Ed Woodward is a curious character, a man with a bit of Mr Bean about his gait who looks like he might burst into a boring, well-rehearsed comedy routine at any time. “Name’s Woodward. Edward Woodward. Would Ed Woodward? Yes, Ed Woodward bloody well would!”
He is definitely a trier, if not quite a doer, and his tenure as Manchester United’s Chief Executive has been defined by might’ves, could’ves, and when it comes to Pedro, should’ves. Ed Couldward, Ed Shouldward, Ed Bloody-well-didn’t-wood.
He has approached transfers like a frivolous child at a fair with a bag full of money, entranced by the neon and full of candy floss, trying desperately to win one of the top, top prizes but settling for a glut of miniature plastic toys, still smiling, content in knowing that out of all the kids he’s had the best time. Yet despite his failures it is worth asking whether United actually did any better in the transfer market under Alex Ferguson’s reign.
Woodward has been throwing outrageously fat suitcases of money around in the last few seasons. £60m on Angel Di Maria and paying £4m more than Marouane Fellaini’s release clause are the standout examples, but they also spent £29m on Ander Hererra who is of prime age and still regularly warming the bench. And of course recently Woodward flew to Monaco in a biplane made of £50 notes, landed directly on the pitch of the Stade Louis II, and ran back to Manchester with Martial on his back, a football Forrest Gump fuelled by the buzz of deadline day retail therapy.
But, 14 years ago, Alex Ferguson paid only a million less than Herrera for Juan Veron, who was flogged to Chelsea two years later for half that price. In 2007 he said goodbye to £26m and hello to Anderson who, not merely in terms of positional awareness but also appearance, resembled a fat bumblebee hopelessly chasing the ball around the pitch like it was the last precious vial of nectar after a devastating faunal apocalypse.
Bebe was £7.4m and made two appearances for United. Walking bag of maladies Owen Hargreaves was a misjudged buy at £17m, and more recently Zaha cost Ferguson £12m only to be sold back to Crystal Palace two years later at an initial 75% discount. The difference is that Ed’s overpayments have been alarmingly more frequent. But perhaps, as Arsene Wenger riffs, there is just no value in the market these days.
Then there are the flops. So far, Falcao has been Woodward’s only real flop, and that was a bizarre, unpredictable one. The tryst with Di Maria didn’t work out but he did provide some quality goals and assists in the first few months. Rojo, Blind and Fellaini are not terrifically convincing as Manchester United players – you could quite easily wipe each of their memories, sneak Villa, West Ham and Spurs shirts on them and watch nobody notice as they fit seamlessly into their new teams – but none of them are flops. Just a few extra layers of fat to plump up this out of shape squad.
There have been none of your fat bumblebee midfielders, your Klebersons or Manuchos, your so-good-they-named-him-twice Djemba-Djembas. Ferguson’s list goes on - Taibi, Obertan, Bellion, Fabio, Buttner, Forlan, Dong Fangzhou…
Sir Alex welcomed a lot of terrible players and often exhibited very suspect judgement (he signed Cristiano Ronaldo for 12m and later claimed Phil Jones was his best signing). It should be easy for Woodward and his merry line of managers to better his unspoken flop ratio.
What they have not managed yet is to sign a real star who has actually worked. From 2000-2012 Ferguson signed Van der Sar, De Gea, Vidic, Evra, Ferdinand, Carrick, van Nistelrooy, Rooney, and of course one of the best signings in the history of football, Ronaldo from Sporting Lisbon for a paltry 12m. That is roughly one wing of Woodward’s Martial biplane.
Carlos Quieroz recently questioned, “where have all the stars at Manchester United gone?” It is a pertinent poser, one that Woodward and van Gaal should be asking themselves. A Bale or a Muller could lead them from the fairground to the fore.
For now, they’re not doing too badly: between the infrequent golden boys, United have always been a bit rubbish at transfers.