Manchester United transfer news: Club is not afraid to spend £70m on one player, reveals Ed Woodward

The Manchester United chief executive tells The Independent's Ian Herbert that new manager Louis van Gaal has been set 'no targets' for the season ahead

Los Angeles

It transpires that what seemed like a baffling action from a Manchester United chief executive had a very potent logic to it, after all.

In the aftermath of the club’s dismal 2-0 Champions League defeat at Olympiakos in late February, Ed Woodward was pictured taking what some interpreted to be a selfie with his camera phone in the Karaiskakis Stadium. It was actually the scoreboard he was photographing, while director Mike Edelson sat in the seat beside him, head buried in hands. It was the most desperate night of the many United have encountered these past 12 months, on which the players were just not interested, and Woodward wanted to capture the moment, as a screensaver to remind him that they would never, ever stoop this low again.

There is certainly some self-belief restored. It is the humanity of Louis van Gaal which has been most immediately striking to those ancillary staff who are not having to go through the new manager’s daily double training sessions out here. Small details – like the Dutchman’s touching affection for his wife Truus – have deconstructed the over-simplistic image of Van Gaal the autocrat.

Video: Manchester United can spend big

But Woodward knows better than most about football’s uncertainties, having just emerged from a crash course in them. So convinced were United in Sir Alex Ferguson’s judgement that they sanctioned the ‘Chosen One’ banner for his anointed successor. Woodward appreciates that was a mistake now and there is a marked change in outlook on the 2014/15 season, too. Only hours before that disaster in Athens, United were talking about storming back from their season of hell to clinch the 2014/15 Premier League title, though now it is a different story.

“We don't have a target this year,” Woodward says, from a seat in the air-conditioned hotel interior in Beverly Hills, where this is his last meeting before leaving for transatlantic jet out home to Britain and the uncomfortable heat of the football environment. “I am not sitting down and giving targets to anybody. We want to strive to win. That is what we want to do. That expectation comes with the history of the club. You have to accept that. I have to accept that. Everyone has to accept that. But let’s be totally clear. We don't have a target…”

Louis van Gaal works with Wayne Rooney during pre-season Louis van Gaal works with Wayne Rooney during pre-season

Targets are one of the ropes that they hang you with, in football. Louis van Gaal wouldn’t welcome one and Woodward, who needs only four words to describe the Dutchman’s strong personality - “Have you met Louis!?” - is wise to avoid one. But a return to the top four is the minimum requirement to him building up a personal credibility with fans. He says of Van Gaal’s appointment that “it never felt a difficult decision… I felt it was a smooth process” and yet, for all Woodward has done in building up the United’s commercial juggernaut, he now finds his reputation – perhaps his future – shackled to Van Gaal.  He “can’t think” of a bigger decision than this appointment.

Read more: Van Gaal orders training ground makeover
What system will Van Gaal play?
More signings expected, says Woodward

But Woodward has things to prove, as well. As he prepared to leave town, the Real Madrid caravan was moving in, buoyed by the £63m signature of James Rodriquez from Monaco – more evidence of how domestic and European rivals have outspent United. Adidas have just paid out more to provide United’s kit (£750m) than the Glazers have shelled out for the club (factoring in legal and administrative charges) and fans want to see the footballing benefits. It feels anachronistic that £37m Juan Mata should be United’s record signing; one of only two players the club have broken into the £30m bracket for.

Ed Woodward with former manager Sir Alex Ferguson Ed Woodward with former manager Sir Alex Ferguson  

The desire to sign Gareth Bale last summer proves that a willingness to go big was there. “Of course” spending £70m on one player is within United’s capabilities, Woodward says. And “no” the club is not afraid of doing that. "But Van Gaal seems adamant about establishing what talent he has got before going for more; confident enough in his own methods not to be banging down Woodward’s door. “I want to see what these players can do,” he said last week. “Then maybe then I shall I buy other players.”  The emphasis was on the ‘I’ in that last sentence.

Gareth Bale was a Manchester United target before he joined Real Madrid Gareth Bale was a Manchester United target before he joined Real Madrid  

“I think there is a philosophy in the club that the board, the owners have which is we want to see the best players play for Manchester United,” Woodward says. “But we are not imposing that on anybody. It was never imposed on Sir Alex, it was not imposed on David [Moyes], it’s not going to be imposed on Louis. If Louis says I want a player, get X, Y, Z and it’s achievable and it’s viewed by you as a top player then we’ll end up with a top player. We’re not sitting on our hands waiting for Louis. He is very good at communicating clearly what he wants.”


The Dutchman has ice in his veins, too. Though United’s state-of the-art Toshiba medical systems have told the club that the injury-plagued defenders Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans are likely to enjoy their most untroubled campaigns yet, in 2014/15, it is a fragile science on which to base a Premier League campaign. Defenders are needed desperately. 

Woodward has faith, though he does reject Van Gaal’s contention – made by the new manager last week-  that commercial commitments risk damaging United’s football. “If you look at the standard Premier League contract every single Premier League player has six hours a week carved out of their contract for commercial and charitable activities,” he says. “Our average over the last couple of years has been about 0.7 hours per week.”

Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney pictured on Manchester United's pre-season tour Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney pictured on Manchester United's pre-season tour  

Woodward’s inference was that the demands of Bayern Munich and Barcelona, where Van Gaal has also been the custodian, were nothing compared to this club. “We are a different sized club. Almost anywhere else you have been you have not experienced what being a Manchester United manager is until you have been Manchester United manager.” You can say the same about the role of Manchester United chief executive. Woodward has hired a serial winner but the journey may be a little bumpy. It will most certainly be interesting.

Suggested Topics
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'