“Selling the diamonds.”
This is Edward Gareth Woodward’s way of summarizing what he does for the Manchester United worldwide brand. His somewhat innocuous rise to the top of the biggest footballing franchise in the world started during the clubs most controversial time – the leveraged forceful takeover by the wealthy owners of American Football’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Glazer Family.
Woodward at the time was working for J.P. Morgan & Co as an accountant and tax advisor. He qualified as a Chartered Accountant out of the University of Bristol but his main studies had been Physics. Because the takeover of the club was so incredibly complicated, Woodward was assigned to the case by his employers. The deal, which was almost dead, was resurrected by Woodward in Superman-like fashion. His exploits in securing the deal for the Glazers earned him a position in the new regime – a “financial planning” role.
At the time, David Gill was in charge of the footballing operations for Manchester United and he, of course, worked closely with Sir Alex Ferguson. Manchester United, despite the takeover massacre, would now enter some of its most fruitful years on the pitch, winning 3 Premier League titles in a row and the Champions League. Meanwhile, off the pitch, there was a shift of power taking place. David Gill was growing further away from the Glazers, speaking to them only once a week, while Woodward was speaking to the American owners on a daily basis. On top of that, Woodward was adding to the bottom line with sponsors in a way that had never been done – with the players themselves and with the club badge.
Because of this (adding to the bottom line) Woodward was given the top spot after David Gill left and was ready to send United into another galaxy as he worked with the greatest manager ever. But it wasn’t to be. To Woodward’s shock, Ferguson retired just as he was stepping into the job. What Woodward did take from the relationship between Gill and Ferguson was an understanding that to make transfers happen these two positions needed to be completely in sync. This was cruelly exposed when a deal for Thiago Alcantara was prepared and ready behind the scenes but the manager and his staff dithered on the ball. Eventually it was decided that he was not Manchester United quality and much of Woodward’s hard work and best laid plans were destroyed. The blame fully fell at the feet of the top man at United.
Fast forward a couple of years and some top deals have been accomplished with Woodward and Van Gaal as a team. With Memphis Depay set to sign with PSG, a phone call from his former National Team manager changed the pacey wingers mind and a deal for the young goal scorer was secured rather quickly. Woodward has also carefully forged a relationship with football’s most powerful agent, Jorge Mendes. Deals for Angel DiMaria and Radamel Falcao may not have been possible without that relationship.
Woodward has been forced to learn on the job and has had his failures and his successes. Like many who can hide away when things don’t go as planned, Woodward is in the limelight and on the lips of United supporters constantly. There are few to sing his praises on Social Media and in the news, but behind the scenes he is a well-liked man. It’s been said the Manchester United offices are a better place to be with him in charge, whereas under Gill and Ferguson it was a much more tense place. His bosses see the value he has brought to United and there doesn’t seem to be a chance any change will come at the top of the boardroom at United. Despite all this, there are a few things Woodward could do to change how he is perceived among the millions of United fans around the world (including those in Manchester).
First, he could take on an advisor – someone he could work with closely that would allow him room to voice footballing ideas and receive necessary feedback from a “footballing” man. Woodward is not a footballing man and was looking forward to learning from Sir Alex Fergsuon. The two still speak often but it is not the same as having someone at the club focused on the club. An official Footballing Director would be a great plan, but if not, someone to help Woodward in making key decisions when it comes to player transfers, the Academy, and the future of the footballing side of Manchester United would be ideal. Without the trophies, the sponsorships will die away one at a time.
Second, he must continue to pursue the top names in football (Neymar, Messi, Ronaldo, Muller, Bale, etc.), but he must also use his footballing advisor to better find the quality players United need to fill the gaps. This seems to be the toughest job as “selling” United to sponsors is easier with players like Neymar and Bale in your squad. However, constantly pursuing them and failing leaves the United squad open and vulnerable to the hits that are sure to come in a long footballing season in England.
Third, something must be done about the current failings in the Academy at Manchester United. If any club is known for promoting its youngsters and “winning with kids,” it would be Manchester United. But with no replacement for Brian McClair yet and City taking the initiative with their Academy, United seem to be behind the 8 ball – not something we are used to. These wrongs must be rectified and a focus on bringing through our home grown youngsters must once again take a prominent place at the Manchester United table.
Fourth, Woodward must find a way to restore the faith of the United faithful in the hierarchy of the club. With the hundreds of millions of Pounds that have been snatched from the club to pay outrageous sums of interest, the supporters of the club have been robbed of their club. The focus has been shifting for a number of years away from football on the pitch to football off of it. If Woodward could somehow restore these areas back to items of prominence at the club, our football planning off the pitch will result in fantastic football on the pitch.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, Woodward must pursue Pep Guardiola 100%. Ego’s must be laid aside. Guardiola may end up at Manchester City (if he does, proper respect to them for that), but not pursuing him because you don’t want to be seen like you’ve lost wreaks of too much ego and not enough love for the club! Restoring Manchester United to the heights of world football on the pitch means obtaining the best manager on the planet – Pep Guardiola. If we are the biggest footballing brand on the planet, no player or manager is out of reach. It isn’t always going to work out, but not trying is always worse than failing.
Woodward is in a position of prominence and must put ego aside to achieve the greater good – glory on the pitch for Manchester United. If he does this, his pursuit of sponsors off the pitch will never have been easier.