COMMENTARY | JACOBS O. SEAMAN
Ed Woodward is a smart man. He knew his third manager since Sir Alex Ferguson retirement was making the board and himself very infamous in Manchester. For the first time in 25 years, Man United fans were so angry with the club and the team that many of them stopped attending home matches. Their travelling party was no more bigger than a village funeral procession.
There was a time people mocked Manchester City attendance with coinage like ‘Empty-Had’ and Red Devils fans did lead that mockery. But Jose Mourinho and Ed Woodward ushered the club into the era of ‘Empty Trafford’ as absentee ticket holders and those who would walk away before final whistle connived to leave embarrassing designer empty seats at Old Trafford.
Many fans had turned on the club and were really wishing for defeat of their own, game in and game out.
Woodward knows he has erred a lot in the last five years and is aware that many were calling for his head, too. Vocal former players like Gary Neville did not stop at criticising the team or manager but actually blamed Woodward and the board for everything bad at Manchester United.
You can’t fix that by simply firing Mourinho because many fans wanted. In fact, the day Mourinho was sacked, critics called on the board to be worked on, too. So Woodward had to do something that would take away the shadow of anger cast at him. You can only fix that by appealing to a certain nerve-ending of the fans — their attachment to the club and the pride they have in their former players.
Michael Carrick was the outright caretaker manager. He has been there as a coach and knows every rot in the club from his daily involvement at Carrington. He is best placed to know the players — the lot of who have been constantly criticised for their attitude and underperformance — having worked with them all. But Carrick is not the kind of player you can use to deflect that attention from your errors and the mess you have created. He was just a player. A combative midfielder. Beyond that, nothing. Even Darren Fletcher and John O’Shea probably commanded more popularity than Carrick.
And then there is the factor of the so-called ‘Class of 92’ that includes Paul Scholes, Neville, Roy Keane, Nicky Butt, David Beckham and the like. Add Rio Ferdinand around them and you have a bunch of not just critics but mob — they can lynch if given the opportunity. With the exception of Neville, the others seemed to have a special anger at Mourinho. Scholes, so cool as a player, had turned into Mourinho’s biggest nightmare of recent.
Now Woodward had to appease not only the fans but also the powerful bunch of former players. With Carrick neither popular nor unpopular yet having more experience in working in Manchester United dugout than the rest of the lot, Woodward looked up to the field — Neville appointment would cause a riot and worsen the misgivings about the direction the club was taking.
Almost the same with Keane.
The others were just talking shops. Nothing managerial in their collar. What to do? He saw Ole. Yes, the baby-faced assassin is a darling of all. Appoint him and no one will be baying for Woodward’s neck again. For a while, at least.
This was a smart coup that only Wooward could pull off. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the perfect diversion for Woodward and the board at Carrington.
Now, Manchester United, like Middlesbrough with their former darling and skipper Gareth Southgate, can only watch whatever happens. There is no way Scholes will lash out at Solskjaer, just like Boro fans were at Riverside in 2008/09 season when they watched as an inept former player made a mockery of their dugout all the way to the Championship.