Ed Woodward helped transform Man Utd finances but could not win over fans

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Mark Staniforth, PA
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Ed Woodward might have done as much as anyone to turn Manchester United into a global force off the field, but they will not be fondly remembering him in chants from the old Stretford End any time soon.

For all his undeniable success in transforming the club’s commercial revenues, Woodward’s name will be for ever linked with an ascendant corporate mentality at odds, for many, with the club’s ethos.

Indeed, news that Woodward will step down as United’s executive vice-chairman at the end of the year ensures his reign will be book-ended by the two most contested episodes in United’s otherwise illustrious history.

Crystal Palace v Manchester United – Emirates FA Cup – Final – Wembley Stadium
Ed Woodward incurred the ire of ex-United boss Louis Van Gaal (Nick Potts/PA)

Woodward’s route into Old Trafford began when he advised Malcolm Glazer and the Glazer family on their successful takeover of the club, and was subsequently recruited by them to take over media and commercial revenues in 2007.

Five years later United’s ready cash had sky-rocketed with Woodward, who studied physics at the University of Bristol and qualified as a chartered accountant before joining J.P Morgan & Co as an investment banker, making good use of his business acumen.

But few United fans were queuing up to give thanks, mindful of the Glazers’ controversial takeover model, with the majority coming from loans secured against the club’s assets.

Glazer was ultimately appointed to the club’s board of directors and Woodward replaced the outgoing David Gill as executive vice chairman in 2013, with warm words of encouragement from Sir Alex Ferguson ringing in his ears.

Soccer – Barclays Premier League – Everton v Manchester United – Goodison Park
Ed Woodward’s role in the Glazer takeover of Manchester United drew protests (Martin Rickett/PA)

But United’s first transfer window under Woodward was underwhelming, as United failed to land a number of reported targets including Thiago and Cesc Fabregas, and were forced to make do with the £27million Marouane Fellaini.

While Woodward can be excused the appointment of Moyes due to Ferguson’s influence, the same could not be said of his enthusiasm for Louis Van Gaal, whom he described at the time as the “perfect choice”.

Van Gaal was brought in in 2014 and was sacked two years later. His relationship with Woodward became so bad that even five years later the Dutchman was still keen to vent his spleen, describing Woodward as “somebody with zero understanding of football.”

Real Madrid v Manchester United – UEFA Super Cup – Philip II Arena
Ed Woodward crossed swords with Jose Mourinho (Nick Potts/PA)

Although Woodward’s business skills remained unchallenged, subsequent big-money transfer flops such as Alexis Sanchez and Angel Di Maria did not go down well.

He was criticised by Jose Mourinho for his alleged unwillingness to pursue his transfer targets in 2018, and frustration grew at the turn of 2020 as fierce rivals Liverpool pulled dozens of points clear in the title race.

Fans chanted against Woodward at games and a smaller group even appeared outside his home, chanting and letting off smoke bombs, in a move condemned by the club and authorities.

Ed Woodward home vandalised
Ed Woodward’s Cheshire home was attacked by fans (Martin Rickett/PA)

Woodward held his nerve and kept faith with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer while plenty had called for the popular Norwegian to be relieved of his duties.

But news of his departure at the end of the year has coincided with another episode that has angered United fans – the club’s role in the formation of the European Super League, and its apparent, ongoing collapse.