Updated:Sep 27, 2021
It has been just over 5 months since Manchester United Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward announced that he would resign from the post at the end of the year. Since Ed Woodward replaced David Gill as Manchester United’s most powerful employee in May 2013 the executive vice-chairman has overseen 37 major signings across 15 transfer windows.
The first was Marouane Fellaini for £27.5m, the most recent Cristiano Ronaldo. So I will be looking at some of Woodwards biggest flops and biggest success stories and whether his transfer strategy is the main reason United have had their most unsuccessful period since the 1980s, and it is eight years since United were last champions of England.
2013-14: The First and possibly the WorstEmbed from Getty Images
Woodward’s first transfer window in charge of United was the 2013-14 summer window. David Moyes instructed him to target Cesc Fàbregas, Thiago Alcântara, Ander Herrera, Leighton Baines and Maroune Fellaini. This was a big ask for any club but United fans were optimistic at their chances to entice these players to the Red Devils.
During the summer there was almost no serious talk about Fabregas or Thiago coming to the club. Woodward’s first public offer was a failed double bid for Baines and Fellaini of £28m which Everton characterised as “insulting”. After the move for Baines collapsed so did a last-minute loan for Real Madrid’s Fábio Coentrão.
Woodward decided Athletic Bilbao would budge from Herrera’s €36m buyout fee; they did not. Then there was United’s “imposter” claim concerning three men apparently posing as club representatives who visited Spanish Football Association offices to pay Herrera’s break clause. This caused bemusement because the trio was Spanish sports lawyers understood to be acting on Herrera’s behalf.
Possibly the most embarrassing moment for Woodward was the fact that when he eventually signed Fellaini on deadline day, United paid £4m more than the £23.5m buyout clause in the midfielder’s contract. Despite the £40 million signing of Chelsea winger Juan Mata in the January window, many United fans were left angered at Woodward’s first window in charge.
Window Rating: 2/5. A Sporting Director’s first transfer window is arguably his most important and the debacle Woodward left United into may have set the tone for the rest of his tenure.
Where they are now: Marouane Fellaini joined SD Luneng in January 2019 for £7 million; Juan Mata is still at Old Trafford.
2014-15: Galácticos failureEmbed from Getty Images
After United finished seven and Moyes was replaced by Van Gaal, Woodward didn’t want a repeat of his pathetic 2013-14 window and brought in 6 big-name signings.
Ángel Di María’s arrival for a British record £67.7m from Real Madrid and Radamel Falcao’s £16m loan from Monaco moved the club to a half-galáctico model given that the four other acquisitions were Herrera for £32 million, Luke Shaw for £33.7 million, Marcos Rojo for £18 million and Daley Blind for £16 million.
This proved to be a disaster. Di María penned a love letter to Real fans (“I want to make clear this was never my desire,” he wrote) and Falcao was injury bedevilled. It wasn’t just the poor signings that make this an unsuccessful window, some player sales have also proven to be very poor.
Most notably the sale of youngster Wilfried Zaha to Crystal Palace for a measly £3.5 million. Since then Zaha has become arguably one of Crystal Palaces best players and has been coveted by the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham and even Manchester United.
Window Rating: 3/5. Although only Luke Shaw is still at the club, defenders Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo as well as Herrera only left in the last couple of years. However, I can’t overlook the disastrous purchase of Di Maria nor the pathetic transfer figure for Zaha.
Where are they now: Ander Herrera joined PSG on a free transfer in 2019; Luke Shaw is still at the club; Di Maria joined PSG for £55 million in 2016, Rojo joined Boca Juniors on a free transfer in 2021; Blind joined Ajax for £14 million in 2018, Radamel Falcao returned to Monaco after the loan and has since joined Fenerbahçe.
2015-16: Galácitco reverseEmbed from Getty Images
2015-16 was a very different window for Woodward than the previous season, he seemed to invest more in younger players who could develop for lower fees. These included Matteo Darmian for £16 million, Memphis Depay for £30 million, Morgan Schneiderlin for £31 million, Bastian Schweinsteiger for £8 million, Sergio Romero (free) and Anthony Martial (for £54 million.
There were a mix of success and failures in these signings. Martial has established himself as a solid player for United, though his role may be diminished with the signing of Ronaldo. Romero has been a solid backup keeper for United, whilst Darmian made a solid 92 appearances for the Red Devils before leaving. Schweinsteiger only made 35 appearances in 2 years before leaving, whilst Schneiderlin made only 47 appearances in 1 ½ years, not enough to justify the price tag.
Depay was an odd signing, after arriving from PSG for £25 million their were high expectations which he failed to live up to. He struggled for playing time and gave average appearances when he did play, eventually, he would be sold to Lyon for £14 million in 2017, but has significantly improved since.
There were no massive sales apart from the ageing Robin Van Persie and Nani to Fenerbahçe for a combined £10.5 million and Di Maria to PSG for £55 million.
Window rating: 2/5. The signings of Depay, Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger should all be considered failures due to the small roles they played and the fact that Woodward made a loss on all three. They only got a 2 rating due to the role Martial has since played at United.
Where are they now: Matteo Darmian joined Parma in 2019 for £2 million then joined Inter for £2 million in 2021; Schneiderlin joined Everton for £21 million in 2017 and then joined Nice for £2 million in 2020; Schweinsteiger joined Chicago Fire on a free in 2017 and then retired in 2020; Romero is currently a free agent after his contract expired in 2021; Depay was sold to Lyon for £14.5 million in 2017 and then joined Barcelona on a free in 2021.
2016-17: Big SpendersEmbed from Getty Images
After the sacking of Van Gaal and the hiring of Mourinho, Woodward sent the most money in his tenure as he signed 4 players for a combined £166.5 million. This consisted of Paul Pogba from Juventus for a world record of £94.5 million, Villareal defender Eric Bailly for £34 million and Dortmund winger Henrikh Mkhitaryan for £38 million.
Despite these big-money signings, possibly the fan favourite signing was PSG striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic on a free transfer. Although Ibrahimovic scored 28 goals and United won the League Cup and Europa League, they ended 24 points behind Chelsea.
Woodward, though, could feel his spending was justified as he looked at United’s most successful season under his leadership, the European triumph meaning Champions League qualification. There were no big leavers apart from the previously mentioned sales of Depay and Schneiderlin.
Window Rating: 4/5 (I would probably classify this as Woodwards most successful window in charge. Pogba has turned into one of the top midfielders in Europe and looks set to stay at United despite transfer speculation. Although Mkhitaryan was promptly sold to Arsenal and Bailly has become a bit of a squad player, the signing of Zlatan was crucial in United’s success during this season.
Where are they now: Pogba is still at the club; Mkhitaryan joined Arsenal for £30 million in 2018 and then joined Roma on a free transfer in 2020; Bailly is still at the club; Ibrahimovic left for LA Galaxy on a free transfer in 2018 and then joined AC Milan on a free in 2020.
2017-18: Title ChallengeEmbed from Getty Images
After ending the season in 6th place, Woodward once again splashed the cash as he spent £146 million to push closer to the challenge. This spending resulted in the signings of Everton striker Romelu Lukaku for £76 million, Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic for £40 million, Benfica defender Victor Lindelöf for £30 million and Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal for £30 million. Lukaku and Sanchez were soon seen as flops with both struggling to score whilst their wages cost the club millions each month.
On the other hand, Matic was a boost of veterancy in a dressing room lacking leadership whilst Lindelöf has begun to establish himself in a partnership with Varane this season. The notable departures were Mkhitaryan to Arsenal for £30 million and letting club legend Wayne Rooney join Everton on a free transfer. United ended the season in 2nd place yet their 81 points left them 19 behind Manchester City which meant, surely, that Mourinho would be given the players he deemed he required for a title push the following season …
Window Rating: 2 ½ /5. I gave this window a 2 ½ rating as I felt the signings of Lindelöf and Matic were not awful, but haven’t been a massive success. Whilst Sanchez and Lukaku both flopped during their tenure at the club and brought little in when they eventually left.
Where are they now: Lukaku joined Inter for £66 million in 2019 and has since joined Chelsea for £103 million in 2021, Matic and Lindelöf are both still at the club, Sanchez joined Inter on loan for the 2019/20 season before signing for them on a free transfer in 2020.
2018-19: Fred FlopEmbed from Getty Images
As previously mentioned, all United fans were hoping that the club would bring in a number of big names to mount a proper title race against their city rivals, however, this never came to fruition. The club spent roughly £74 million on the likes of Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Fred for £53 million, Porto defender Diogo Dalot for £19 million and Stoke goalkeeper Lee Grant of a free.
Almost everyone can agree that Fred has been nothing but a disappointment and was worth nowhere near the fee, whilst Dalot has struggled to break into United’s line-up. Mourinho’s biggest wish was a new centre back. mong those identified were Leicester’s Harry Maguire and Bayern Munich’s Jérôme Boateng. Woodward baulked at the prices quoted while wondering (reasonably) why Bailly and Lindelöf had been out of favour at times the previous term despite Mourinho overseeing their purchase. Nothing came to fruition and United would end the season in 6th.
Window: 1/5. This is probably Woodward’s most disappointing window, Fred had proved a monumental failure and Dalot has only made 39 appearances for the Club, whilst the signing of Lee was simply to fulfil a homegrown quota. I may be a bit harsh as Fred is only 28 and Dalot only 22 so both could still have a lot to offer.
Where are they now: All three signings are still at the club
2019-20: Ole’s at the WheelEmbed from Getty Images
After a disappointing time under Mourinho, he was sacked and Woodward brought in club favourite Ole Gunnar Solskjær as interim. After an impressive start, he was handed the permanent roles, and Woodward spent the cash to try and make Ole a success. In the summer window they brought in Harry Maguire from Leicester for £80 million, Aaron Wan-Bissaka from Crystal Palace for £50 million and Swansea winger Daniel James for £16 million. Woodward then added midfield maestro Bruno Fernandes to the squad for £56 million in January and brought Odion Ighalo in on loan.
Factor in Mason Greenwood’s growth from academy starlet to potential generational star and all was right as United finished third. Although the club lost 7 first team players, many would just regard this as getting rid of dead weight. The ageing Antonio Valencia left on a free whilst Inter bought Ashley Young and Romelu Lukaku for a combined £68 million whilst bringing Sanchez in on loan. Smalling also left for AS Roma on loan, whilst Darmian was sold to Parma for £2 million.
Window: 4/5. There is absolutely no doubt that this was a brilliant transfer year for Woodward and the Red Devils. They brought in players that will be in the line-up for at least the next 4-5 years in Wan-Bissaka and Maguire, while Fernandes has proven to be one of the best midfielders on the planet. In addition, they managed to free up a lot of wage room by ridding themselves of ageing talent and Alexis Sanchez. The only reason they failed to get a 5/5 is that I personally believe they paid too much for Harry Maguire and he would be worth around £50 million rather than £80.
Where they are now: Maguire, Wan Bissaka and Fernandes are still at the club; Daniel James went to Leeds United for £26 million on deadline day this summer; Odion Ighalo has since joined Al-Shabab Riyadh for £2.25 million from Shanghai Shenhua.
2020-21: The Sancho AffairEmbed from Getty Images
This transfer window was focused on Woodward accruing Borussia Dortmund starlet Jadon Sancho. Dortmund’s demand of €120m was known early so the club should have bought him then or walked away to concentrate on alternatives. United priced the deal at about €250m and Woodward deemed this unrealistic owing to club finances being hit, yet because Sancho was Solskjær’s No 1 target he decided on a wait-and-see tactic regarding whether Dortmund would fold.
This strategy meant other right-wingers were not considered until Sancho was viewed as impossible and so the manager failed to land an established one. Instead, Solskjær acquired two 18-year-olds, Facundo Pellistri for £7 million and Amad Diallo Traoré for £19 million.
In addition to these youngsters, the club also brought in Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek for £35 million, Porto defender Alex Telles for £13 million and PSG striker Edison Cavani on a free transfer. There were only two notable departures as Jesse Lingard joined West Ham on loan and Chris Smalling went to AS Roma for £13 million.
Window Rating: 2/5. The fact that Woodward failed to get Sancho and instead bought two unproven teenagers immediately brought this grade down, however it is too early to tell how they will perform. However, considering Van de Beek almost never plays and Telles lost his spot to Luke Shaw, only Cavani has emerged as a successful transfer from this Window.
Where are they now: Cavani, Van de Beek, Traore and Telles are still at the club; Pellistri is on loan at Deportivo Alaves.
2021-22: SIUUUEmbed from Getty Images
It’s hard to judge a performance after only a couple of weeks, however, just looking on paper it appears as though Woodward has ended his tenure on a high. He began by finally signing Jadon Sancho for around £76.5 million before somehow managing to sign Raphael Varane for a measly £36 million. His best moment though was the shock return of club and football legend Cristiano Ronaldo for only £12 million. This signing shocked the whole football community as the Portuguese star had only really been linked with Manchester City during the saga.
Window Rating: 5/5. Woodward has gone out on a bang as he has signed three incredible players and massively boosted United’s trophy ambitions, I feel that if United don’t win a trophy this season then that is on the players and coaches rather than Ed Woodward
As you can see Woodward has had a number of ups and downs, primarily downs in his first couple of years, however, he seems to had settled in the last few seasons and has secured United’s top 4 status for at least the next 5 years. The one sad thing is that their have been a number of busts and Daniel James sale to Leeds was the first time they had profited from a player sale since Woodward took charge.