Ed Woodward has overseen Manchester United since 2013; the club have spent over £1bn in transfers during this time but have won just three trophies
By Ali Muzaffar
Monday 7 February 2022 14:45, UK
Ed Woodward will leave Manchester United in April after spending nine years in the club’s top operational role.
Richard Arnold became United’s new chief executive on February 1 and has taken over the running of the club from Woodward.
Woodward has overseen the club’s affairs since 2013, during which time several significant commercial deals have boosted Manchester United’s revenue. In the year ended June 30 2012, the club recorded a commercial revenue of £117.6m – this increased to £232.2m for the year ended June 30 2021.
But on-the-pitch success has been harder to come by as United have spent £1.18bn in cumulative transfer fees, and yet only won three trophies since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Some signings have been successful, but others have failed to flourish during their time in Manchester. With this in mind, here are some of the notable transfer hits and misses for Manchester United under Woodward’s tenure…
Utilised primarily as an attacking midfielder in his final season at Athletic Bilbao, Herrera was repositioned as more of a central midfielder by United. He made 189 appearances in five seasons and played a part in the team’s FA Cup, EFL Cup and Europa League successes under Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho respectively.
During 2018/19, his final season in a United shirt, Herrera’s ability to stabilise the midfield allowed his team-mates to affect play further up the pitch. In spite of his performances, the Spaniard’s contract was allowed to expire and he left in July 2019, joining PSG for free. In an interview conducted with The Telegraph in 2020, Herrera said: “After the third season when I was player of the year, when I had the respect and the love from the fans, I didn’t feel that love from the club.”
One of the first signings of the Van Gaal era, Shaw joined United at 18, becoming the world’s most expensive teenager at the time. He has suffered with injury troubles, most notably experiencing a double leg fracture in a Champions League group game against PSV Eindhoven in 2015 which kept him sidelined for 11 months. In 2017, Mourinho claimed Shaw needed to “change his football brain” after a positive performance against Everton.
Since the signing of Alex Telles in 2020 though, Shaw has shown a marked improvement in his contributions on the pitch, having created the second-highest number of chances in the Premier League among defenders in the 2020/21 season (72) and provided five league assists. Though his defensive output has decreased as a result of his attacking intensity, Shaw’s focus on progressing higher up the pitch has offered his team-mates another outlet when attempting to create chances.
However, the 26-year-old has not featured regularly under interim manager Ralf Rangnick, with Telles having played the majority of games since the German’s appointment.
Signed on a free transfer at the age of 34, Ibrahimovic settled well into life in the Premier League under Jose Mourinho. The Swedish striker scored 17 league goals in his first season and followed this up with nine goal involvements in the Europa League and five in the EFL Cup. Ibrahimovic’s season was cut short by a knee ligament injury sustained against Anderlecht and he appeared sporadically throughout the next season before terminating his contract to join MLS side LA Galaxy in 2018. Though Ibrahimovic only spent two seasons at the club, the striker was an undoubted success as he played an important role in their cup victories, scoring twice in the EFL Cup final and contributing throughout United’s Europa League-winning run.
Fernandes joined United in January 2020 after having been touted as a potential recruit during the previous transfer window and immediately demonstrated his effectiveness, scoring eight goals and providing seven assists in 14 Premier League appearances that season. He has since gone on to become a talismanic figure for Manchester United and has had 84 goal involvements in 109 total games for United.
The 27-year-old has added an impetus to the team’s attacking threat with his creativity and finishing. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer described Fernandes as “fantastic” ahead of their opening fixture against Leeds this season and said “his return in terms of goals and assists has been unbelievable since he came into the club”.
A marquee signing which broke the British transfer record, Di Maria was held in high regard by United. The Argentina international contributed 17 league assists in his final season with Real Madrid, the highest in La Liga, and was a key part in the club’s record-breaking 10th Champions League title, being named man of the match in the final. Di Maria’s time at Old Trafford began brightly with seven goal involvements in his first six Premier League games, including a chipped goal against Leicester which earned him plaudits.
He then experienced a downturn in form and largely featured as a substitute in the latter stages of the season. Di Maria was also the victim of an attempted break-in, which fuelled speculation over his future. He joined PSG in 2015 for £44.3m after a single season with United, who made a loss on their then-record signing.
There was much excitement surrounding the signing of Depay in 2015, who in his last season with PSV, scored 22 league goals, topping the Eredivisie scoring charts. The then-21-year-old requested the iconic number 7 shirt, previously worn by players such as George Best, Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and the outgoing Angel Di Maria. Louis van Gaal said he felt he was “forced” to make the signing to prevent Depay from joining PSG and hailed him as the “greatest talent of his age”.
Despite his 13 goal involvements across the campaign, Depay strained to make an impact in his first season, often appearing as a substitute or being left on the bench altogether in the Premier League. His difficulties continued into the next season under Mourinho as he made just eight appearances in all competitions before being sold in the January transfer window to Lyon for £21.7m.
Schneiderlin was signed by United in a transfer window that also saw the arrival of Bayern Munich’s Bastian Schweinsteiger to shore up their performances in midfield. The Frenchman made 39 appearances in all competitions in 2015/16 for the club and screened United’s backline as a defensive midfielder. He also added a Premier League goal and made three appearances in United’s FA Cup-winning run.
The next season, Schneiderlin struggled for game-time amid increased competition for places following the arrival of Paul Pogba. He was eventually signed by Everton for £24m in January 2017 after just three league appearances in his second year with United.
Signed for an initial £36m in 2015, Martial became the most expensive teenager in history and at first, appeared to be well worth the fee he commanded as he scored on his debut against Liverpool. Martial was deployed as a striker in his first season and scored 17 goals, but frequently featured as a left winger following the signings of Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku. This affected Martial’s output, as he could not reproduce the form of his first year with the club until the 2019/20 season, when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer utilised him primarily as a centre-forward. This paid dividends as Martial scored 23 times across all competitions, a career-best for him.
Two seasons removed from his most productive year with United, Martial has failed to achieve a similar level of consistency, having scored just once in 11 appearances this season. He has now left the club to join Sevilla on loan for the rest of the season after agent Philippe Lamboley spoke to Sky Sports News about his client’s desire for playing time elsewhere.
A front-foot, all-action defender, Eric Bailly joined United as a 22-year-old who had the potential to become a stalwart in the team’s defensive unit for years to come. Now 27, Bailly has played 113 times across all competitions since joining the club in 2016 – current captain Harry Maguire has made 130 appearances in his three seasons after being signed in 2019. The Ivory Coast international has been unable to play for an extended run of games during his time in Manchester, having missed more than 90 fixtures due to injury. Bailly’s consistent unavailability means he has made more than 20 appearances in a season just twice since joining United.
After scoring 87 goals in four seasons with Everton, Lukaku became the most expensive striker signed by United in 2017 and began the season strongly with seven goals in his first seven league games. Though he did not maintain this form throughout the year, he finished with 23 Premier League goal involvements alongside five Champions League and FA Cup goals.
Lukaku’s second season was less fruitful as he was unable to repeat the goalscoring feats of his debut year. He did play a key role in United’s memorable Champions League victory against PSG in the second leg of their last-16 tie, scoring twice to kickstart the team’s comeback, but this was a rare highlight for the Belgian that season. He had a poor record against the team’s ‘big six’ rivals, scoring just once in 24 games in all competitions against such opposition. Lukaku was signed by Inter Milan in 2019 for £74m and later said he felt as though he was in a “deep hole” in his last few months at United.
Sanchez arrived with high expectations, having had a successful four-year spell at Arsenal where the Chile international scored 80 times in 166 appearances. Rivals Manchester City had reportedly been in direct competition with United for Sanchez’s signature. However, his output sharply declined following the move and he scored just five goals in 45 appearances.
After a season on loan with Inter Milan in 2019, the Serie A side made the switch a permanent one and signed Sanchez on a free transfer in 2020. The move reportedly saved Manchester United somewhere in the region of £40m from Sanchez’s £560k-per-week contract.
Paul Pogba rejoined Manchester United in 2016 for a world-record fee of £93.3m after being signed for free by Juventus in 2012. His transfer was heralded as a signal of intent from the club, who aimed to compete for top honours again with Pogba driving the team forward. He won the EFL Cup and Europa League in his first season with the club, scoring a goal in the final of the latter tournament against Ajax. However, Mourinho and Solskjaer struggled to accommodate him in a position where he would be able to positively affect play without sacrificing the team’s solidity, having trialled two and three-man midfields.
Though he has shown flashes of his ability and influence during his six seasons in Manchester, Pogba has never managed to demonstrate his brilliance for a sustained period of fixtures. The 2018/19 campaign saw Pogba produce 16 goals and 11 assists for United, but he has not had more than 15 goal involvements for the club in any season before or after this.
Pogba started brightly this season, registering seven assists in his first four Premier League games and remains joint-fourth in the division for assists despite not having played in the league since November. After being shown a red card against Liverpool in a 15-minute appearance on October 24, he picked up a hamstring injury and missed out on more than 10 games before returning in United’s FA Cup loss to Middlesbrough.
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This is compounded by his recent injury record while at United – Pogba missed 10 games last season due to another hamstring injury and suffered with persistent ankle problems for much of the 2019/20 season.
Additionally, Mino Raiola, who represents Pogba, has spoken out against Manchester United, often at key junctures in the team’s season. This notably occurred when Raiola said his client was unhappy at United and needed a “change of scenery” before a crucial Champions League group game against RB Leipzig in 2020, where they eventually lost 3-2. Raiola has also previously branded United as a “club out of touch with reality” that would “ruin Maradona, Pele and Maldini”.
United’s record signing has now entered the last six months of his contract and could leave for free once again. Now 28, this could be Pogba’s last opportunity to move to another elite European team, with Real Madrid and PSG among a number of teams thought to be interested in signing him.
If the France midfielder does depart, debate around his successes and failures in a Manchester United shirt are sure to divide the club’s fanbase for some time to come.
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