Ed Woodward was a commercial genius but a footballing flop

Ed Woodward was a commercial genius but a footballing flop… as the curtain falls on his Manchester United reign, the Super League fiasco is a fitting end to an era of Premier League failure and terrible transfers

  • Ed Woodward has announced his resignation as Manchester United chief
  • He leaves at the season’s end, ending eight years in the role and 16 at the club
  • Woodward’s reign has brought in unprecedented commercial success
  • But United have won just three trophies in his time – and no Premier League titles 

Sixteen years after he advised the Glazers on their takeover of Manchester United, Ed Woodward’s association with the club he supported as a child is nearly over.

As the Super League fell apart on Tuesday night, the 49-year-old’s bombshell resignation was announced – though United insist he was always leaving at the end of the season – ending eight years in charge of the running of the club, after he stepped up to replace David Gill in 2013. 

Woodward has earned a cool £21million in those eight years – though his overall earnings will be considerably higher for the 16-year-period.

He has often been the target of fans’ frustrations at the Glazers’ ownership and the team’s performances, most notably when his Cheshire home was attacked in January, but he has also presided over the most successful period commercially in the club’s history.

Here, Sportsmail looks at the good, the bad and the ugly of Woodward’s reign… 

Ed Woodward with Jose Mourinho after he appointed the Portuguese as manager in 2016

David Gill (left) chats to his successor Woodward at an FA Cup tie at Shrewsbury

Though his title of executive vice-chairman has always seemed unnecessarily convoluted, Woodward is in essence the club’s chief executive. The buck stops with him on all of Manchester United’s operations, with the Glazers keeping a safe distance away in America from a fanbase who loathe them.

With a background as an investment banker with JP Morgan, Woodward was expected to help the club thrive commercially – and he has certainly not disappointed. His genius has been in uncoupling sporting performance from commercial success by signing long-term sponsorship deals.

The most significant of those was the pioneering seven-year shirt deal with Chevrolet, signed in 2014, which has brought the club in nearly £400m – at £52m a year – plus a six-month extension signed last year. 

Woodward with (L-R) Joel and Avram Glazer as United are listed on the stock exchange in 2012

Arguably more impressive than that was the shirt sponsorship deal signed with little-known German tech firm TeamViewer this year. Though it is smaller than the Chevrolet deal at £47m per year over five years, in the context of the pandemic it has been deemed a masterstroke to identify a new partner in an untapped market.

The raft of smaller sponsorship deals Woodward has signed United up for have brought the club ridicule on social media, but they are another example of his industry-leading thinking when it comes to the financial side of football – and all add to the overall value of the club. United now have 23 global partners listed on their website, from Chevrolet and Adidas, to Cadbury and Chivas. 

Manchester United legend Sir Bobby Charlton chats with Woodward on the Old Trafford pitch

The Glazers will certainly view Woodward’s eight-year reign as a success, with United’s share price now up at $16.54 (£11.88). It was even higher than that last month, when Avram Glazer made up to $100m from selling five million shares – though of course that is of no benefit to the club or its fans. 

The total value of Manchester United is now thought to be a staggering £3billion, which Woodward will point to as his main achievement as he steps aside. 

THE BAD

Though Woodward’s commercial success at United is undeniable and unprecedented, his attempt to run both the financial and the footballing side of the club has been a major factor in one of the least successful periods in its history.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure in 2013 was the main catalyst for United’s demise, though Woodward has been central to everything that has gone wrong since. Fergie’s grip on signings and football matters was so strong that he was in essence United’s director of football – especially in his latter years when he became less involved in the day-to-day coaching. 

Woodward alongside Sir Alex Ferguson – who he effectively replaced in football operations

UNITED’S 10 MOST EXPENSIVE SIGNINGS 

1 Paul Pogba (£89m, 2016)

2 Harry Maguire (£80m, 2019)

3 Romelu Lukaku (£75m, 2017)

4 Bruno Fernandes (£68m*, 2020)

5 Angel Di Maria (£60m, 2014)

6 Anthony Martial (£58m*, 2015)

7 Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£50m, 2019)

8 Fred (£47m, 2018)

9 Nemanja Matic (£40m, 2017)

10 Juan Mata (£31m, 2014)

*with add-ons 

This meant that Ferguson left not only a huge void in the dugout and dressing room, but one off the pitch too – one which Woodward has tried and failed to fill. The facts bear it out: in his eight years in charge at United, they have won just three major trophies – the FA Cup in 2016 and the Europa League and League Cup in 2017. In the eight years before he took on the role, United won nine major trophies, including five Premier League titles and the Champions League. 

Woodward oddly boasted of his investment of nearly £1bn in the team in his leaving statement, though the majority of the signings that make up that amount have failed to live up to their price tag. United’s 10 most expensive signings have all been made by Woodward, with only Bruno Fernandes’ £68m arrival last year being an undeniably good piece of business. Harry Maguire (£80m), Paul Pogba (£89m), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£50m), Fred (£47m) and Anthony Martial (£58m) have all performed reasonably well, but all have some way to go before they can totally justify Woodward’s outlays. 

To an extent, Woodward has been the victim of his own commercial success when it comes to the transfer market. While rivals have always known United can go that bit higher than most clubs, selling clubs were able to exploit Woodward’s lack of footballing nous in the transfer market, particularly early on in his reign – most notably Real Madrid when £60m flop Angel Di Maria arrived in 2014. 

The £60m signing of Angel Di Maria would prove to be Woodward’s most expensive flop

Woodward has got better at his footballing decisions as time has passed, and that has borne out in his managerial choices. David Moyes was not his appointment, though he arguably sacked him too early, and he made a colossal misjudgement in appointing Louis van Gaal and letting him splash the cash. While Jose Mourinho improved things and brought Woodward two trophies, he was another manager whose best days were behind him, while the punt on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been a relative success so far – though it has not yielded any silverware yet.

Woodward has had to learn the football side of things on the job. United have been crying out for a director of football to help him and transfer negotiator Matt Judge for the last eight years. That man was finally appointed earlier this year, with John Murtough now football director and Darren Fletcher working as technical director under him, allowing Woodward and his successor to focus solely on the finances. Unfortunately for United fans, the restructuring has come eight years too late.

Woodward with then-United manager David Moyes as Wayne Rooney signs a new deal in 2014

Louis van Gaal (C) is unveiled as United manager in 2014 with Ryan Giggs as his assistant

THE UGLY

Woodward has tried his best to wash his hands of the Super League since its collapse, but he was a key part in its creation and it will be part of his legacy –  whether he likes it or not.

Wanting greater and guaranteed revenues, United chiefs led the way with Real Madrid and Juventus in the attempted creation of a new European competition to oust the Champions League and destroy the football pyramid. 

United chairman Joel Glazer put his name to the statements announcing its creation and was a key driver behind it – along with Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, Juventus president Andrea Agnelli and Glazer’s American friends at Liverpool and Arsenal – but JP Morgan’s £3.5bn financial backing of the breakaway has Woodward written all over it.

Woodward announced his resignation amid the fallout from the failed Super League project

At best, he was complicit and helped in the planning, at worst he was an integral cog in the greedy project. Either way, Woodward showed a total misunderstanding of football and what it means to fans, focusing instead on revenue opportunities.

UEFA president has Aleksander Ceferin called Woodward and Agnelli ‘snakes’ and ‘liars’, and has detailed a phonecall which he had with Woodward just days before the Super League’s reveal, when the United chief insisted he was behind the new Champions League reforms.  

The failure of Woodward’s resignation statement to even mention the Super League –  while insisting he was always leaving at the end of the season – coupled with Joel Glazer’s apology is an attempt to deflect the blame away from the executive vice-chairman, but whole saga summed up Woodward’s United reign. 

He shot for the moon based on his knowledge of finances, but missed by lightyears because of his lack of understanding of football. 




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