Manchester United’s shambolic 4-1 defeat at Watford has been eight years in the making and the major fault line comes from the boardroom rather than the manager’s hot seat.
Despite being a shrewd commercial operator and affable personality, executive Ed Woodward has managed to screw up nearly every big football decision since being asked to follow David Gill and run the biggest club in the world.
His determination to hold on to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after successive home humiliations against United’s biggest rivals Liverpool and Manchester City produced a collapse at Vicarage Road labelled an ’embarrassment’ by David de Gea, sole survivor from Sir Alex Ferguson’s last title team.
Ed Woodward (left) must shoulder the responsibility for Manchester United’s failings, whether or not Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (right) is sacked following the 4-1 humiliation away to Watford
Woodward has been the kingmaker in a series of bad decisions that have led to this malaise
Solskjaer will carry the can at some point, indeed his demeanour last night was someone who is no longer in control of his destiny and few will argue his case to stay after insipidly trying to handle the egos inside Old Trafford.
But Woodward bears far greater responsibility. After all, he has been the kingmaker who has appointed David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Solskjaer, all of whom have failed.
If he had not already agreed to step down following another fiasco, the European Super League, he would have a hard time convincing the fans he deserved to stay and make more decisions.
Along with Richard Arnold (left), the vice-chairman (right) has badly mishandled the club
He appointed Jose Mourinho as manager when the Portuguese’s career was on a down turn
Woodward is the chap who gave a fading Wayne Rooney a bumper new contract when Ferguson advised to sell.
He sold Memphis Depay instead of keeping him — Depay is now thriving with Barcelona and Holland — and did not cash in on Paul Pogba when the Frenchman wanted to leave, potentially costing United £100million.
In addition he gave Mourinho a handsome long-term deal just a few months before sacking him, insisted Solskjaer was an interim appointment before doing a big U-turn and giving him the job full-time and refused to meet Leicester’s asking price for Harry Maguire before paying out more 12 months later.
One mistake he even confesses to is gazumping City for Alexis Sanchez, paying the Chilean an estimated £500,000 a week for the privilege and getting a return of five goals in 18 months.
Less publicised but equally damaging long-term were spending millions on new contracts for De Gea, Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial simply to stop them joining rivals, when far cheaper options were available.
The signing of Cristiano Ronaldo did not suit Solskjaer’s plan for a young and fast front line
Ferguson is aware of generational change and always recognised a new contract is paying out for the next five years, not their past service to the club.
To get every decision right is impossible but, in total, that is quite a catalogue for Woodward. In fairness, he has had to provide the Glazers with so many business reports on a daily and weekly basis he probably has not got time to consider the big picture.
His self-belief as a top negotiator has been a hindrance rather than a help. A proper director of football never materialised despite plenty of hints and he has decided not to surround himself with experienced football decision-makers.
It is a flaw that has also afflicted Solskjaer, whose coaches Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna have limited CVs on that front.
Solskjaer was never going to tell United he did not want Cristiano Ronaldo and the club would not have listened but, having finished second last season, it ripped up his plans to have a front three of Jadon Sancho on one side, Marcus Rashford on the other with Edinson Cavani and Mason Greenwood.
Woodward’s belief in himself has proven a hindrance rather than help for United on the pitch
Having once put all his faith in the superstar managers such as Van Gaal and Mourinho, Woodward had a massive conversion by appointing Solskjaer, someone who has United in his DNA. But he did not really give the Norwegian the same authority that Ferguson had.
He pretended United were different to Chelsea, where executives decide who to sign and managers come and go. But in reality Solskjaer was impotent.
No wonder he did not seem to know if he was coming or going after the Watford game, saying: ‘I believe in my staff, my players and myself. That’s a different discussion with the club and myself.’