For fans of Manchester United, going on Twitter and posting #WoodwardOut along with an angry message had become a daily or weekly ritual. Almost none of the club’s supporters have been fans of the businessman’s work at the club over the past eight years. He’s perceived as out-of-touch, ignorant of football procedures, and guilty of badly mishandling the club’s transfer policy. Amazingly, he might even have become even less popular than the club’s American owners, the Glazer family. Those same United fans who’ve been campaigning so loudly for his departure are going to have to find a new hobby, though, because it’s finally happening. Ed Woodward is leaving Manchester United.
The circumstances behind Woodward’s departure aren’t clear and may never become clear. Given the timing of the move, it’s tempting to think that his departure has something to do with the failure of the European Super League. We know that Manchester United were major proponents of the idea, with Joel Glazer set to serve as the new competition’s Vice President, and Woodward is the Glazer family’s chosen right-hand man. If they supported the idea, it’s logical to assume that Woodward did too and is now falling on his sword because of its failure. That may not be the reality here, though. Some media outlets claim that Woodward got little more than a day’s notice of the club’s intention to commit to the league. Others say he was intimately involved in planning it. A third point of view is that Woodward was always going to leave at the end of 2021 no matter what happened. We may never know the reality.
To say that fans of Manchester United won’t look back on Woodward’s time as the club’s executive vice-chairman fondly would be a massive understatement. They’ve sung anti-Woodward songs for years and protest against him on social media every day. In one particularly unsavoury (not to mention unacceptable) incident, a group of fans turned up outside his house and launched fireworks at it. That, clearly, was a step too far, and it would have been perfectly understandable if Woodward had resigned then and there. He didn’t, though, and the timing of his resignation announcement is unusual. If he always intended to depart the club at the end of 2021, there would have been no harm waiting until the end of the season. The decision to release the announcement now feels like an attempt to appease fans who are still furious about the fact that United ever went anywhere near the Super League at all.
When Woodward was first appointed at Old Trafford in 2012, he was tasked with using his experience as an investment banker to bring as many new streams of income into Manchester United as possible. Initially, he was successful. Within a few months, United had “official timing partners,” “official ready meal partners,” and a whole variety of other commercial partners who poured sponsorship money into the club. It seemed Woodward was good at that. What he was less good at was anything associated with football. The club desperately needed a Director of Football to be appointed with a purview to oversee transfers. Instead, Woodward handled transfer negotiations himself. It always felt like he was out of his depth trying to deal with players and their agents, and all too often, United missed out on big targets because of it.
By the end of his tenure, even Woodward’s commercial instincts appeared to be dropping away. Every Premier League club has “official timing partners” and the like today. Some clubs have eclipsed Manchester United when it comes to capitalism and maximising commercial opportunities. Liverpool, as an example we’re sure will stick in the throats of Manchester United fans, have their own officially licensed online slots game. That gives the club a connection to an industry worth countless billions of dollars every year and plenty of image rights cash. An official Manchester United online slots game would be guaranteed to make money at Rose Slots NZ. It’s such an obvious idea that it’s astonishing that nobody at the club has acted on it, but it hasn’t been done. There is no official Manchester United online slots club. As a club, United doesn’t do anything commercially that other clubs don’t do. The only difference between United and the rest of the big clubs is they can’t pull off transfer deals.
The most famous and recent story of Woodward failing to get transfers over the line came last summer when the club spent months pursuing Jadon Sancho of Borussia Dortmund and then failed to sign him. The German club was very clear about its terms. Sancho is under contract for several years, so they were under no pressure to sell. They gave United a price and also set them a deadline to meet it. If United didn’t come up with the money by the specified date, they were told in no uncertain terms that the deal wouldn’t happen. Woodward, for reasons best known to himself, decided Dortmund were bluffing. He offered less than the club wanted and made the offer later than they were prepared to consider it. To the surprise of nobody other than Ed Woodward, Dortmund turned the offer down. United eventually turned to veteran striker Edison Cavani in a blind panic after a summer of utter failure in the transfer market.
Even when Woodward did get transfer deals over the line, he had a tendency to overpay. He spent far too much money on Angel di Maria. He broke the bank to sign Alexis Sanchez. Both players were disasters at Old Trafford. Memphis Depay came and went within a season. Morgan Schneiderlin has never looked like a player worth even a third of what Manchester United paid for him. If we were being cynical, we could even add Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba to this list. Under Woodward, United either overpaid for players or didn’t get them at all. There was something fundamentally wrong with the way he conducted negotiations, but the Glazers inexplicably kept putting him in charge of them.
United fans may not want to celebrate too hard. Woodward is leaving, but he’ll need replacing. Unless Conor McGregor is serious about his aspirations to buy Manchester United – which seems incredibly unlikely – that replacement will be chosen by the Glazer family. In all likelihood, it will be someone similar to Woodward from a similar background. All that can be hoped for in those circumstances is that whoever that person is might have a better natural aptitude for dealing with transfers. Woodward may be going, but the problems he came to symbolise still exist.