Gary Neville and Co made Ed Woodward an easy scapegoat for Man Utd decline… but shambles is far from all his fault

THE easiest thing to do in assessing Ed Woodward’s time in charge of Manchester United is to blame him for everything.

After all, that is what Gary Neville does every time he picks up a microphone.

Neville never suggests how he would have done it differently however, he is just happy to lead everyone in hammering the easiest scapegoat at Old Trafford.

Of course Woodward will forever be linked with helping the Glazer takeover go through in 2005.

Let us not forget, however, David Gill who had contested it, continued to work on under them until Woodward finally took his role in 2013.

His exit and Woodward’s promotion was never the problem, it was Sir Alex Ferguson resigning which left the new boardroom incumbent with having to steer United through the most difficult period in quarter of a century.

He accepts mistakes were made.

That the right structure was not in place for David Moyes to take over.

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The problem was that structure was Sir Alex, there was no database to tap into for the new boss.

Woodward, 50, believes he afforded Louis van Gaal too much power which lead to scatter-gun recruitment.

He does not regret appointing Jose Mourinho and two trophies and a second place finish are testament to that.

But, as many a football chief will tell you, the Special One is not an easy customer to deal with long term.

As for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the long-term plan, it was going in the right direction.

A second-place finish, five semi-finals and one major final.

This time last year they were joint-top of the league and earlier this season it was looking very good.

But when things start to unravel at United they happen very quickly and a frustrated fan base, brought up on the glory years, want someone to blame.

Three trophies, two more major finals, and two second-placed finishes in the last five years would be seen as the glory years at somewhere like Tottenham.

Without the league, however, Woodward himself will accept his term has not been a success.

As of today they are in the same position as at the end of his first season in 2013-14 — seventh and 22 points off top.

He looks at sliding doors moments when a different managerial appointment could have taken the Red Devils on a different path.

But was Pep Guardiola not always bound for Manchester City and Jurgen Klopp for Liverpool.

And would Carlo Ancelotti or Antonio Conte provided anything different in what probably would have been the short-term than Mourinho did.

He may wonder, however, if Mauricio Pochettino was one that got away.

The Argentine sat waiting for a club between November 2019 and January 2021 and could yet end up at Old Trafford this summer.

Indeed the biggest piece of advice Woodward will give to his successor is to make sure they get that appointment right and have someone for the next five or six years.

The good Woodward has done behind the scenes is ignored like how he reversed the lack of investment in the squad that Gill had overseen in Sir Alex’s final years.

His commercial and business acumen, alongside that of Richard Arnold, enabled the funds to be made available.

Proof that business and football in the modern day simply have to go hand-in-hand.

The debt from the Glazer takeover had to be serviced and there was no rich oligarch funding it all.

So Woodward had to go out and get the money to ensure successive managers could enact their own plans.

He did it very well but too often he allowed himself to take all the stick when he had, in fact, designated power into a footballing structure trusted to recruit and implement.

He was always fighting and trying but at times must have felt he was walking on sand as City, Liverpool and Chelsea picked up titles.

In the end the European Super League, with its elitist tone and no relegation or promotion, sat so badly with him that he could not back his bosses the Glazers in trying to see it through — so he quit.

The threats he received during his tenure, which resulted in his wife stopping going to games, and the protest outside his Cheshire home could not fail to have taken its toll on a father with young twins.

He made mistakes but which football chief exec has not and he didn’t deserve all this.

To meet him is to find a funny, engaging man, who loved talking about the game and wanted the best for United, yes, on the pitch.

His biggest regret was the statement he made to an investor on a Zoom call in which he said United’s finishing position in the league would not affect them financially.

He shakes his head at that now. It sounded like he didn’t care about what happened on the pitch, and he did very deeply.

Now it is Arnold’s time to pick up that heavy baton of history and expectation — good luck.

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