Gary Neville has said that Ed Woodward should be removed from his position as Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman. However, his call for “best in class” must extend to the manager.
Neville made the comments following United’s 2-0 defeat to Liverpool on Sunday at Anfield. The loss leaves the Red Devils 30 points behind their one-time rivals.
Neville reckons that their issues – the club’s bloated wage-bill, threadbare and largely sub-standard squad and failure to compete with their rivals – stem directly from Woodward.
Neville calls for change at Old Trafford.
“I’m struggling to understand why the ownership have persisted in trusting that management team to oversee the building of a Premier League title-winning team since Sir Alex left,” Neville said on his podcast.
Neville stated that, as the club has the largest wage-bill in the Premier League, they should be performing significantly better than they have been.
He said it is “unforgivable” for them to be languishing 30 points behind the league leaders in January given their financial resources.
“I saw a statistic two weeks ago that United have the second-highest wage bill in the world. And that’s the squad they’ve got,” he said.
“It’s unforgivable. It really is. I can’t believe the investment that’s been put into the squad in the last five, six, seven years and you end up with that out on the pitch.”
The former United defender went on to say it was “really wrong” that the person overseeing the management of the club has remained in their position despite years of failure. Neville didn’t name him, but he was undoubtedly speaking about Woodward, who was promoted to the top job at Old Trafford following Gill’s departure in 2013.
Woodward has overseen the club’s successful commercial operations and less than successful football strategy in recent seasons.
“If you don’t lose your job for essentially overseeing that investment, that wage bill, and putting that team out on the pitch then I have to say something is really wrong,” Neville said.
“There’s real talent in that executive team. But in terms of what the club needed to do for a number of years now is put the best in class football operators into that club and they’re not doing it. They’re not doing it and it’s a mess.”
Woodward and United’s malaise.
It is difficult to disagree with a word of what Neville is saying about his former club, especially on the point about the person running the club.
On Woodward’s watch, United have slipped into mediocrity on the pitch. The 20-times champions of England have desperately needed a director of football to implement a coherent plan. They are lightyears behind Liverpool and Manchester City, on and off the pitch.
Instead, Woodward has kept his hands on the wheel. He is seemingly unwilling to cede control of the football side of the business. This has left United in a quagmire. They have a squad not fit for the purpose that has been assembled by five different managers. They have been left with a team that is incapable of delivering success.
Every metric one can use to measure performance on the pitch points to a club underperforming over the last six and a half years. Woodward must appoint a director of football to oversee football operations. He simply has no business making football decisions as this isn’t his strength.
“Best in class.”
Neville is right, Man United need the “best in class” to take on this vitally important role within the club. However, his call for Man United to appoint the “best in class” seemingly doesn’t extend to their manager. The former United defender has been less willing to criticise his former teammate Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Neville blames the players for United’s troubles on the pitch. Yet, Solskjaer gets a free pass. The manager is tasked with making a squad more than the sum of their parts. He hasn’t. Neville blames Woodward, the club employee who has overseen the team’s decline, but not the club’s owners, the Glazer family. As such, there is a flaw in his argument.
Neville is calling for the “best in class” in one key position but also accepts a former Molde coach being the manager of Man United. This is highly contradictory.
In fact, not only has Neville accepted Solskjaer, but he has also called for the Norwegian to be given a couple of transfer windows to try to turn things around. This could cost United hundreds of millions and set them back even further. Solskjaer is so far from being the “best in class” in his field it is staggering. There is a legitimate argument to make that he is the least qualified manager in the Premier League.
Micro and Macro issues at Man United.
Of course, Neville is right about Woodward. But he is merely an employee and he has achieved what the Glazers wanted – to monetise their asset. United’s owners certainly aren’t the best in class. They have taken far more than they have given to the club. Yet, Neville’s selective outrage only tells half of the story of what is wrong with Man United. Woodward and poor players are a problem. But so are parasitic, absent owners and a coach hopelessly out of his depth.
The macro-issues – the Glazers or Woodward – are difficult to address in the short-term. The best Man United fans can hope for is Woodward employees a professional to handle football operations. Ending the Glazers’ ownership is a fantasy for supporters and unlikely to happen any time soon. Man United could, however, make an effective change on a micro-level. It would require putting Neville’s friend out of his misery.
Solskjaer is the first issue to address.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is not qualified to be the Manchester United manager. The evidence suggests that he will never be good enough. And the team will only get worse under him. The sooner United supporters and pundits accept this the better. At this stage, he deserves sympathy, not scorn.
United’s first priority should be replacing Solskjaer with a top-class coach. Mauricio Pochettino is the obvious choice. After that, they can address the deeper problems that have contributed to their current plight. Woodward, a poorly assembled squad and, maybe in time, owners who have used the club as their piggy-bank.
But Neville’s call for “best in class” shouldn’t end with replacing Woodward. The first and easiest step to re-building Man United is to replace their manager. The search for the “best in class” should start with the dugout before it reaches the boardroom.