A dark, ominous cloud looms over Old Trafford with under a week remaining in the transfer window.
Tensions are at an all-time high for Manchester United after failing to record a win in their second straight match following a 1-1 draw with Sunderland this past Sunday.
Hope was abundant for the 20-time champions of England when Louis van Gaal was named successor to David Moyes four months ago, but the rot continues for United, as the team’s performance in their first two matches suggests an obvious lack of quality and depth all over the pitch.
Step forward United fans’ public enemy one, executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
While Chelsea and Arsenal were busy signing world-class stars such as Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas, and Alexis Sanchez and rivals Liverpool haplessly burned through their Suarez money by throwing it at seemingly any player who has ever exhibited an ounce of footballing ability this summer, Manchester United remained suspiciously dormant.
Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw were both welcome additions early on, but while transfer stories continued to persist regarding the likes of Arturo Vidal and other worldly talents making their way to the red side of Manchester, Ed Woodward’s inactivity became frighteningly more apparent by the day.
The lack of urgency from Ed Woodward in this transfer window has been startling: anybody who has watched Manchester United in the past year recognizes that the club needs reinforcements if it is to achieve its stated goal of returning to the Champions League. Did Woodward really need to witness a disheartening effort against Swansea City to know that Chris Smalling and Tyler Blackett aren’t good enough to start for a title-contending side?
Louis van Gaal has reportedly grown frustrated over Woodward’s inability to close on his desired targets (despite comments from Van Gaal about requiring time to properly assess his new team). A prime example of United’s baffling sluggishness in the transfer market came in the form of Barcelona’s Thomas Vermaelen, the former Arsenal defender who was thought to be high on Van Gaal’s wish list.
According to ESPN FC’s Miguel Delaney, “The bottom line from those close to the Belgian’s camp is that, with a bit a more urgency, a bit more proactivity and a bit more nous, the player could have been at Old Trafford a while ago. That message has become something of a refrain.”
Ed Woodward hasn’t done himself any favors at the negotiating table either, having issued several compromising statements to the media since the beginning of United’s preseason tour.
“The reality is that we’re not afraid of spending significant amounts of money in the transfer market,” Woodward declared. “Whether it’s a record or not doesn’t really resonate with us. What resonates is an elite player that the manager wants who is going to be a star for Manchester United.”
Woodward’s boast might serve as encouragement for fans and sponsors alike, but his mouth will likely cost United millions as sellers put his words to the test. Not to mention that Woodward is already under the gun having infamously told Red Devil fans to “watch this space,” something rivals clubs will bear in mind when the executive vice-chairmen attempts to complete any eleventh hour deals.
What’s most disturbing about United’s transfer conundrum is the resemblance it bears to last summer’s fiasco.
On deadline day, a deal for Ander Herrera fell through after United decided not to meet the Spanish midfielder’s buyout clause and descended into farce after the club asserted that the three lawyers who had been working on the deal were imposters (they turned out to be prominent local lawyers acting with United’s authorization). Marouane Fellaini was purchased for £27.5 million, a whopping £4 million more than what his expired buyout clause at Everton had amounted to a month previously. Earlier in the month, United were openly derided by Everton for launching a £28 million joint bid for Fellaini and Leighton Baines. The Red Devils also failed to complete a late deal with Real Madrid to bring in Fabio Coentrao on loan.
This transfer window is already shaping up in a similar fashion (with the only difference being that United will actually sign more than one player) as Woodward races against the clock to tie up last second deals. Marcos Rojo was bought from Benfica after difficult, protracted negotiations involving a third party owner, while Angel di Maria will become a United player after Woodward offered an exorbitant fee to sign the midfielder from Real Madrid. Expect to see United bring in two or three more players from Louis van Gaal’s B-list of targets before the deadline as well at greatly inflated figures.
Ed Woodward could escape this summer’s transfer window with some dignity intact following the Di Maria signing and might even be exempt from some criticism, if he were to somehow swing a deal for Arturo Vidal, but there is no doubt that he needs to change his approach. Woodward’s boisterousness and lack of urgency when it comes to the transfer market threaten to hinder Louis van Gaal’s rebuilding efforts and undermine any sort of wage structure at Old Trafford. Woodward’s activity in the past three transfer windows has become symbolic of the dysfunctional post-Ferguson Manchester United that rarely ceases to amaze.
If Manchester United is to start competing for trophies again, Ed Woodward needs to stop being the problem in transfer negotiations and become the solution.