It’s like clockwork; regular and predictable. After Manchester United’s underwhelming transfer window, reports have surfaced once more about the club intending to hire a director of football.
If it feels like history repeating itself then you’ll be forgiven, as it seems like an almost exact replica of last season.
The following was reported by Simon Stone of the BBC :
“Former players Darren Fletcher and Rio Ferdinand spoke to executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward a number of weeks ago.
Although it is understood there has been no further face-to-face contact, Woodward has kept the pair in the loop over changes to the timescale for an appointment.
No offer has been made and it is thought the role would not involve negotiating with or signing transfer targets.”
The mess is considerably worse than that. We were informed that Fletcher was offered the job and believed he had it; only to not be offered a contract as Woodward went quiet on formal communication.
The indecision on this front is entirely reflective of how the summer transfer window went; from the protracted negotiations for Aaron Wan-Bissaka, the head-scratcher of the delay for the Harry Maguire transfer and the ridiculous nature of the Dybala and Eriksen negotiations.
United have been ‘in talks’ for every week of the window but needed at least three more signings if they wanted to genuinely improve and not be arguably in a worse shape than this time last year.
Everton’s refusal to buy Marcos Rojo, whilst at the same time spending £40m on Alex Iwobi of Arsenal, gives some indication of how other clubs see United’s squad dross. One report this week suggested Woodward had set prohibitive transfer fees because he didn’t want the club to be seen as weak after the low fees they received for Nani and Rafael. It works in the case of Paul Pogba and David De Gea. It worked for Lukaku and only Antonio Conte’s desperation to sign him saved Ole Solskjaer with a tremendous headache moving forward.
But at the other end of the scale, Rojo remains at Old Trafford. As does Phil Jones, as does Matteo Darmian, as does Nemanja Matic, amongst others. As does Alexis Sanchez, the single biggest headache for negotiations for incoming players or renewal of contracts. Sanchez will be behind 17 year old Mason Greenwood in the pecking order. If he couldn’t be given away, then he has no place at Old Trafford, and should have had his contract cancelled.
United have not only underwhelmed in this summer’s window but they will be made to pay the consequences for it moving forward, just as they are for last summer’s fiasco. It goes back further, of course; since Ferguson’s retirement, United have had a power struggle at the top and one person always wins. But this is not about transfers. It’s not even about the Glazers.
Last year the immediate noises following the window were about a sporting director, a technical director or the ilk. It never happened, and those bigger names on the continent went elsewhere, suggesting Woodward was never really serious about it.
When those talks became more serious, names which did not excite supporters were mentioned. Like Ole Solskjaer, they were names that wouldn’t be dismissed by fans, because of the loyalty shown to them. So Ferdinand and Fletcher, with their inexperience, would at least be welcomed as a former player who ‘gets’ the club and would ostensibly serve as a buffer between Solskjaer and Woodward.
But that’s the point. They wouldn’t be a buffer; they would be just another cog in the chain of command which is led by one person making the decisions. Ferdinand and Fletcher have been held on over the summer and ought to have already aired their reservations about the pointless delay.
Fletcher may expect to have the promise honoured in the coming weeks. But it will only complicate matters if the team — as feared — begin this season as they ended the last.
Woodward could expect outcry if he dismissed Solskjaer this season. He should be expecting it on Sunday anyway. But imagine doing that and having Fletcher still there? The speculation will be that Fletcher will become manager. If not, he would be expected to work with whatever whim takes Woodward’s fancy that particular month.
The influence he has over footballing matters is not only unhealthy, it is toxic to the club’s health. The Harry Maguire saga shows just how much influence he has and how destructive that can be.
There is no excuse for Jose Mourinho behaving the way he did after last summer but we know for certain how much to blame Woodward was. A manager should be allowed to succeed and fail by their own decisions but at Manchester United, that success and failure is influenced and determined by the man working above him.
A director of football in whatever name it arrives would not fix matters while the man at the top is the same. And the concerns about the manner in which Louis van Gaal was dismissed, and the process of giving Jose Mourinho a new contract, then refusing to back him and firing him within months of that agreement, should serve as red flags for Solskjaer.
His hands are not quite tied — United have scale for improvement, thanks to how poor they underperformed last season — but should they regress again this campaign, one man will ultimately pay the price. Unfortunately for United and their supporters it will be the wrong man, and the cycle will continue.