Wednesday 24 April 2019

Woodward's problems are all of his own doing

Ed Woodward. Pic: Getty
Ed Woodward. Pic: Getty

Ed Woodward, Manchester United's executive vice-chairman, finds himself between a rock and a hard place, although it is a situation entirely of his own making. If you commit to a model that empowers the manager to call the shots in the transfer market, it is no good then turning around two years in - at a critical juncture after a season in which you have just finished 19 points behind the champions - and telling that person you will not back him because you are not keen on the targets he has identified.

If you believe the profile of targets the manager has chosen are largely short-term fixes that stand at odds with the club's desire to sign players with the longer term in mind, why appoint a manager such as Jose Mourinho in the first place and, moreover, why hand him a contract extension in January?

As Gary Neville articulated on Sky Sports on Monday, "the minute (Woodward) gave Mourinho a contract extension, he had to buy him centre-backs". Failure to do so ultimately demonstrated a lack of faith in Mourinho and, by extension, undermined him.

The result is a manager who feels unsupported and a board who, for all the declarations of public backing, know trust has been eroded. When trust erodes and relations break down, things usually end one way.

In that respect, is it worth keeping up the pretence in an unhappy, awkward marriage and the wider damage that has the potential to inflict? United are now seeking a technical director, although whether he would be given the power to drive the recruitment process is unclear.

Mourinho deserves plenty of the blame for the gloomy mood at Old Trafford and for what happens on the pitch, and Sunday's 3-2 defeat at Brighton was a good example of how even good players can look poor if self-belief evaporates. But no one should overlook Woodward's role in this mess.

The situation that materialised this summer would have been different if United operated a director of football/head coach model, in which the ultimate responsibility for signings sits with the director of football.

If Mourinho had signed up to that model, he would have known he might have been on a hiding to nothing trying to persuade the club to sign Leicester's Harry Maguire for a world-record fee for a defender or spend pounds 50 million on Tottenham's Toby Alderweireld, who turns 30 in March.

Mourinho has had a hard time stomaching being told he cannot sign the players he has plumped for, when his job description said he was in charge of that part of the business. United knew Mourinho's track record before they appointed him and this cuts to the heart of the issue - if you are to give a manager that much control, be sure that his philosophy chimes with that of the club. United now find themselves in a halfway house.

Mourinho is not a manager who loves cultivating raw talent. His players fit a certain prototype and when they do not he tends to have trouble managing them.

He admitted as much in Old Trafford Uncovered in May last year, when he said: "For me, what's more difficult [as a manager] is the fragile mentality. It's my weakness as a manager, that it's difficult for me to understand people with a different mentality to what I have. Sometimes I'm not able to feel attracted again [to the player]."

The pressure may be mounting on Mourinho. But it should be mounting on Woodward, too.

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