Woodward - A Man Thrust Into An Uneasy Spotlight

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...

Last Updated: 24/07/14 at 08:57 Post Comment

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It can't be easy being Ed Woodward. First of all, he has a name so ripe for ridicule it's almost pointless to do so, and secondly he looks like a cross between Ian Hislop and Lauren Harries, the former child-prodigy antiques expert and current reality TV personality.

Now we're done with the superficial stuff, to his job.

For those unaware of Woodward's background, he began editing Private Eye in 1986, succeeding Richard Ingrams despi...oh, no, wait, sorry - wrong notes. Woodward was a banker in his youth, working for a couple of the bigger names in that well-loved industry, before boosting his popularity further by advising the Glazers on their takeover of Manchester United, advice which earned him a gig in the United commercial department. Woodward then set about selling ad space on everything that both moved and stayed still at Old Trafford, a strategy that you can either mock because United now have an official savoury snacks partner, or praise because he's the man who convinced Aon to pay £160million to have their name on their training kit and above the door at Carrington.

All of this earned him the top gig when David Gill stepped aside, which presented Woodward with a new and difficult problem: people knew who he was now. Before, if Ed did something wrong, a few colleagues would know about it, it would be a bit embarrassing but as long as it wasn't in the 'show up for work having forgotten to put on trousers' realm, it would be largely forgotten about. If this mistake became public, then generally people would blame the person they'd heard of, which is basically how public life works.

Now when Ed does something wrong, or if Ed does something generally right but sounds a bit silly doing it, or if Ed does anything below re-signing Cristiano Ronaldo for a set of training cones and Bebe, then everyone not only knows about it but mocks him for it. Which is basically how public life works.

The problem is that Ed has done plenty of things wrong. Take last summer, for example. All of it. Basically not one thing went right for Ed last summer, and even the thing that eventually sort of went right went wrong as soon as he started playing. Whether his failures were exacerbated by the presence of David Moyes, or whether everyone just blamed Moyes anyway is hard to tell, but it didn't help.

And this is not necessarily his fault. Being put in charge of buying footballers when your previous duties consisted of selling as much advertising space as possible is a pretty rum ask. It's a bit like telling a roadie to take over from Johnny Marr: in theory he knows how to do everything, but actually doing it is another matter entirely.

Woodward is learning though. Or at least he's trying to learn. Or at least he's trying to say things that make him look like he's learning. But even then it sort of backfires, his latest proclamations about the depths of United's transfer kitty being a case in point.

On the surface of it, Woodward might have thought that saying United have a gazillion pounds and they can spend as much of it as they like was a good thing, rallying the troops after a year of underinvestment and so forth. However, what he might have actually done is made everyone aware that United have a gazillion pounds and they can spend as much of it as they like and this added another £10million onto the price tag of anyone Louis van Gaal was interested in, which for a man who deals in numbers is not the best result.

Still, perhaps that doesn't matter. After all, everybody already knew United have a gazillion pounds and have to spend as much of it as they can to fix the holes in a very holey squad. And, well, it's just money - United have so much of it that £10million here or there hardly makes any difference. As a man from the City, Woodward will not want to be seen overpaying for anyone, but in the end that doesn't really matter. If United pay £50million instead of £40million for Arturo Vidal then about three people in the world will care, but everyone else will recognise they got the man they need.

He's even bought a couple of players, and while one shouldn't exactly be congratulating the man and ordering him candy and a stripper for doing his job, is at least a start. Now if only he would listen to John Nicholson and start talking like a human being...

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