In the post Sir Alex Ferguson era, United have struggled to maintain any consistency. Any momentum that has tried to be developed has been forced to be stopped in its tracks following the end of the previous three managers – David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal, Jose Mourinho before the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
It has rankled for many years with United fans over Ed Woodward’s involvement in the transfer dealings. He has been involved in ten transfer windows now, despite considerable investment there had been no sign before Ole arriving the direction that this club was heading in. The signings at times were not considered with much thought process and whether they fit into the shape of the team or the style of football we were trying to play. The summer transfer window before the 2019/20 season started can be considered successful as we signed Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James despite no director of football in place.
We have longed for United to appoint a director of football at the club, who can take on buying and selling players, developing the youth system and the vision of playing attractive and attacking football. So, what does a director of football actually do? This can encompass a variety of things from identifying talent with the influence of the manager, negotiation with players. They also must have a long term vision on what the club wants to achieve. The planning and philosophy by the club should be held above any of the manager’s personal whims. In the case of Solskjær, he wants only the best for Manchester United and to return them to the top.
We have been linked with many names for the director of football from Ralf Rangnick and Paul Mitchell but maybe United should be looking closer to home with our former players being considered for the role.
The obvious choice would be our former goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Sar. He is currently in the role of CEO at one of his other former club Ajax. The role he has played at the club has seen them implement a long term vision, developing their youth system and playing attractive football. It had resulted in them reaching the semi-finals of last season’s Champions League. Van Der Sar has recently signed a new four year deal with Ajax when he announced on his Twitter account.
“Very happy with my contract extension at this beautiful club! I started as a goalie in 1991, 3 years ago I became @AFCAjax CEO. We’ve had some difficult moments, but the good times are definitely back. And of course we want more in the future!”
However, he has not completed ruled himself out of the role at United as he told Sports Illustrated back in October: “Besides my family, the wife, kids and friends etc, I have two loves in my life – Ajax, who scouted me and gave me the chance to shine in the world of football and Manchester United, who helped me to develop even at the end of my career. Of course I’d be interested in a position, but at first I think I need to learn a little bit more here at Ajax and develop myself even further. Let’s see what the future brings, United is a fantastic club, with a great following all over the world.”
Another former United player who could do a good job in this role would be Gary Neville. He is respected pundit through his work on Sky Sports describing the events of what is happening on the field. He is also one of the owners of Salford City and so knows the inner workings of the boardroom.
Ed Woodward had said in the United We Stand fanzine for their November issue, the club does need to communicate better with fans. Communication is vital in the director of football role as it requires them to interact with many different people from the manager, coaches, board, agents, media, fans, etc. Neville would have the respect from the fans but also the players and even though he had a negative experience whilst managing Valencia, this can be used in helping both the manager and the coaches. Neville has said he would not want another management role. But with his communication skills, he would be a viable option for United to consider for director of football.
Another person that could be considered is Mark Hughes. His managerial experience could be useful in this role, especially his international experience with his native Wales. He is another person that can communicate very well and is respected by fans, media and those within the game.
Then, there is Eric Cantona. Though he has never seeked out to become a coach or manager, he could excel in the role of footballing director. A legend amongst us United fans and with him being bilingual, it could help in negotiation with players in Europe and overseas. His charisma to lead would inspire the manager, staff and the players to succeed.
The last two former United players to be linked with the director of football role is Rio Ferdinand and Darren Fletcher and it has been said that Ed Woodward has spoken to them both about it. Whilst, it could be said it would be a risk to appoint either of these two former players considering they have no previous experience in this role. However, they both know the club and what is probably required in helping us going forward.
Having former players at boardroom role level has worked before as you looked at Bayern Munich, who have had Franz Beckenbauer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Uli Hoeness, Matthias Sammer and now Oliver Kahn who will become the chief executive and chairman from 2022. Bayern have continued to have much success over the years winning league titles and the European Cup.
It remains to be seen when or if United will appoint a director of football. Ed Woodward told the United We Stand fanzine in their November issue, “Yes, we’re looking at the football structure and, yes, we always want to evolve that structure and put talented people in place where we perceive there to be gaps.”
Identifying the right person to be the director of football that can plug the gaps that were left behind after Sir Alex Ferguson retired would help in United returning to the top.