Why Manchester United cant see the Woodward for the trees | Barney Ronay
Batter your way through every executive vice-chairman the club can hire and you still come up against disengaged vulture capitalists
Its the question on every Manchester United supporters mind right now. Is there any sales tactic, any favour to be called in that may persuade Internazionale to sign Ed Woodward?
This is perhaps a bridge too far. But as the transfer window thrums into gear its hard to avoid the feeling January has become the most Manchester United time of the year. Not for the actual signings, because there havent been many of those beyond the odd goalkeeper and the one-man reactor core meltdown that is Alexis Snchez.
It is more for the sense of theatre and show, the complete domination of the gossip-industrial complex, a time when United are suddenly urgent and vital, illuminating the news wires with links and bids and pleas; a little late to the party perhaps, out of sync on some fundamental level, but still lit up like a desiccated Christmas tree, as rosy-cheeked and full of health as the steadily decomposing Santa Claus stuck in the cavity behind your chimney breast.
This time around the winter uncertainty has settled on the manager as much as the players. A disdainfully routine defeat by Manchester City in midweek has led to talk that Ole Gunnar Desolaters time may finally be up. In the last two days there has been powerful speculation hello powerful speculation my old friend that Max Allegri may be about to step in.
Is this the right way to go? It remains the fact that Solskjr got the job only as a fill-in, made permanent on the back of some misleadingly good results and a wave of consumer nostalgia. But has he actually done that badly?
The problem here seems to be one of deluded expectation. There is a feeling out there that Solskjr has been outwitted whenever his game of counterattack is taken to the next tactical level. But, as in every sport, players make tactics work. There isnt a super-coach around who wouldnt appear suddenly gauche and callow when the bloke on the other side has Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling weaving his gossamer patterns, while youre marching into battle with Phil Jones slung under one arm and a bucket of blunderbuss bolts in the other hand. Whatever the past might suggest, United are some way off the top level.
Somehow, 1bn down the track, they still dont have enough proper midfielders. The centre-forward role is still entrusted to the baffling curio that is Anthony Martial, surely the fastest extremely immobile man in any sport right now.
What need would sacking Solskjr serve against this background? It is surely a category mistake to assume success is the natural level here, that some gleaming new era is just an elite appointment away.
Or even that Allegri would be wise to take the job given Manchester United have essentially become a machine for ruining people in the past six years telling us, at great expense, that David Moyes is a fraud, that Louis van Gaal is a fraud, that Jos Mourinho is a fraud. I wonder what it may be telling us about Allegri in a years time.
No doubt Solskjr will get the bullet before too long, if only because this is an institution that demands human sacrifice. But right now he seems quite stoic as a placeholder, quite useful as an outsider to this process of celebrity destruction. United are one spot off fourth place in the league. This looks pretty good.
Add another decent midfielder and a centre-back who can kick a football and who knows where things may end up. Plus the most notable plan Solskjr has come up with is clearly the right one: young gifted biddable players are the only certainty here, the only real gift he can give, a time capsule being laid down for some happier era.
Because, lets face it, we know whats really wrong. Another source of snark toward Solskjr is that his presence shows United are obsessed with the past. This is to miss the point completely. The problem at Old Trafford isnt too many portraits of Denis Irwin in the players lounge.
The problem is located in more concrete things. It rests in the cold hard present: shoddy recruitment, an absence of forensic expertise at every level and an ownership that has squatted on the club like a vampiric homunculus. Getting rid of Woodward wouldnt solve all Uniteds problems, although it it would solve one of them: they wouldnt have Woodward around any more. But the fact is, strike him down and another Woodward will rise up in his place.
Batter your way through every Woodward the ownership can hire and in the end you still come up against a set of disengaged vulture capitalists for whom this grand old footballing house is a leaky roofed global ATM, the cash cow that just wont die. So yes, the past is fine. The past can stay.
The present, well, thats another matter altogether.
In the meantime step back a little and there isnt really any need to panic. Manchester United have always had periods of retrenchment. There is a beauty to this spectacle even now, the sense of a ghost ship crowded with skeletons, Solskjr so pale and cold on his touchline, as though Lear has gone and left his dear fond fool to wander the heath alone.
Eras rise and fall. Trophies will be won again. By the same token, travel to any United away game and the soul and heart of this club is still boisterously present. It will be there if and when the glory times return. It might even draw a little more strength, a little more sweetness from the current confusions.
Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2020/jan/10/getting-rid-of-ed-woodward-will-not-solve-manchester-united-problems