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How do Manchester United replace Ed Woodward in a way that works for everybody?

Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward
(Image credit: PA Images)

“Ed Woodward has served the club with great distinction,” said Joel Glazer in a statement. Like many things the Manchester United co-owner has done of late, and indeed over the last 16 years, it was unlikely to meet with universal agreement. But the sudden resignation of United’s executive vice-chairman prompted reflections on an era that had certain notable omissions. 

Woodward cited the £1 billion spent on players, without mentioning that sizeable amounts of it had been wasted. He did at least mention that he wished United had won the Premier League during his reign. Neither he nor Glazer referenced the European Super League, which prompted his departure.

SUPER LEAGUE Ed Woodward resigns as Manchester United executive vice-chairman

Very few believe the spin that Woodward was blindsided by the announcement of it. His close working relationship with the Glazers convinces many that nothing could have happened without his knowledge. The pictures of him at dinner in 2017 with Glazer, Liverpool’s John W Henry and Ivan Gazidis, then of Arsenal and now of AC Milan, make him look a likely conspirator. 

There are hints that Woodward resigned in part because he wants another job in football; it will take more than unattributed briefings to clear his name, and full disclosure of what he knew and when may be required to make him palatable elsewhere; his brilliance at raising funds should make him very employable in certain roles, but only if he is not toxic.

But United face a similar quandary in replacing him. The chances are that the Glazers would want someone with similar skill at generating money and an intrinsic loyalty to them. But if United want to be trusted, and not merely by their own supporters, they require an outsider.

United left the European Club Association last week, with Woodward resigning from the board. He also quit his position on UEFA’s Professional Strategy Council when it transpired United’s strategy involved trying to kill off the competition Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson prized most in their attempts to stage a coup. Woodward was on the Premier League’s Club Broadcast Advisory Group. No longer, presumably.

It is safe to say that none of those bodies wants to see him back in a hurry. Nor do their wronged members. UEFA chief executive Aleksander Ceferin called them “snakes”. West Ham’s Karren Brady said that the other 14 Premier League clubs regarded the chief executives of the seditious six as “worse” than snakes. “In future, how could my board ever ask one of them to represent the best interests of the Premier League and West Ham on a committee or working group?" she asked. Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parrish wrote about “our ‘big six’ (a term I never want to hear again), and the great attempted football robbery.”

European Super League: Ed Woodward to choose Manchester United successor

So it will not be business as usual in the corridors of power for the shamed plotters. There are suggestions that, at a club with a tradition of internal appointments, Woodward will choose his own successor. That could favour managing director Richard Arnold, a friend of Woodward since their university days. And yet anyone associated with the Glazers – Arnold, chief financial officer Cliff Baty, director of football negotiations Matt Judge – is blemished. It may well be that they knew nothing about the reprehensible plot, but can any other club be confident that is the case? Can they trust them?

Because, sooner or later, United will want their voice heard to exert their considerable power. The chances are that they don’t want to see decisions made by Parrish, Brighton’s Paul Barber or Aston Villa’s Christian Purslow, who have even fewer reasons to act in the interests of the avaricious superclubs after the events of the last 10 days. The longer they are seen as deceitful pariahs, the harder it will be to return to anything like their former position of influence. But if United could do with someone untainted by their recent past, the danger for the Glazers is that they may be too independent for their liking.

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Richard Jolly also writes for the National, the Guardian, the Observer, the Straits Times, the Independent, Sporting Life, Football 365 and the Blizzard. He has written for the FourFourTwo website since 2018 and for the magazine in the 1990s and the 2020s, but not in between. He has covered 1500+ games and remembers a disturbing number of the 0-0 draws.