Ken Early: Woodward could go the way of Moyes at Manchester United

Van Gaal won’t accept failure to add quality players to squad

Manchester United assistant manager Ryan Giggs speaks to Louis van Gaal  during Saturday’s defeat to Swansea. Photograp: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Manchester United assistant manager Ryan Giggs speaks to Louis van Gaal during Saturday’s defeat to Swansea. Photograp: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Mon, Aug 18, 2014, 12:00

‘I see something amazing every day, whether it’s an email or a story about how we are, beyond doubt, the biggest sports team in the world. What we do has a ripple effect around the world.”

So Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward told the United We Stand fanzine in an interview published last February. The 43-year-old Woodward is part of the first generation of football chief executives that knows how to use the internet.

If Woodward’s sensitive media antennae quiver with pleasure whenever he gets an email telling him United are the biggest sports team in the world, one imagines with sympathy their agonised twitchings on Saturday, as United became the focus of a worldwide paroxysm of hilarity.

Woodward saw the pressure of failing at Old Trafford transform David Moyes from ambitious up-and-comer to planetary whipping boy. The bad news is that if things don’t improve, the next name in line to become a global byword for failure is “Woodward”.

Last month, Woodward boasted that United would have no problem breaking the British transfer record.

At the time it probably felt good to be telling people what they wanted to hear, but you wonder how many times Woodward has since regretted those words. He has signed a record kit deal with Adidas and a record shirt sponsorship deal with General Motors, but he has not yet signed a single one of Louis van Gaal’s transfer targets. United have signed two senior players this summer: fewer than any other club in the Premier League.

It was impossible to watch United losing to Swansea on Saturday without wondering how a club that never stops talking about its financial strength could have allowed itself to start the season with such a weak squad.

If everyone had been fit, Van Gaal could have cobbled together a more convincing team - but if everyone were always fit, there wouldn’t be any need for 25-man squads. In the event United were missing nine players, forcing Van Gaal to include two debutants and play Ashley Young out of position.


One of the debutants, Tyler Blackett, set Swansea on the way to their winning goal, eagerly passing the ball back to Wilfried Bony so he could take the quick free kick that put United on the back foot. Then Young, who understandably lacks any defensive instincts, was caught under a cross as Swansea worked the ball to the goalscorer, Gylfi Sigurdsson.

The result was embarrassing for Van Gaal, who came to United on the crest of a wave of hype unprecedented in English football history. No manager arriving in England has ever received such universal acclaim before his first competitive match.

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