In his latest Reporter’s Notebook, Sky Sports News’ North West reporter James Cooper reflects on a turbulent week at Manchester United, including the resignation of executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
It was announced on Sunday Man Utd would be one of the founder members of a new European Super League, along with five other Premier League clubs.
However, the proposal was met with huge backlash from fans and beyond, with former Man Utd defender Gary Neville vocal in his opposition. Less than 48 hours later, Man Utd withdrew from the European Super League.
But the drama was not finished there. On Tuesday evening, it was announced executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward would be stepping down from his role at the end of 2021 as fans continue to oppose the ownership of the Glazers.
With plenty to unpack from a rollercoaster few days, Cooper offers his thoughts on the latest events…
European Super League
“It’s been a week like no other, not only for Manchester United but for the rest of football. Once again, we are seeing calls for owners of a football club – who arrived in 2005, did one interview with club media that day and really have not put their heads above the parapet since – to be accountable.
“The relationship between the key parties inside Manchester United from the owners down needs to be scrutinised more heavily than ever. We have just seen a restructuring in the eyes of Ed Woodward, with Darren Fletcher coming in, and the elevation of John Murtough into a second-in-command position behind Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, running all of football from Carrington.
“And yet, that was all on the instigation of a man who was working out his notice at Manchester United.
“Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are no different from the players and managers at the other five clubs involved. They were in the dark, they were not told about the plans – they were first told was in a Zoom call on Monday morning, and the majority of the players were not even there as the first-team squad had Monday and Tuesday off.
“People talk about the link between football clubs and fans, and the interesting thing about this is that fans, players and management are closer and more aligned than they have ever been after being completely blindsided by this.”
Mixed message around Woodward resignation
“What has been interesting is the mixed messages coming out of Manchester United, especially on the day Woodward’s resignation was announced.
“We were told it had nothing to do with the European Super League at all and that it had been brought forward early because they were worried about leaks. I think he had decided his time had come at Manchester United and that pastures new beckoned, but I think it had everything to do with Manchester United and the European Super League.
“Woodward was front and centre of the negotiations, there is no doubt about that. I don’t think he was the architect of the idea, they were the three American owners – the Glazers, John W Henry, and Stan Kroenke – and the rest fell in behind.
“Woodward was the guy at the coalface who got everything sorted, and I think he got to stage whereby he saw the reaction and thought he’d had enough. The one thing that links a lot of people, whether that be Ed Woodward at Manchester United, or other people at the other six clubs involved, we saw an awful lot of people doing things they have been told to do but don’t necessarily believe in.”
Questions raised over Carrington security
“There are interesting questions about security at Manchester United training ground. There’s a public right of way which leads straight past, so getting there isn’t difficult, but getting into the training ground isn’t perhaps as difficult as it needs to be.
“The protesters headed to reception, went around to the first-team pitch and while there wasn’t a will to get into the building at Carrington, clearly a group of 20 supporters getting in is a problem. The police were called and Ole took matters into his own hands and went and had a word with them along with Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Nemanja Matic.
“There was a passionate discussion on both sides, and I don’t think Solskjaer was left in any doubt that the fans are not happy for being overlooked.”
Glazers out protests – what’s different this time?
“Manchester United fans are looking to vent, they are not happy again. It’s been 11 years since green and gold, people on the streets of Manchester United protesting against the Glazer ownership. Maybe we are getting closer to that resurfacing.
“People are asking the Glazers to relinquish control, but I do not think they are going to do that. We have hardly heard from or seen them since their takeover in 2005, they are not a visible presence at Old Trafford because they are not wanted there and certainly don’t feel comfortable there. If they go and see Manchester United games, they tend to be on away European nights.
“People talk about the Glazers rebuilding bridges and trust and making relationships right, but they have never really had a relationship with fans so there is not really anything to rebuild. There might be something to build, but certainly not rebuild.
“An about-turn is required in the way the Glazers go about things. We saw a huge apology which was spectacular in the sense that nothing like this has ever happened before – here was the Glazer family actively communicating with Manchester United fans.
“The question there is: what was in it for them and why did they do it? Was it because everybody else said sorry, are they worried about the state of their investment, bearing in mind the share price soared ahead of the Super League announcement and then plummeted? I do not see the Glazers giving anything away or any authority which dilutes their interest in the club.
“The situation as Manchester United is very different to the one at Liverpool, where John W Henry was virtually given the freedom of Anfield after delivering the Champions League and Premier League. That has never been the case for the Glazers. We have not seen a league title since 2013, we have seen three trophies, a succession of managers come and go, and a huge amount of money – a billion under Ed Woodward – being spent really badly.
“The irony of all of this is that Manchester United seem to be getting their mojo back, they are getting more consistent at bringing players who can make a difference into Old Trafford and yet this has all come along at the same time. In a sense it’s almost like a perfect storm because fans who would ordinarily have been angered are also fans who have been locked up in their houses watching football on television rather than in the stadiums.
“This will be them a reason to vent so many frustrations which largely are about the Super League and the accountability of owners, but are based on much, much more in terms of society.”
“The danger of elevating someone like Richard Arnold into the position of executive vice-chairman is you then have a person in charge who has been at the heart of making Manchester United into a business monster but someone who is not a football person.
“The other side of the argument would be to have an executive vice-chairman who is a football person and completely understands how Manchester United works, what the values of the club are. You think of someone like Edwin van der Sar at Ajax – could he be a worthy chief executive?
“But there in lies the issue. He would be an excellent sporting director in the purest sense, in a European sense, but Manchester United are not doing that at the moment. There is an argument they should bring in someone completely fresh, someone with business acumen and football understanding and can delegate in the way Ed Woodward has struggled.
“A lot of leaders in business realise their own limitations and bring in people to fill those holes; proper experts in areas they don’t specialise in. That has not happened enough at Manchester United, and that is why Ed Woodward will be remembered as somebody who did not what needed to be done and probably has more critics than fans. That’s the bitter truth.”
Woodward’s Man Utd legacy
“Myself and the press pack in Manchester would all say Ed Woodward is a decent person who talks openly and communicates. But we would also reflect on the fact his time in charge has coincided with a really difficult period for Manchester United.
“He mentioned a period of ups and downs in his resignation statement and most of us will reflect more on downs than ups. They have not won a Premier League title, they have won three trophies, had Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal who, with hindsight, were perhaps both past their sell-by dates.
“Accompanied with that, you have had Manchester City hoovering up the trophies Manchester United expect to traditionally challenge for, and Liverpool are back at the summit of English football. Everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong, and yet timing-wise, instead of leaving with his tail between his legs, he’s leaving with Manchester United and himself on a high.
“United are second in the Premier League, are in the semi-finals of the Europe League, and the squad looks as good as it has since 2013, but the executive vice-chairman has decided enough is enough.”