Ed Woodward faces make-or-break six months to fix Manchester United.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign at Manchester United begins with a highly impressive 5-1 win over Cardiff City.
For Ed Woodward, Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman, the next six months will make or break his reputation and possibly his career.
He left the Cardiff City Stadium as a happy and relieved man after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first game as caretaker manager ended in an emphatic 5-1 victory just four days after Jose Mourinho’s sacking. But Woodward, a former investment banker, will surely know that the hard work has only just begun.
Woodward’s job as the man who runs United on a day-to-day basis will remain the safest at Old Trafford.
While the Glazer family continue to own the club. Having played a key role in facilitating the Glazers’ leveraged takeover back in 2005, when he worked in JP Morgan’s mergers and acquisitions team, Woodward has forged such a strong relationship with the American owners, particularly Joel and Avram Glazer, that one source told ESPN FC that he would be “the last man standing at United if they [Glazers] had to make everybody redundant apart from the guy who stayed to keep the lights on.”
But Woodward is also a man who wants to be respected and liked.
He takes criticism to heart and has felt let down by some of the negative comments and coverage over the years. In the tough, unforgiving world of football, his lack of cynicism and a streetwise edge has counted against him.
Having sacked Mourinho last Tuesday, following a series of telephone conversations with the Glazers last Monday, Woodward has taken the first step towards getting United to where the club believes it should be.
With Mourinho gone, Woodward can press on with the task of recruiting a world-class manager to rebuild the team at the same time as identifying and hiring the technical director that, until recently, he and the Glazers were so insistent was not required by United.
In 2013, when Woodward succeeded David Gill as the club’s most senior executive.
There was a tangible sense of naivety about the man whose previous role was to make United the most appealing brand in world sport for potential sponsors. He was so successful in that job that it was perhaps inevitable he believed he would be similarly outstanding when it came to doing deals in the transfer market and overseeing United’s footballing success.
But those first six months were so shambolic. Woodward was not helped by inheriting an ill-equipped and out-of-his-depth David Moyes as manager that the 47-year-old is still judged by his early false steps.
Moyes had been told that United had the money and ambition to sign Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Cesc Fabregas, but he ended up with Marouane Fellaini in the final minutes of the transfer window as Woodward was outflanked by Real Madrid, Barcelona and a variety of agents when it came to landing the bigger names.
When United’s form nosedived under Moyes, Woodward made clear his belief that it would be a one-year blip because United, in a sporting sense, were too big and too rich to fail.
He spoke of selling the dream to prospective signings of being the players to revive a great club, but five years on, the cycle of underachievement has not been broken.
There have been too many bad signings and misjudged appointments not all Woodward’s fault and it seems that only now, in the wake of the decline under Mourinho, have United finally realised their mistakes of the past five years.