Ed Woodward is a divisive figure among Manchester United fans. Formerly a man who seemed completely out of his depth when it came to getting transfer deals done, he went through a resurrection of sorts over the last 2 summers. But it is his handling of the non-sale of David de Gea that may prove to be his greatest contribution to the club.
The Woodward era has not been smooth sailing by any means, resembling a rollercoaster more often than not. There were the ups of signing world class superstars Angel di Maria and Bastian Schweinsteiger, the clearing of deadwood and then, there were the considerable downs of unnecessarily paying an extra £4 million for Marouane Fellaini or missing out on Pedro.
Woodward first became The Man of a Thousand Memes through a showing of incompetence rarely seen during the Ferguson era. Who could forget the disastrous summer of 2013? The Ander Herrera debacle, the Fellaini debacle, the Thiago Alcantara deb… you get the picture.
Basically an entire summer spent reminding fans that we were in for a bumpy ride in the post-Fergie era.
However, this summer was different, the pre-window acquisition of Memphis Depay, one of Europe’s most exciting young talents, and the quick signing of Morgan Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger, fixing a long-standing central midfield problem, allowed United fans to cautiously consider a change of opinion.
He seemed to have learned from his mistakes, the decisiveness and speed of his predecessor David Gill’s dealings looked to be repeated. Throw in Matteo Darmian for around £12m, at a bargain price, and Woody was on the cusp of completing an improbable turnaround in the eyes of the fans.
But before we fully embrace the man labelled “The Wolf of Old Trafford”, it should be remembered that this is someone pivotal in the Glazers’ acquisition of the club. The former investment banker advised on the purchase that loaded immense amount of debt on the club. His effect on the club has been significant raises in revenue but at the cost of, among other things, increased ticket prices.
The selling of naming rights for the club’s training ground and numerous obscure sponsorship deals further emphasise that Woodward sees United as a business first, football club second.
Let’s not forget that United now have a “official global noodle partner” because of Woodward. It puts more pennies in the Old Trafford coffers but it also adds to the soulless, corporate feel surrounding the club.
Because of his past actions it seems certain that Woodward will always attract suspicion.
However the way in which he has stood up to Real Madrid over the David De Gea situation is admirable, and the benefits of making life extremely hard for Florentino Perez may be seen for years to come. Woodward’s refusal to bow to Madrid was the right course of action even if it ends up costing the club £29m for one season of de Gea’s service. Taking a hit with regards to money now may mean United holding on to a superstar in the future.
Madrid is a club that get what they want. The history and financial attraction is something that United can match but for many European and Latin American players Madrid represents a pull that even United cannot equal.
Maybe it’s the weather, the quality of life or the opportunity to satisfy nagging girlfriends but there is level of trepidation that enters every United fan’s stomach when they hear a player being linked with Real.
Imagine this scenario. In the not too distant future, Memphis or new signing Anthony Martial have fulfilled their considerable potential and are considered among the best players in the world. Then, following a poor season, the Madrid president decides he needs a new Galactico to spark a return to glory and begins to look longingly at Old Trafford.
Perez, or whoever succeeds him, would undoubtedly think back to the summer of 2015 when they were made to look like fools for leaving the de Gea transfer to the last minute and haggling over a few million. By standing up to the club which Ferguson once said he wouldn’t sell a virus, he has sent the message that United are not a club to be pushed around.
The situation can be seen at Tottenham; Daniel Levy is notorious for driving a hard bargain and either scaring off potential buyers or getting huge fees for his players. Levy forced Real to cough up a world record fee for Gareth Bale and you can be sure they will think twice about going in for a Spurs player in the near future.
Now Woodward has sent that message to the rest of the football superpowers; if you want a United player be prepared for a struggle.
Woodward is never going to be carried down Matt Busby Way, and it will be difficult to ever have total confidence in him no matter how many signings United make, but his refusal to be bullied by Real Madrid may mean holding on to our own Galacticos in the future and earn him some respect among fans.