Ed Woodward gets plenty of criticism (and some of it richly deserved), but Nick Miller describes a numbers man pushed into the Old Trafford limelight. It's not easy...
It's been a long time in the making, that Southampton Philosophy. And in one summer, it's all been ripped asunder. Has it been replaced by another or the same old?
Deciding when to stop is a tricky business. It has something that the Simpsons hasn't managed, now a weekly reminder of the concept of diminishing returns rather than a revolutionary TV series. Frasier too, which became pointless after Niles and Daphne got together. The X-Files, Happy Days, Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest...we could go on.
It must be tempting to carry on, even though you're perfectly well aware that the glory days have gone, that you're just going through the motions, trying to recapture a long-past time and living in fear of what might come next. The problem is, how do you know the right time to quit? How can you tell the difference between the fire in your belly going out and wind? Or simply a bad burrito?
Similarly, deciding when to let a great player go must be a perilous time for a football club. Managers and chairmen must live in fear of the great Jaap Stam Folly, when Alex Ferguson flogged him to Lazio definitely not because he had written a book in which he alleged he had been tapped up, but because he thought the big bald Dutchie was over the hill and done. Stam would go on to perform quite nicely thanks very much, making the old boy look fairly silly, especially as he was replaced by the not-exactly-prime Laurent Blanc.
Ashley Cole is in a curious position at present. He is, if his weeping after Chelsea's draw with Norwich (incidentally, who would've thought that his tears would be the second-least dignified crying by a grown man at a football match this week) is anything to go by, on his way out of Chelsea, the victim of age, a feeling in Jose Mourinho's water and a bizarrely excellent season by an out-of-position Cesar Azpilicueta.
Of Chelsea's three Englishmen reaching the Golden Girls years of their careers, word on the street is that Cole will leave, while John Terry and Frank Lampard will stick around to keep Jose company, a little like if someone had their grandpa stuffed and mounted in the corner of the lounge after his death.
Mourinho, despite his public pronouncements that he wants Cole at the Bridge next season, has clearly taken a view that he ain't the player he used to be, and it's time to hand him his carriage clock and bring in someone newer, shinier and less creaky. The thing is, following his recent recall to the team, Cole has showed that he is anything but past it, showing his excellence against Atletico Madrid and Liverpool, performances that resembled a surprisingly spry 60-year-old couple jiving at a wedding to show these young 'uns how it's done. While he may be benefiting from being quite well rested up for much of the season, Cole has demonstrated that he is evidently not past it, not only able to 'do a job' but actually be part of a successful team.
Indeed, there's a decent chance that Cole will not only be in Roy Hodgson's England squad to Brazil, announced on Monday, but actually in the starting XI when they face Italy in the first game. That's what Sarah Winterburn reckons in her World Cup ladder anyway, and as we all know she is very much the organ-grinder to Mr Roy's monkey.
And yet Cole is seemingly on his way, with more youthful replacements lined up, the irritatingly talented and precocious Luke Shaw (exactly the sort of kid you'd thump in the arm at school, your own insecurities at him being better than you at everything emerging in the form of violence) among them, with assorted alternatives also on the cards.
Some newspapers believe that Chelsea would like him to stay on reduced terms, but his own rather justifiable doubts about getting in the team will persuade him to look elsewhere. And he might not have to look very hard, with his dining room table apparently already full of welcoming fruit baskets from the likes of Real Madrid, New York Red Bulls and Liverpool.
The latter option might be the most intriguing, as Brendan Rodgers needs both a proper left-back and someone a little less callow in the team to help prevent things like, well, throwing away three-goal leads at Crystal Palace. Cole would be a first-choice player at Anfield, would feel special again and would look smashing in that all-red kit.
He also has a chance to make Mourinho look rather silly. Cole is basically being put out to pasture while there are still a good few furlongs left in his legs. So, much as Ferguson must have clacked his tongue every time Stam repeated his commanding performances for Lazio, AC Milan and Ajax, Mourinho may well spend next season watching his former left-back bomb up and down the Anfield left and musing that a bollock might have been dropped somewhere here.
Nick Miller - follow him on Twitter
'Mourinho may well spend next season watching his former left-back bomb up and down the Anfield left and musing that a bollock might have been dropped somewhere here'. He has been watching current and former strikers at Anfield and Goodison this season that could have won him the title, so one bollock is already dropped one could suggest.- hump3.