Why Woodward Banner will have No ImpactAdded by Philip Meese on 03 Sep 2018 21:27
A look at why the banner aimed at Ed Woodward over the weekend was nothing more than a waste of money.
By Philip Meese, Chief Editor
Ahead of Manchester United’s 2-0 win over Burnley on Sunday, a group of fans clubbed together to hire a plane to fly a banner over Turf Moor. The message, aimed at Old Trafford CEO Ed Woodward, was quite clear; they blame him for the lack of transfer activity over the summer. It labelled him a specialist in failure. What was also apparent that the majority of the fans are behind José Mourinho, whose named was chanted throughout the game.
As bold a statement at the banner is, it is also a rather pointless one. Whatever the fans may think, the only way that Woodward will leave his position will be of his own accord.
That First Summer
Ed Woodward is a former investment banker who joined United in 2007 as head of the commercial department. Within his first five years, he almost tripled the club’s commercial revenue, and was appointed to the board of directors in the role of executive vice-chairman. When Gill stepped aside in 2013, Woodward was appointed in his place.
History shows that the majority of fans have never really taken to the United chief executive. He replaced Gill around the same time that David Moyes replaced Sir Alex Ferguson. What followed was a summer of frustration, filled with transfer rumours which never came true. The only player United were linked with who ended up at Old Trafford was Marouane Fellaini – and even that made the club look like amateurs. First of all, they let a £23 million buyout clause in his contract expire, and then ended up paying £27 million on the last day of the transfer window. This was just a few weeks after they had bid £28 million for both Fellaini and his Everton team mate Leighton Baines.
Events such as this led to speculation that the Glazers had put a cap on the spending, but over the next few years the club spent more than half a billion on transfers. This kind of spending seemed to dispel those rumours, especially when they broke the world transfer record to buy Paul Pogba. Last summer, however, the first crack in the foundations of the relationship between Woodward and Mourinho began to appear.
Opening the Chequebook
Despite Woodward backing Mourinho to the tune of £145 million for Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matić and Victor Lindelöf (not counting what they would later spend on Alexis Sánchez), a stumbling block was hit regarding Ivan Perišić. The Croatian winger was valued at around £50 million by Inter Milan, whereas United were reluctant to go any higher than £44 million. The spending this past summer has been quite modest in comparison to previous years, with just Diogo Dalot and Fred recruited for a combined £67 million. Mourinho wanted a new centre-back and, despite making enquiries about Harry Maguire, his preferred target was Toby Alderweireld. As with Perisic the previous year, Woodward and the board were apparently not happy at the prospect of shelling out a hefty fee for a player fast approaching the age of 30. In both cases, they were happy to pay a certain amount, but their respective clubs’ valuations were significantly higher.
United’s poor start to the season, particularly in defence where Mourinho was trying to strengthen, was highlighted by defeats to Tottenham and Brighton. Although some fans have called for the manager’s head, as some always will, it appears that he retains the backing of the majority of the match-going crowd. As the banner shows, a lot of the blame seems to be directed at Woodward for not loosening the purse-strings. His case probably wasn’t helped by announcing a new brand deal with Chivas Regal on the day before the transfer window closed, while most fans were expecting a new signing.
Manchester United’s American owners will never be accepted by most fans at Old Trafford, with most able to remember their hostile takeover in 2005. They lumbered the club into a debt of almost £700 million, using high interest loans to secure their purchase. As of March this year, it has been reduced to just over £300 million. On average, United usually estimate profits of £185 million each year, and they usually end up exceeding that.
In reality, the Glazers could use two years profit to pay of the remainder of the debt if they so wished, but this is not likely to happen anytime soon. They are astute businessmen, and while the club continues to make the kind of profit that it does, the level of debt is perfectly manageable to them. They have no deep-rooted attachment to United, but they didn’t get into a position where they were able to buy the club by making silly decisions.
When they saddled United with the biggest debt in world football, the Glazers would have taken all aspects into account. What wouldn’t have been lost on them was that every new TV deal since the Premier League began was bigger than the one that preceded it. While the initial figures looked scary, they probably would have figured that the sums of TV money that would eventually pour into Old Trafford would easily cover it. Then there is the merchandising and commercial sectors to take into account. United were already the most profitable club in the world before the Glazers took any interest. All they needed to do was find the right man to take that area of the club to the next level. Enter Woodward.
Evolution of Manchester United's revenue model pic.twitter.com/dJ93kRq0Il— Bluegrass Capital (@BluegrassCap) 6 November 2017
There is no doubt that the United CEO is a commercial genius; the money that he has brought into the club borders on the ridiculous. According to Bluegrass Capital, in 2006 the vast majority of United’s overall revenue came from match-day sales, £71 million (43%). The rest was made up from broadcasting and commercial deals, each totalling £47 million. By 2016, the match-day sales were up to £107 million (no doubt helped by the constant increase in ticket prices), but this only contributed to 21% of the club’s revenue. Broadcasting was up to £140 million, but its percentage remained roughly the same at 27%.
The big increase came from the commercial sector, which had risen to £268 million, and now made up 52% of United’s yearly revenue. This was well over five times what it made the club a decade earlier. In less than ten years, Woodward had more than tripled the club’s revenue from £165 million to £515 million.
By Manchester United’s lofty standards, the last five years haven’t been their most successful. Despite only winning three major trophies in that time (something most clubs would be ecstatic about), their revenue has gone through the roof. The main reason for that is Ed Woodward.
Even if Mourinho was to go on an unprecedented winning streak, winning the Treble and then repeating it the following season, is position would not be as secure as the United CEO’s. If he can get them profitable as that during their less successful years, imagine the kind of money he would be pulling in if United were still dominating English football.
When a similar banner was flown over Old Trafford in 2014, during a home game with Aston Villa, the fans who set it up were granted their wish within a few weeks. David Moyes was sacked following defeat at Everton, but that had nothing to do with the banner. He was already on borrowed time after a poor season. It’s a similar scenario this time, in that the banner is nothing more than a waste of money.
The fans who clubbed together to pay for the plane to fly over Turf Moor on Sunday may point out that it is important that the club knows how they feel. It’s unlikely the Glazers will see it that way, however, or care in the slightest about how they feel. They have proved time and time again that they will run the club as they see fit. During the thirteen years they have owned Manchester United, they have faced numerous protests, green and gold scarf campaigns and even death threats. What has any of it changed, exactly?
Unless people start voting with their feet, and stop going to games, nothing is going to change. Even then, it wouldn’t matter too much because whoever starts boycotting matches, someone will be there to take their place. The Glazers wouldn’t care less if every single fan in the world wanted him out. While Woodward continues to make them money, and United the most profitable club in the world, he has a job for life if he wants it.
All the banners in the world won’t make any difference.