Champions’ ambition called into question after deadline-day farce
More needed from Old Trafford hierarchy if farce not to be reapeated as tragedy
Manchester United manager David Moyes on the touchline during the Premier League defeat to Liverpool at Anfield
Before they do so they will look back, if not in anger then certainly with regret, at a summer of missed opportunities that culminated in 24 hours of transfer deadline-day farce. Amid continued questions about where it all went wrong for the Premier League champions, down a succession of blind alleys and with a string of embarrassing rebuffs, it is understood they will dust themselves down and begin identifying players they want to bring in during the next window.
Meanwhile, the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust is seeking a meeting with Woodward to discuss issues likely to include the club’s ambition to compete with Europe’s best.
Moyes, for all his public stoicism, is likely to be privately concerned about the club’s failure to land major targets and will be unwilling to see this summer’s farce replayed as tragedy. The club’s disastrous summer was summed up by their deadline-day humiliation.
The pair will take joint responsibility, with Moyes forced to continue to dead-bat questions in public as Woodward waits to make his first pronouncements in his vice-chairman’s role, but in truth it is not the manager who must shoulder the larger share of the blame. Beyond Woodward, the Glazer family is responsible for the fact that United went into the summer with a new manager and a new man at the helm in the boardroom.
The fallout continued yesterday when it emerged that the delegation that arrived at the offices of the Spanish league on Monday night expecting to finalise the purchase of Athletic Bilbao’s Ander Herrera were far from imposters or pranksters initially suggested.
In fact they were experienced lawyers who, Spanish league sources claimed, were working on behalf of United. Adding to the malaise of confusion, Old Trafford insiders continued to insist they were acting without authorisation.
In any case, under the Spanish system it would have been incumbent on the player to meet his release clause. United will have known the size of the clause and should have been fully aware that Bilbao would not let Herrera go for any less.
Instead they continued to try and haggle to the end as Bilbao held firm. Finally, there was still time for one last embarrassment as a loan deal for Real Madrid’s Portuguese left-back Fabio Coentrao fell through after the Spanish club failed to secure a replacement. As with their other transfer-window dealings, it made United look indecisive and ill-informed.
Thiago Alcantara, Daniele De Rossi, Luka Modric and, it emerged yesterday, Galatasaray’s Wesley Sneijder were considered but remained beyond reach.
The tone was set earlier in the summer with the failed pursuit of Cesc Fabregas. United were led up the garden path amid a succession of bids that went nowhere.
In the middle of all that, Woodward cancelled a scheduled media appearance to return from United’s tour of Australia on “urgent transfer business” that failed to materialise.
Amid recriminations over a summer of transfer dealing to forget for Woodward, the former investment banker who masterminded Manchester United’s exponential commercial growth before taking over from David Gill on July 1st, there will be renewed questions over the Glazers’ succession policy.
Delicate balance upset
The balance that worked so well in the latter years of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign despite the onerous financial demands of the Glazer business model, with Woodward effectively running the business side of the club from London and Gill overseeing football matters from Manchester, has been upset.
Some are already openly wondering whether United would not have been better off appointing an experienced European director of football, as at Manchester City and Spurs, to fill the gap between Moyes and Woodward.
Elsewhere, Maurice Watkins, the club’s experienced lawyer, stepped down as a director a year ago.
Although United’s transfer policy has often come under intense scrutiny during the Glazer years, from the odd bum note (Bebe) to a lack of money to spend, the deals that were concluded tended to be wrapped up speedily and efficiently. The change in approach has not gone unnoticed.
“It has looked a bit odd . . . There seems to have been a change in policy in terms of how much information we disclose in advance of any deal,” said Duncan Drasdo, chief executive of the supporters’ trust. “It makes it look as though we have failed in the pursuit of a number of players.”
This summer, Woodward was the victim of a combination of bad luck and bad judgment. Despite his obvious negotiating skills, he is new to the rarified air of the top end of the European transfer market.
Gripped by paralysis
Still controlled by a handful of executives and so-called “super agents”, Woodward’s outsider status will not have helped. It is not unusual for even seasoned executives to be gripped by a kind of paralysis as they recoil from the almost obscene sums at play.
But the defiant message from inside Old Trafford, as they picked through the bones of a frenzied conclusion to a window that has dented the pride of the Premier League champions, was that their priorities had been achieved.