Ed Woodward's Manchester United legacy is a club scared of it's own mistakes

Manchester United of the mid-90s and early 2000s were regarded as the best run club in football across the world.

And then the Glazer takeover happened. Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill managed to steady the ship, but once they left in 2013, it has been one disaster after another.

The lack of ambition was highlighted this past fortnight by the club’s reluctance to hire Antonio Conte, stepping aside for him to take over at Tottenham instead.

Perhaps Conte wasn’t the right man for United. But to simply say, no we don’t want another Jose Mourinho, is a weak approach from the board who are stuck for now with a manager who lost his last home game 5-0 to Liverpool.

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Scared of their own mistakes

The Athletic report Conte was regarded as ‘too confrontational’ for United’s corporate structure.

That is a chilling line which sums up what United have become. A corporate behemoth obsessed with commercial tie-ups and TikTok impressions – and not success on the pitch.

For all of Conte’s faults, he is a winner. He has won titles in five of his last seven seasons, in three countries. He turned Chelsea around from 10th place to 1st place within one season.

United in 2021 are too scared to hire an abrasive, challenging manager, even if he would near guarantee success. The priorities are all wrong.

This approach would have meant Sir Alex Ferguson would never have been hired as Ron Atkinson’s replacement in 1986. The Scot would have been deemed too fiery.

And while there was pressure on United to dismiss Ferguson in both 1989 and 1990 which the club rallied through, the comparisons to Solskjaer fall flat. Ferguson had already led unfancied Aberdeen to a European Cup Winner’s Cup and broken the Old Firm duopoly in Scotland.

Woodward has overseen years of failure

Ed Woodward will leave United at the end of the year on his own terms. It says everything about the Glazers’ disinterest in football that Woodward was not fired years earlier.

The Mail reported Ed Woodward’s reluctance to sack Solskjaer came because it ‘would provide a damning final comment on his time in charge.’

Leaving a manager in the job who is not up to the task says a lot too.

Solskjaer has been fine for what United needed over the past couple of seasons. But can he really take the club to win trophies?

We would love to see it, but the evidence we have seen already this season and in crucial moments in previous campaigns suggests he will fall short.

Conte’s arrival in the Premier League adds to the list of managers who are superior to Solskjaer.

Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel, Antonio Conte all have stronger pedigrees than Solskjaer, and many would ranks the likes of Brendan Rodgers and Rafa Benitez above him, while Newcastle are also looking for a big name appointment, with Unai Emery linked [BBC].

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How long can United stay scared of big names?

United went for the holistic approach advised by Ferguson and chose David Moyes in 2013. It was a total disaster.

The club then chased big names, going for Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho. Both won cups, but fell short of title success, and United began to lose it’s identity. So the club went back to searching for the long-term approach again.

Solskjaer has restored some of that identity, but United’s culture should be tied to winning trophies too. With big players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphael Varane aboard, the club should not be settling for being also-rans.

If Conte wasn’t the right fit, then fine. He certainly has his faults, including a poor Champions League record. But he is going to make the league tougher, and United are not guaranteed to finish in the top four.

Sooner or later United are going to have to make a change and bring in a truly top level manager, whether that is a big name or not.

Supporters have been patient. Years of failure have been made worse by watching City and Liverpool win trophies.

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Even in terms of player recruitment, United were scared of their own costly errors for years, backing away from big names, perhaps understandably, after making bad signings like Angel di Maria and Alexis Sanchez. This culminated with Mourinho not being backed in 2018, a woeful summer which sped the path along to his sacking.

Solskjaer may get to the end of the season, and a win over City at the weekend would be a welcome relief. But it probably won’t change much long-term. A heavy loss at Old Trafford would be unthinkable.

The Glazers, Ed Woodward, and Richard Arnold are too comfortable with the status quo. They should be looking for a top level manager to match the top level calibre of players with the squad, instead of sitting back and watching the club’s social media accounts rack up extra followers.

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