Sky Sports News' North West reporter
Manchester United's Ed Woodward hits back at criticism of recruitment
"There is a myth that we have non-football people making football decisions, and I think it's insulting to the brilliant people who work on the football side in this club."
Last Updated: 17/10/19 9:23pm
Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has hit back at critics who blamed him for errors in recruitment and accused him of prizing financial success off the pitch ahead of progress and glory on it.
Ahead of what traditionally is the biggest match of their season, Manchester United are prepared to be patient and back Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to reverse a slump that's seen them win just five times in their last 23 games, with a meagre two Premier League victories so far this season, a run that leaves them just two points off the relegation places.
Woodward appointed the Norwegian as permanent United boss in the wake of the club's Champions League win over PSG in March, and is sticking by his man despite their bid for a first away win since that trip to Paris. Whatever happens on Sunday against Liverpool, Solskjaer will remain at the helm.
"Ole has also instilled the discipline back into an environment where we may have lacked it in recent years," said Woodward in an address to staff at Old Trafford. "He is building a squad that respects the club's history, in which players work hard and respect their team-mates.
"No one is bigger than the club. The changes we saw over the summer have resulted in a very young squad. But it's also a squad, with the players and the culture, that provides a base camp for us to build and grow from as we start our new journey."
The feeling within United is that their miserly haul of just nine points from eight games doesn't give a true reflection of where the first team squad stands right now and where it's going.
It's believed the transitions and conclusion to last season left players shattered, and Solskjaer has worked tirelessly to make Carrington a positive environment again, echoing how the place felt under Sir Alex Ferguson and putting the cultural building blocks back in place to reinforce that no individual is bigger than the club.
The problem right now is the base-camp is looking poorly constructed and stretched to almost breaking point by an injury crisis that now sees Paul Pogba and David De Gea sitting out the Liverpool match. Those injuries have given youngsters a chance to step up and some, such as Daniel James, Axel Tuanzebe and Mason Greenwood, have grasped their opportunities.
But all of them have already been given far more exposure in this campaign than was planned. What makes matters worse is that neither Romelu Lukaku nor Alexis Sanchez were replaced in a summer transfer window that, while successful on three fronts, left United short on attacking options with no signs either of replacements for the likes of Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini.
"The reality of Manchester United is we are a club in two parts," said Woodward.
"First of all, we are an incredible 141-year footballing institution with all that history, all that legacy, all that tradition and that tradition of success. That can never, ever change. We need to keep that protected.
"Then, like other football clubs, our commercial business allows us to reinvest in the football side. It's how these two interact with each other at Manchester United that results in us having a competitive advantage in this area. What's important is the commercial side is never allowed to take priority over the football side."
Woodward went on to tell all the club's employees about the revamping of the club's recruitment team and policies, an issue that's dogged United since Sir Alex Ferguson departed back in 2013.
"There is a myth that we have non-football people making football decisions, and I think it's insulting to the brilliant people who work on the football side in this club, many of the senior staff on the football side of the club have been in their roles for over 10 years," said Woodward.
"Some of our scouts have worked with us for more than 25 years. We've expanded our recruitment department in recent years and we believe this now runs in an efficient and productive way. Player recommendations and decisions are worked on by this department and by the first-team manager and his staff, not by senior management."
United spent big in the summer, bringing in the likes of Harry Maguire, Dan James and Aaron Wan Bissaka, and Solskjaer has already targeted the next batch of acquisitions he'd like to bring to Old Trafford.
There's a willingness to back him again and even an attempt to get some of those faces through the doors in January, while recognising that it's not always easy to do business in the winter window when Manchester United will be judged to be desperate buyers, potentially further ramping up the premium they believe they're forced to pay for players.
The summer arrivals were proof that Solskjaer and the revamped recruitment team can spot, scout and secure players that fit with the Manchester United expectations of bringing in signings that have something special to offer.
So what now, and where are United really going? Those who control the club's fortunes and direction believe their vision is clear and that they have a manager who understands the responsibilities and rigours of being in charge of such a footballing juggernaut, whether it's speeding along merrily or hitting every possible pothole in its way.
Woodward is convinced his manager is delivering and will ultimately deliver exactly what the Old Trafford faithful crave.
"Ole's vision maps exactly to the core three football objectives we have: we must win trophies, we must play attacking football, and we must give youth its chance," said Woodward.
"The middle section of last season, after Ole's arrival, feels most relevant to what we want to achieve and where we want to be, we saw a team playing fast, fluid football, with a clear representation of the style and philosophy the manager wants."
The worry is, that on Sunday, with so many key players missing , this could be a game in which United appear to be a million miles away from an opponent who only 17 months ago they beat to second place in the Premier League.
Ole will stay at the wheel, whatever misery might be inflicted on Manchester United by their fiercest of rivals, with the firm belief that the current snap-shot being poured over and dissected is not a fair glimpse of where's Solskjaer's really steering them.
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