Ed Woodward: It is harder for Manchester United to buy the right player than Leicester City

Old Trafford executive vice-chairman says his club's signings must be 'verging on world class almost immediately'

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The Independent Football

The Manchester United executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward, has defended the fact Leicester City’s £22m worth of acquisitions are 12 points ahead of Old Trafford’s vastly more expensive squad in the Premier League, declaring the transfer market is more challenging for him because his signings must be “verging on world class almost immediately”.

United have spent over £500m on a side that currently stands six points away from the fourth Champions League place. But when asked during an investors’ conference call: “When you head into the transfer window why is it the case the bigger clubs can’t find relatively cheap players like Leicester have done?” Woodward said other clubs were aided by being able to purchase on the basis of a player’s development potential.

“Leicester is a fantastic reference point for everybody this year,” Woodward told Nomura analyst Matthew Walker. “Some players are bought by other clubs with an eye to them developing into something special in a few years’ time. Whereas there’s a bit more pressure on some of the other clubs to bring in players who are going to be hitting the ground running and top players verging on world class almost immediately. So there is a slightly different market in which people are buying.”

The conference call, convened to discuss second quarter financial results which saw United’s revenues rise by 26.6 per cent to a record £133.8m, with commercial revenues up 42.5 per cent to £66.1m, did not contain a single reference to the future of manager Louis van Gaal. 

Analysts may have been aware that questions to Woodward about the Dutchman being replaced by Jose Mourinho could have put him in an invidious position and caused a storm of adverse publicity. Certainly, they did not feel that the managerial uncertainty was a cause of commercial concern, despite United’s share price dropping below $14 (£9.65) on Monday for the first time since flotation in 2012.

But there was a message relevant to Mourinho – a manager deeply disinterested in developing young talent – when Woodward described imminent development plans for the club’s own academy. “The academy continues to be at the heart of the club. Giving youth a chance is part of our philosophy, part of our DNA,” Woodward said – an assessment which will not be music to the ears of the Portuguese, whose representatives are desperate to get him Van Gaal’s job. “We took the departure of [director] Brian McClair last summer to do a root and branch review of the academy. That’s now complete and change is under way. Announcements will follow in the coming days.”

Woodward hinted at one of the major competitive advantages he feels United’s academy has over Manchester City’s – the potential for young players to reach the first team. “[We have] an unmatched track record of player development compared with any other team, in particular in England,” he said. And [we have a] runway [to] deliver first-team opportunities to those players coming through.”

The executive vice-chair-man said he could not comment on the effect of Liverpool fans’ successful protest against £77 match tickets on Old Trafford ticket revenues. But he said there was no plan for the club to move away from a five-year freeze on general admission prices and  that next month’s Premier League clubs’ meeting would “deliver something more to away fans”.