Manchester United no longer want a director of football, according to The Athletic.
A number of names have been linked with the position at Old Trafford since José Mourinho’s tenure but nobody has been appointed.
Transfers and player contracts are negotiated by two men at United, executive vice chairman Ed Woodward and chief negotiator Matt Judge.
Many have claimed that the pair are inept and that a footballing man with better contacts in the game should be in post to maximise the Red Devils’ effectiveness in the transfer market.
But The Athletic’s Laurie Whitwell believes that the club has decided that is no longer necessary.
‘This summer will mark two years since the search was started and supporters are entitled to wonder whether finding the right appointment should really take that long when in the same period, nine new skyscrapers have popped up over the city’s horizon’ Whitwell notes.
‘It is safe to say that such a precise role is not on the agenda anymore.’
‘United do not seek a guru to lead policy for signings, nor will anybody come in to take ownership of who sits in the dugout.’
‘At other clubs, a director of football — or sporting director — has great influence over those twin areas of performance.’
‘At United, the structure is different. Principally, the status of the manager is paramount and the club want to stay close to the level of authority Sir Alex Ferguson maintained. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s line to Ed Woodward will always be direct, rather than bisected by another individual. Their relationship is described as “vital”.’
‘Then when it comes to hiring and firing, the decision rests with executive vice-chairman Woodward.’
‘United are eminently satisfied at their collaborative approach.’
In other words, Woodward will not delegate responsibility for hiring and firing and United want to maintain the old fashioned ‘manager-chairman’ dyad rather than the ‘head coach – director of football – chairman’ structure that most clubs now operate.
The fact that recent signings such as Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Dan James, Bruno Fernandes and loanee Odion Ighalo have performed well since their arrival is seen as proof that a DoF is not needed.
‘United’s recent record for signings is positive’ says Whitwell.
‘All five arrivals under Solskjaer have made a good impression and that only strengthens the idea that, actually, United already have a de facto director of football in the shape of the Norwegian.’
Many would argue that pointing to the good performances of recent signings is a flimsy excuse for Woodward and Judge to hold onto power in roles they are simply not equipped to perform adequately.
Of the signings cited as successes, United paid a huge amount for Maguire, and one that was even higher than the one they refused to pay for him a year earlier. They paid the exact same amount for Bruno Fernandes that they had refused to pay six months earlier and wasted the whole of January – a crucial period when the team was ravaged with injuries – haggling unsuccessfully. And Ighalo was a desperation signing at the eleventh hour of the January transfer window and was actually United’s eleventh choice of striker, having failed to land the likes of Bournemouth’s Josh King, Southampton’s Danny Ings, Dalian Yifang’s Salomon Rondon and Norwich’s Teemu Pukki.
The fact that the Ighalo loan is being held up as evidence that United’s ‘recent record for signings is positive’ is a laughable travesty.
There was also the negotiating shambles that saw United miss out on teenage sensation Erling Braut Haaland, despite the personal relationship Solskjaer had with the player. Meanwhile, Whitwell himself notes that ‘sources say those at Old Trafford were unaware of Takumi Minamino’s £7.25 million release clause from RB Salzburg’ – which saw the player go to Liverpool without competition.
There have also been a number of expensive flops on Woodward and Judge’s watch, including Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
There have also been countless mistakes in player contracts. David de Gea and Alexis Sanchez are both on such long and lucrative contracts that they cannot now be offloaded even if United wanted to sell them. Wayne Rooney was given a similar deal and had to be bought out of his contract. Meanwhile, the likes of Ander Herrera have been allowed to walk away from the club on a free transfer.
There is clearly some truth and logic to the idea that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is trying to recruit players of a certain profile, in which commitment and dedication are traits valued just as highly as technical skills and footballing prowess, and that a DoF might cut across or dilute the Norwegian’s project. But the fact remains that if recruitment and contracts are going to be left in the hands of Woodward and Judge as Whitwell claims, the process will remain a painful and embarrassing fiasco for Manchester United.