Ed Woodward, Manchester United fans and the inexcusable act of hooliganism

Last Tuesday saw a set of Manchester United supporters attack chief executive Ed Woodward’s house by launching flares in an act of inexcusable hooliganism.

It is no secret that Manchester United supporters and the club chief executive Ed Woodward have had a rocky relationship since the accountant took charge of the role back in 2013. The failed transfers, the lack of success, the general lack of direction that the club is heading in is a major reason of frustration within the club’s fans.

This had led to Woodward being booed and heckled at Old Trafford constantly, calls for his sacking have been relentless since the first year of his stint and more recently, a section of the fans even resorted to vile chants encouraging the 48-year-old’s death.

But, things escalated to a whole new level earlier this week when a few disgruntled fans wearing balaclavas took to attacking Woodward’s Cheshire home with flares. Thankfully, neither Woodward nor his family were present at the residence at the time of the attack, but this act of vandalism is repulsive and inexcusable.

Ed Woodward and Manchester United – The Beginning

Ed Woodward assisted the Glazers' take over of Manchester United (Photo Dario Cantatore/Getty Images via NYSE Euronext)
Ed Woodward assisted the Glazers’ takeover of Manchester United (Photo Dario Cantatore/Getty Images via NYSE Euronext)

An accountant and an investment banker, Ed Woodward played a key role in the Glazers’ takeover of Manchester United back in 2005 and has since been involved at the club in various capacities. Starting out as a financial advisor, he was then made in charge of the club’s commercial and media operations in 2007.

The man was responsible for many of United’s big sponsorship deals towards between 2007 and 2012, boosting the club’s revenue. So, when David Gill stepped down from the role of the CEO in 2013, Woodward, who had been made the executive vice-president of Manchester United a year before, was chosen as his successor.

Coming into the club at a time when two pillars of Manchester United’s success – David Gill and Sir Alex Ferguson – were moving on was never going to be easy and Woodward’s spell as the chief executive has been riddled with difficulties starting from his first transfer window in charge.

Transfers under Woodward: More misses than hits

Manchester United's transfer plans haven't been the most astute under Woodward (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Manchester United’s transfer plans haven’t been the most astute under Woodward (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

In his first summer window in charge, with manager David Moyes at the helm, Woodward chased shadows – a return for Cristiano Ronaldo that would never happen and Cesc Fabregas, who ended up joining Chelsea. In the end, Manchester United ended up signing only Marouane Fellaini on the deadline day, after having missed a chance to sign him at a cheaper fee earlier in the window.

The manager who followed Moyes a year later, Louis van Gaal, has been critical of the 48-year-old Woodward on a number of occasions – during and post his stint at Manchester United. The legendary Dutchman once taunted the chief executive to strike a balance between his commercial sponsorship deals and player transfers.

His successor Jose Mourinho has also been vocal about how he did not get the players he requested for – this despite Manchester United signing Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof among many others during his stint at the club.

True, Manchester United have lacked a sense of clarity in their transfer dealings under Woodward. Bringing in someone like Angel Di Maria for big money, when he never fit into then manager van Gaal’s setup; signing Alexis Sanchez in January 2018 just to prove a point going up against Manchester City; the inexplicable loan signing of Radamel Falcao on massive wages – the list goes on and on.

Only a handful of the signings during this period can be regarded as bonafide success stories. Many a times, there have been situations when Manchester United have been held to ransom by selling clubs and agents. And, all this has fueled the fans’ anger towards the 48-year-old, with many unhappy that he still remains in charge of the club’s transfer handlings despite his lack of footballing knowledge.

Lack of trophies in the post-SAF era

Things have been gloomy at Manchester United after Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Things have been gloomy at Manchester United after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Since Woodward took over in 2013, the Red Devils haven’t won a single Premier League title – a phase during which noisy neighbours Manchester City have won three, arch rivals Chelsea have won two and Liverpool are on their way to win one as well.

Only in two of the six seasons since have Manchester United finished in top four of the Premier League, with the only tangible success coming during this time being an FA Cup, a League Cup and the UEFA Europa League.

While the revolving doors in the managerial role haven’t helped, the lack of clear planning in the transfer market has also been a major contributor towards Manchester United’s barren run.

Woodward’s relationship with the managers not being smooth has also been a factor. The seeming disagreement of transfer targets, the manner in which business has been handled – often late in the transfer windows will surely have led to friction, while the handling of van Gaal’s exit in 2016 shed a poor light on the 48-year-old.

Fans have a right to voice their opinion but things have gone too far

Given the heights that Manchester United achieved and the standards that they set under Sir Alex, it is natural for the fans to feel disgruntled and dismayed at the way things are now. To see arch-rivals Liverpool and Manchester City rise to soaring heights in England and Europe while their own club finds itself in a state of endless transition is not easy.

And Woodward, to a certain extent, is responsible for the current malaise the club finds itself in, along with the absent owners, who seem not at all bothered about the state of things, but care only about the financial aspects – something at which Woodward continues to excel, having brought in various lucrative sponsorship deals in recent years.

Manchester United continue to hit new lows every passing year, and the fans’ frustration continues to grow seeing the state of their club and the fact that nothing is being done to arrest the downslide. Woodward continues to be the chief executive, the Glazers continue in their indifferent manner and soon enough, another manager is likely to be sacked and a new cycle started.

What makes it worse is that there is little the fans can do to correct the dysfunctional situation that Manchester United find themselves in. But, that does not give anybody the right to call for someone’s death, like it was done in the Burnley game last month, or endanger someone’s safety.

Criticism of the way things are being done is one thing, but what happened Tuesday was anything but criticism. The heinous act of vandalism and hooliganism on Woodward’s house from a set of masked supporters is in no way justified and the persons responsible should face serious repercussions.

Just a reminder – this came at a time when Manchester United are fifth in the league table and with a chance to qualify for Champions League, while they are still alive in the FA Cup and the UEFA Europa League.

Some football fans have the tendency to take things too far and this has gone too far indeed. This is not the first time a Manchester United board member’s residence has been attacked, but something must be done to ensure that this is the last time such an incident that happens.

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