The Glazers and Ed Woodward are at the heart of Manchester United's decline
Supporters of Manchester United should blame Ed Woodward, Sir Alex Ferguson and the Glazer family for most of the club's current problems, writes Alex Netherton
David Moyes enjoyed less than a season at Manchester United. Louis van Gaal got two years, the FA Cup, and the sack. Jose Mourinho is entering the first period of his management where their are serious and sustained questions over whether there are problems of his own creation. While there are legitimate concerns over Mourinho, apportioning most blame to him misses the point. The fundamental problem at Old Trafford is Ed Woodward and the Glazers who appointed him. It was, of course, Ferguson who welcomed them to the club.
Manchester United's Bebe (R) is challenged by Crawley Town's Dean Howell during their English FA Cup soccer match at Old Trafford in Manchester, northern England February 19, 2011. REUTERS/Phil NobleReuters
United were taken over by the Glazers in 2005. In the years that followed, the financial crisis almost took them, and United, down into bankruptcy. The takeover was facilitated by hundreds of million of pound of debt. Corners were cut, as was expenditure on the team. What was presented to David Moyes when he took over might have been a squad that had won the title, but it was one which had been running on fumes. Old players had to be shipped out, and younger, poorer players were kept on when a previously more ruthless incarnation of Ferguson would have sent them packing to Newcastle and Sunderland.
Michael Owen Alex FergusonEurosport
As the financial crisis hit, the one that pushed United to the brink, the world’s central banks started to think of something called 'escape velocity'. With enough money pumped into the system and with interest rates kept low enough, the theory was that they could stimulate the economy back towards growth. In many respects, it worked. The Eurozone is finally on the verge of booming, and the US had a relatively strong recovery compared to Britain. Even Britain pumped out billions in quantitative easing, and kept the country going forward, albeit slowly. The basic theory is that if the velocity is sufficient, you can start cutting debt and launch the world economy past the old problems.
The same applies in some manner to managers. Moyes was given such a duff hand with United – promised Cesc Fabregas, Leighton Baines and Gareth Bale, and given just Marouane Fellaini – that he fell behind so quickly that he could never achieve his own escape velocity. While he made so many of his own errors, he was stitched up so comprehensively that he could never get enough pace to emerge from Ferguson’s shadows.
Marouane Fellaini of Manchester United and Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United speak after Marouane Fellaini is shown a red card during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Etihad Stadium on April 27, 2017 in MGetty Images
Louis van Gaal’s first season was different. He was given Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria. He was given humps of money. It was enough to grab fourth, but the second season dissolved into piddle under his own direction. He made football so boring that supporters felt sick going to the games. But even he was told Sergio Ramos would be on his way, only to be failed by Ed Woodward.
He should have done better in his second season, clearly, but he could only do so much when he had Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in defence, and Wayne Rooney dragging the whole side down with him. Ultimately, by his own tactics, he eventually created a side that could never progress no matter how much money he would have been given after the FA Cup win. His deficiencies provided cover for Woodward's obvious incompetence.
Then, on to Mourinho. The Portuguese has been given Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku. He also brought in Nemanja Matic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. There have been no disasters, but none of them have been overwhelming successes, at least for now. In fairness, more will probably come from Pogba, Lukaku, Matic, Bailly and Lindelof, which is no bad strike rate.
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho with Manchester United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward and Sir Bobby CharltonReuters
But United still don’t have a senior right back. Pretending Antonio Valencia is a defender is succour only to Woodward. They have only two decent central defenders, and no left-back who can be trusted. No midfielder to replace Matic or Pogba when necessary. They have three wingers, some of whom double as strikers. Mourinho asked for more defenders and he asked for more wingers. Woodward has left him with Luke Shaw, Smalling and Jones. He delivered no winger.
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There are problems at United, some created by Mourinho. He is too conservative when he has most of his players available. His public aggression works for him as often as it backfires. It seems his approach to attacking is to hope sticking lots of good players together does enough. He has not coached his substandard players to improve at all. None of this is close to the misery achieved under Moyes or Van Gaal. And there is no alternative who is both available and who would reliably improve things.
Manchester United's English defender Chris Smalling attends a press conference on the eve of the UEFA Champions League Group A football match between FC Basel and Manchester United on November 21, 2017 in Basel.Getty Images
Woodward, though, is happy to keep Mourinho guessing as to what his future is. Whether he will get more players, and whether he will get a new contract. It is he who has overseen five years that have left the fans restless, and United are no longer the dominant Premier League name. He has a decision to make.
Ultimately only he can give a manager what he asks for, given he cites the huge amounts of money he continues to make, and allow Mourinho to keep his momentum headed in the right direction. Or he can force him to live on relative rations with the knowledge this will lead to under-performance. A loss of form will sink any manager who doesn’t have the resources to overcome short and medium problems, all the while trying to address deeper woes.
On the evidence, we should assume Woodward will not back Mourinho as happened with his last two managers, and that the same cycle of poor squad management will take down any manager that succeeds him. The double Champions League winner has made plenty of mistakes, but despite the consecutive 2-2 draws against Leicester and now Burnley, it would be another mistake to believe that he is anywhere close to being the main culprit for United’s problems.