February 1 will see Woodward’s disastrous reign as executive vice-chairman come to an end. Not a moment too soon. Yes, by every barometer the Glazers actually appear to care about – or the one: money – Woodward’s near-nine year tenure at the top table has yielded excellent results.
Months after handing in his resignation in the bloody aftermath of the European Super League farce, the date for Ed Woodward’s departure has finally been set in stone.
United can’t move for official soft drink partners and noodle sponsorships but on the pitch, it has been nothing short of a calamity. An utter failure.
United haven’t won or even come close to winning the Premier League since Woodward took charge, they haven’t gone past the quarter-finals in the Champions League and have won just three trophies during his reign. A single FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League.
Every managerial appointment has proved to be a failure, hundreds of millions have been wasted in the transfer market, now leaving United with an imbalanced squad brimming with overinflated egos. Failure has been rewarded for too long.
Project Big Picture and the ESL were other hapless miscalculations, with the latter sparking a complete fan revolt.
Woodward’s final act of eventually getting round to putting Ole Gunnar Solskjaer out of his misery summed up nearly a decade of either complete ineptitude or a total lack of care for what actually happens on the pitch. Perhaps both.
But, regardless, Woodward is just the fall guy. A suit on the end of one of the many warped tentacles of the venture capitalists that own the club. He is being replaced but by Richard Arnold, a man of strikingly similar stature, who even went to the same university.
No matter who the Glazers implant as their shield to take the flak that will continue to come their way, nothing will change at the club until they decide to change it.
To that end, co-chairman Joel Glazer gave a rare – though becoming a bit more regular, at least – statement upon the confirmation of when Woodward would be leaving. Within that, he outlined his three aims, three promises, he wants the club to achieve in its continued ‘evolution.’
“I would like to thank Ed for his tireless work on behalf of Manchester United during his nine years as executive vice-chairman and 16 years with the club,” he said.
“We are now looking forward to Richard and his leadership team opening a new phase in the club’s evolution, with ambitious plans for investment in Old Trafford, the strengthening of our engagement with fans, and continued drive towards our most important objective – winning on the pitch.”
It’s encouraging at least that Glazer has further admitted and committed to the areas that the club needs to improve in but talk is cheap. That change needs to happen. Those promises must be met.
Fans have been bemoaning the decaying state of Old Trafford for years, with the last expansion on the stadium being completed in 2006. While the installation of safe standing seats is a step in the right direction, it does nothing to improve the faded facades and the leaky roof, even if United say it’s ’caused by the siphon system that drains surface water from the roof, not by a leak in the roof itself’.
Old Trafford holds great historical significance not only for United but for Manchester, England and football across the world. It is one of the globe’s most iconic stadiums and it’s pivotal that it’s restored to glory.
United chief operating officer Collette Roche has said planning is underway for major work and that initial meetings have taken place with architectural and engineering companies, though details on the size of the potential capacity expansion or a budget for the work has yet to have been released.
If United want to re-establish themselves as one of the world’s leading clubs and to restore pride in the supporters, getting Old Trafford gleaming is a crucial step.
Openness and dialogue with the fans has been big on the agenda since the club so spectacularly went against the supporters’ wishes with their planned participation in the ESL.
The fallout of which saw United launch plans for a Fans’ Advisory Board – in order to improve communication and to attain fan input on decisions – and a Fans’ Share Scheme to, as United put it, ‘open a path for supporters to build an ownership stake in the club.’
Both of these plans look great on paper but they can’t just be for show. They must allow fans to have a tangible impact on the club to restore a sense of ownership and, hopefully, prevent them from making any more terrible decisions.
If it ends up being a tactic to make it appear that supporters have a say, without it actually doing so, then the backlash could be severe.
Finally, ‘winning on the pitch.’ The thing that United have struggled so much to do in recent years. The biggest thing that can be done to start moving towards this goal is finally hiring the right manager. They’ve had opportunities to appoint plenty of elite-level coaches in years gone by – Thomas Tuchel, Mauricio Pochettino, Antonio Conte – but passed on everyone. Now the talent pool is shallow.
There aren’t many obvious candidates on the market right now – which is why Ralf Rangnick had to be drafted in on an interim basis – so the Glazers, Arnold and maybe even Rangnick himself are going to have to think long and hard about who they make a move for in the summer. Because another misstep will make that long road back to the top even longer.
Joel Glazer has made it clear how he wants to improve the club in 2022, now it has to be done.