Ed Woodward's transfer window pain

Romelu Lukaku finally won his one-man battle to extricate himself from Old Trafford, Manchester United only losing £2m (€2.2m) on a player for whom they paid £75m two years ago, even if he left with a rebuke from Gary Neville ringing in his ears.

Ed Woodward's transfer window pain

Romelu Lukaku finally won his one-man battle to extricate himself from Old Trafford, Manchester United only losing £2m (€2.2m) on a player for whom they paid £75m two years ago, even if he left with a rebuke from Gary Neville ringing in his ears.

“He admitted he was overweight,” tweeted the former United star. “He is over 100kg! He is a Manchester United player. He will score goals and do well at Inter Milan but unprofessionalism is contagious.”

Lukaku’s toxic summer with United had come to symbolise the dysfunctional club that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is trying to pull together after the excesses and vitriol of the Jose Mourinho era, although it is a measure of that task that the rookie manager faces arguably bigger problems ahead in dealing with Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez.

But, at least, on this one occasion, the departure of an unhappy and disruptive, high-profile player marked something of a success for United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward in a summer in which the Old Trafford executive hardly covered himself, or his club, in glory.

Woodward missed United’s pre-season tour to Australia and the Far East precisely to oversee a vital summer of rebuilding at the club following the demoralising collapse that marred the end of last season.

The early pointers had been promising, with Crystal Palace right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Swansea midfielder Dan James having been picked up early and for apparently reasonable fees, even if questions remain as to whether those positions were Solskjaer’s greatest priorities.

And then… nothing.

Critics of Woodward — and, by now, that features the vast majority of United supporters — point to a lack of vision, a seemingly haphazard approach to the market and, for a man with a peerless resume in the business world, an inability and curious unwillingness to clinch the big deal.

Leicester never wavered from their insistence that it would take £80m for them to sell England defender Harry Maguire, a figure that even scared off Manchester City. After manoeuvring behind the scenes for months in a bid to shave something off the ticket price, Woodward eventually folded and completed the deal six days before the start of the new season… for precisely the fee Leicester had initially set.

Admittedly, some of the chaos that has swirled around United’s transfer activity has been the result of mischief-making by agents who have used the media to generate artificial markets for their clients.

For example, United had no interest in the Portuguese midfielder Bruno Fernandes, who had been linked with Tottenham, but his agent consistently leaked stories to the press in Italy and Portugal that Woodward was negotiating with Sporting Lisbon in an attempt to rise prices and force Spurs into action.

But an equal amount of United’s incompetence and inertia in the summer window has been the result of Woodward’s continued failings as a football negotiator and transfer tsar.

The most glaring United weakness in that department remains the lack of structure at Old Trafford, with United the only club who leave their transfer business to a commercial, financial expert rather than a football figure.

It was suggested that United would rectify that glaring fault, following the December departure of Mourinho, with talk of a director of football role being implemented, a person who could form a bridge between the admittedly brilliant commercial leaders employed by the Glazer family and Solskjaer’s football department.

Former United player Darren Fletcher, a particularly bright and universally liked figure at United and around the industry, was even sounded out about the role, only for the Glazers and Woodward to do precisely nothing. Woodward did restructure United’s academy this summer, under Solskjaer’s guidance, but the most obvious flaw at the club remains unaddressed.

All of which has left Woodward, and his right-hand man and chief negotiator Matt Judge, curiously dependent on individual agents to conduct their business, usually with predictable results. Jorge Mendes and Mino Raoila have brought plenty of talented individuals to Old Trafford on Woodward’s watch — at stratospheric costs — but whether the club is in a healthier position because of that remains a major doubt.

All of which has left this as a curiously un-satisfying summer transfer window for United supporters.

Maguire is clearly an upgrade at centre-half and will start the season as first-choice alongside Victor Lindelof, but United already had six senior central defenders when they signed him and Woodward will now try and sell Marcos Rojo before the European transfer window closes at the start of September.

Wan-Bissaka, too, is the best right-back at the club but he is one of four specialist right-backs, along with Ashley Young, Diogo Dalot, and Matteo Darmian, the last of whom is another player Woodward needs to offload.

Indeed, selling unwanted players is another important part of the football negotiator role that Woodward has yet to master, as he discovered this summer when he tested the water and tried to create a market for his club’s best-paid player Alexis Sanchez.

While Woodward cannot be held solely responsible for the disastrous signing of the Chilean forward 18 months ago, the fact that even City, again, baulked at his £500,000 a week salary should have been a warning sign.

The arrival of Sanchez shattered United’s wage structure and has created numerous knock-on problems, from goalkeeper David de Gea’s demands in the contract extension talks that are still to be officially resolved to the fact that Paulo Dybala was demanding upwards of £350,000 a week when he spoke to Woodward about a possible move from Juventus last week.

Dybala, of course, formed part of a complicated deal that Woodward was attempting to put together to send Lukaku in the opposite direction although that whole episode tended to point to the lack of vision and aim in his transfer dealings.

Woodward initially insisted that Lukaku would not be sold, that he would only leave in exchange for a high-level replacement in order to maintain numbers in Solskjaer’s squad.

Dybala was the initial target although the attention soon switched to his Juve teammate Mario Mandzukic — a totally different player at a totally different stage of his career — with reports at one stage suggesting both players would form part of the deal.

Ultimately, neither did; Lukaku left for Inter and nobody joined United.

To many, it sounded a little too much like punters throwing around names as they compiled superstar squads for a fantasy football competition rather than the man making the most important decisions at the most important football club in the world.

Still, in one area Woodward remains undisputed king. United will soon announce their annual operating figures in which their revenues are expected to burst through the £600m barrier for the first time.

That, sadly, appears to be all that matters to the club’s owners, the Glazers, and that appears certain to keep Woodward in his position of authority for some time to come.

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