor Lindelof was signed up relatively quickly but more struggles followed. A desperate scramble to get Romelu Lukaku was forced over the line days before the club flew off to the U.S for their pre-season tour. This would be the last buy until they returned as Woodward failed to secure any more deals during the tour.

Mourinho took the bold step of going public with his desire for more signings. He even went as far saying he wanted two more buys during a press conference. Nemanja Matic was confirmed on July 31st but this still left Mourinho one player short of the four he wanted.

The Premier League season has already kicked off and the club are still in search of that fourth player the manager wants.

Woodward has proved himself to be inept overall at concluding transfer deals. Maybe the time is now for the club enter into modern times and hire a sporting director. This could ensure the club’s deals go a lot more smoothly than they have done under Woodward’s guidance.



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