Football lesson 1: never change the manager and chief executive at the same time


Big sigh…. A little while ago I wrote about my frustration at the sight of my club movingly glacially slowly in the transfer market. It was all a far cry from the old days when crafty Sir Alex and street smart chief executive David Gill got United’s transfer business done early and attracted some of the greatest players to Old Trafford. Well it’s a new regime at Man United these days as we all know and whilst everyone would  appreciate that David Moyes and new CE Edward Woodward are on a learning curve in their new roles, no-one could have foreseen how United’s transfer activity would descend into farce on deadline day. We even had to endure the sight of Man Utd being outspent and being seen as a more attractive option than….. Arsenal!!  Thank God SAF signed RVP last year. This time we’d have struggled to attract Nicklas Bendtner away. Sigh.

I was going to write a big piece about the whole farago but I think todays’ feature by Ian Herbert in the ‘i’ newspaper says it all. So here’s the article for you to enjoy if you’re a fan of Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs, Everton…..oh just read the bloody thing:

David Moyes must surely have thought he would not have to go through hell twice for Marouane Fellaini.

The full drama of how he and his Everton club secretary Dave Harrison engaged in an deadline night dash to Luton Airport in September 2008, where they literally sprinted down the runway to board Sir Philip Green’s private jet and sign him in Brussels, “papers flying everywhere” while Fellaini’s two agents argued in French, is told in the autobiography of Mick Rathbone, a long-standing member of his backroom team. Moyes must surely have expected things would be different with all the wealth and allure of Manchester United.

But the chaotic events of Monday night, when Fellaini’s £27m  signing was not announced until 2am, scrambled that the notion of a smooth succession at the tiller of mighty Manchester United – Moyes and chief executive Ed Woodward effortlessly assuming the tiller from Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill. There was one element of pre-planning for this transfer window – Wilfried Zaha, the forgotten acquisition, signed in January and loaned back to Crystal Palace – but United’s entire transfer market work was essentially packed into the 64 days between Moyes taking over at United, on July 1, and the deadline slamming shut. That spells disaster. Manchester City started planning in October.

In retrospect, you wonder why Moyes didn’t quit Everton the day he was appointed and get six extra weeks of Old Trafford badly needed transfer work under his belt. The summer was half over when he arrived, not knowing his new scouts, so not knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the targets – and certainly not knowing about the new top level realm he was operating in rather than be plunged into. In the excellent section on Moyes’ Everton set-up within Michael Calvin’s book The Nowhere Men James Smith, Moyes’ head of technical scouting, saying Everton targets had to be good, Smith says, “but at the same time not so good that they don’t want to play for Everton.” Moyes himself admitted a few weeks back that it is a new kind of market he is operating in now.

If that were not challenging enough, United also find themselves with a new chief executive, Woodward, finding his way in a different deal-making environment to the mergers and acquisitions world where he made a name with JP Morgan. Gill was  making the necessary introductions for him for months before Woodward succeeded him but it feels like the learning curve will be steep.

The result has been a humiliating, humbing summer by the standards of such a proud club, in which attempts to sign Cesc Fabregas, Leighton Baines and Ander Herrera went south, the noises about luring Cristiano Ronaldo evaporated, a late loan bid failed for a left back  – Fabio Coentrao – whom Real Madrid are desperate to get rid of. And Fellaini was signed for £4m more than his Everton release clause which expired in July, as the club engaged in an undignified scramble in the last chance saloon.

The timing and negotiating of some targets has not smacked of Manchester United. The bid for Fabregas went in to Barcelona one day after Thiago Alcantara – whom Moyes didn’t fancy – had left gone to Bayern Munich, thus increasing the Cataunians’ need of Fabregas. Herrera had been tracked for several years at Athletic Bilbao, with his performances in the club’s 5-3 aggregate Europa League defeat of United in 2012 key to their interest. That was long enough for United to know that the Basque clubs always demand the full asking price for their players, because their Basque-only buying policy severely limits their potential to buy replacements. United didn’t raise the £26m bid they offered for Herrera late last week, leaving them $4m or so adrift.

Only when the dust settled on a night which lurchd ino absurdism did the full chaos become clear. When a profoundly angered Everton dug their heels in, insulted by the size of offer for Leighton Baines, United pursued Coentrao, whom Real had been touting all summer with Granada’s Guilherme Siqueira lined up to replace him. Siqueira waited and waited for Real but when Coentrao couldn’t be shifted, Granada packed him off to Benfica. When United made their late move for Coentrao, agent Jorge Mendes went into overdrive, trying to haul Siqueira back from Benfica. Definitely not, said the Portuguese. So Coentrao had to stay where he was. The pursuit of Real’s Sami Khedira was less intense. There was an inquiry – no bid, as the player has claimed.

The general rule of engagement in the market like this is that two, three or four active targets will be earmarked for the positions where reinforcements are required. Clubs break rules to get all the groundwork done for perhaps two full-backs – medicals quietly completed, meetings held, terms agreed – so there are backups if the selling club cuts up rough.

United could have bought out of this mess by paying over the odds. Herrera could have been secured for another £5m and Baines for £20m, though it is part of Moyes’ Everton character that he has always refused poor value. “If Everton waste 20 million we’ll wait a long time to get anything like that again,” Smith told Calvin. “David Moyes spends the money like it’s his own.”

Ferguson will be pleased Moyes has stuck to that principle, having always argued that there was no value in the market. But all value has gone in the market. Yet £5m more seems very little for a club of United’s commercial might to pay for the box-to-box midfielder. Time will tell but this might be very a long winter.

‘Imposters’ leave mystery hanging on Herrera

It will go down in the marginalia of Manchester United history as “Impostergate”: the story of how four highly reputable Basque lawyers – Rodrigo Garcia Lucas, Alvaro Reig Gurrea, Francisco Salinas Mezquita and Jose Lasa Azpeitia – pitched up at La Liga offices early on Monday evening to help overcome the complexities of the Ander Herrera move to United. They all helped secure Javi Martinez’s tortuous transfer to Bayern Munich last season. United denied all knowledge of them – “nobody had authority to represent Manchester United” the club said yesterday, leading to the notion in Spain that they were imposters.

Herrera’s agent denied all knowledge of them. They denied anyone knowledge by refusing to talk. The most likely story is that a deal was closer than the clubs would like to say and that they had the four on hand. But their next pay cheque is too valuable to say as much.

Ian Herbert

Red-faced: United’s transfer failures

Thiago Alcantara

Creative midfielder seemingly what United are crying out for but opted for a reunion with Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich.

Cesc Fabregas

The former Arsenal captain decided to stay at Barcelona after United were led to believe he was interested in Old Trafford switch.

Ander Herrera

Another Spanish midfielder: United had two bids turned down for the Athletic Bilbao man and the deal collapsed on Monday.

Leighton Baines

United were linked with David Moyes’ former player all summer but unable to agree deal, with Everton turning down two bids.

Fabio Coentrao

Loan dash for Real Madrid left-back fell through when Spanish side pulled the plug on the move late on deadline day.

Sami Khedira

German international claimed United made late £34m move but the approach was rejected.

Gareth Bale

United were interested but never made a bid, with the Welshman only having eyes for Real Madrid, completing a move on Sunday.

Luka Modric

Unsettled former Tottenham midfielder was mooted as part of any deal for Bale but nothing became of it.

7 thoughts on “Football lesson 1: never change the manager and chief executive at the same time

  1. I’m not sure alarm bells should be ringing at Old Trafford with regard to Moyes vs SAF – Premier league managers are seldom the right people to negotiate deals on players and once they’ve drawn up a wish list in my opinion the deal should be done by a more commercially minded member of the management team.
    As an example the story goes that Mike Ashley had Yohan Cabaye in his office during recent negotiations with Arsene Wenger. Cabaye was keen to join Arsenal and Ashley wasn’t so keen on the idea so apparently he put Wenger on the speakerphone just as he said “£20 million is too much to pay for someone who’ll spend most of his time as a substitute”
    Apparently Cabaye went off the idea of joining the Gunners and the deal collapsed right there. Ruthless – but Ashley got what he wanted. No doubt Cabaye was the right player for Arsenal but Ashley exploited Wenger’s weakness as a negotiator.
    And then of course you’ve got managers like ‘Arry and the sell on commission deals – ensuring it’s in his interest to re-sign his old players every time he leaves a club for pastures new.
    But the biggest question for me brings us back to Newcastle again – what happened to Joe Kinnear? Don’t recall hearing his name at all during the transfer window. If Chairman Ashely is doing the negotiations and Pardew is the manager, what exactly is the Director of Football doing?

    • Hi John

      Great to hear from you. Unbelievable story re Cabaye. Worry for me at Man Utd is that it is Woodward who is supposed to be leading the transfer negotiations. I think he’s found out that it’s not the same as handling a sponsorship deal. Anyway it could be worse – he did manage to sign Fellaini in the end, and we don’t have Joke Inear at the club either!



  2. Agree with most of it here but Coentrao absolutely refused to leave Madrid – he was originally a make-weight in the B*le saga but wanted nothing of it. For the moment, ManUre may be a more attractive option than THFC because of CL, but the point is, if a player under contract wants to stay at the Club, there’s little that Club can do to move him on.
    When will you acknowledge that our Chairman has learnt his lesson and will not sell a prized asset to a league competitor?
    I will say one thing for Moyes, he conducts himself properly in the transfer window and hasn’t (yet) engaged in the outrageous Tapping Up favored by his predecessor, who was allowed WAY too much leeway.

    • Hi Shay
      Oh I think you credit your Chairman with too much principle. I reckon he’d sell his grandmother to Arsenal if the price was right (like every Chairman to be honest). Anyway if it’s Spurs’ ambition to be a permanent part of the CL club you’ve got to start understanding that Real Madrid are your big competitors these days. They’ve just enticed away your key to the CL door. That was Ferguson’s point when he said he ‘wouldn’t sell them a virus’. And then they offered the Glazers a world record fee for the best player and…the rest is (repeatable) history.

      The good news is that having offloaded your prize asset you’ve nobody in the side now worth tapping up.

      I’m joking.


  3. well i don’t think Woodward should be kicked out of the club he should remain in his current position… i don’t understand why he wants to do this job as well as commercial director – on a career level it doesn’t make sense unless he wants to get into the limelight somehow. Or the Glazers are so tight they want him to do two jobs, so they don’t have to replace Gill. Surely the commercial side is a big enough job, plus, if he screws up our market credibility, planning, cost of transfers, buys the wrong players, it could push the club off course. Not a clever decision this. Maybe he’s thinking its ok because Moyes will get the blame for his own incompetence.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s