Ed Woodward’s defining summer: The director of football question needs answering as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hangs on with Mauricio Pochettino waiting in the wings… but Manchester United still need a striker, wide forwards and a midfielder
- Ed Woodward has described this summer as an ‘important opportunity’
- The pressure is on for Manchester United to catch up with their rivals
- Boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is under fierce scrutiny due to under-performance
- United looks set to be forced into more significant spending in the window
This summer could prove a defining one at Old Trafford – not just for Manchester United but for excutive vice chairman Ed Woodward.
They have seen Liverpool pull away at the top and Manchester City continue their almost relentless pursuit of silverware.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is under fierce scrutiny as United remain adrift of the Champions League places, but there is more than just the manager’s future up for discussion.
Ed Woodward has vowed Manchester United will splash the cash in the next transfer window
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are currently eighth in the Premier League table with 13 games left
Woodward’s own admission this week that this summer’s transfer window is an ‘important opportunity’ could be viewed as an admission of his own vulnerability.
The arrival of Bruno Fernandes in January took United’s spend beyond £200m since Solskjaer’s arrival, yet there is still no discernible improvement.
Woodward accepts that more investment will be needed to revive the squad, and acknowledged that this summer will be a key period in the process.
In his introductory remarks to a recent fans’ forum, he said: ‘As a club and a board, we do recognise that we are not yet where we want to be.
‘It is the overwhelming priority of everyone at the club to get us back to regularly challenging for Premier League and Champions League titles.
‘As part of the rebuild we see this coming summer as an important opportunity.
‘There has been no shortage of investment in players over the past few years, with over £200m spent since Ole became manager. Our aim is to ensure that we continue to achieve consistency in quality of recruitment.
‘Bruno Fernandes and the players we brought last summer are evidence that our process is the right one.’
Woodward has been the target of criticism from United fans and his home came under attack
The Red Devils did complete the signing of Bruno Fernandes in a £68million deal last month
Mauricio Pochettino is waiting in the wings after being sacked by Tottenham last year
Yet there is much that needs sorting if United are to suddenly catapult themselves back up the table and back into the converstation for both domestic and European honours.
As Woodward concedes, it is again in the transfer market where United will pin most of their hopes in a bid to inject new life into the squad.
United paid £145m for Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Dan James last summer. None have proved a failure, but it was only the first part of a much-needed squad regeneration.
MAN UNITED 19/20 SIGNINGS
Harry Maguire £80m
Aaron Wan-Bissaka £50m
Daniel James £15m
Bruno Fernandes £68m
Odion Ighalo £3m loan
There is plenty of deadwood that needs moving on, from Jesse Lingard to Phil Jones. Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo and Alexis Sanchez are all out on loan, and United will look to cash in on them.
Paul Pogba will dominate much of the conversation this summer. He will have just one year remaining on his deal and looks destined to leave. The question is whether United can convince him to sign an extended deal that would drive up his fee.
Their focus can then shift to acquiring new players and sorting problem positions. Midfield remains an area that need attention, despite the arrival of Fernandes.
Beyond Scott McTominay, around whom there remain question marks over whether he can take them to the desired level, there is little strength in depth.
His knee injury has forced Fred and Nemanja Matic to step up and United have won just two of six league games in that time. McTominay needs a partner, and with Pogba expected to go, Fernandes needs help in providing the attacking impetus.
There could be significant upheaval with players like Jesse Lingard facing an uncertain future
Jack Grealish is the No 1 target with James Maddison appearing set to stay at Leicester
Odion Ighalo signed for Manchester United from Shanghai Shenhua on transfer deadline day
Jack Grealish has emerged as the No 1 target ahead of James Maddison, who appears likely to commit his future to Leicester.
There is interest in Norwich duo Todd Cantwell and Max Aarons, and also West Ham’s Declan Rice. They could swoop for Bayer Leveruksen’s Kai Havertz, but the German is one of the most in demand midfielders in Europe.
United also remain short up top, with the loan arrival of 30-year-old Odion Ighalo hardly a long-term solution to the failure to replace Romelu Lukaku. Despite the excellence of Marcus Rashford and even without his back injury, there are limited options in attack as Antony Martial continues to flatter to deceive. Both operate best in wide roles and have lacked a central focal point this season.
Jadon Sancho is the leading candidate to provide further competition in that wide forward role while Jude Bellingham was among their January targets. They failed with a late bid to acquire Josh King and may go back in for the Bournemouth striker still.
RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner is also on their radar, and even Thomas Muller of Bayern Munich. Donny van de Beek appears more likely to move to Real Madrid, but they are keeping an eye on Moussa Dembele at Lyon and his team-mates Houssem Aouar, plus Celtic’s Odsonne Edouard.
With such a vast array of transfer options there remain question marks over the vacant director of football role. United still don’t have one, despite appearing to commit to the model, and reports surfaced last month that Woodward had completely shelved the idea.
Kai Havertz is coveted across Europe but United remain keen on the German midfielder
And that is even before considering whether they will commit to Solskjaer, who has cut an increasingly defensive and agitated figure as the season has gone on, or take the plunge and appoint the best man currently avalable for the job – Mauricio Pochettino.
Things may have spiralled out of control for him at Tottenham this season, but he has a higher pedigree than Solskjaer and will be stronger for that experience at Spurs.
Apathy from fans as they filed out of Old Trafford towards the end of last month’s defeat at Burnley turned into an outright backlash when an angry mob attacked his £2m Cheshire mansion.
Only decisive action one way or another this summer an quell that level of disgruntlement. There is plenty on United’s to-do list, and it could well impact on Woodward’s own job security one way or another.
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