Paul Pogba’s return to Old Trafford has shown that sometimes everyone deserves a second chance, even footballers who don’t realise that being behind Tom Cleverley and Anderson in the pecking order is actually a good thing and decide to go and win titles in Italy instead. The weirdos.
While many United fans are now forgetting the annoyance they felt at seeing Pogba’s weekly rant from Turin at Sir Alex Ferguson, and are now embracing the Frenchman as though he’d never been away, there’s a smaller few who aren’t too enamoured of the idea of spending the budget of the Bourne Supremacy on a player who left the club under something of a cloud only four seasons ago.
Regardless of whether United have overpaid for their former player the fact remains Pogba represents not only one of the few game changing midfielders available to the Reds but also someone who was obviously targeted by Jose Mourinho. It’s not just Pogba the Special One had his eye on when he arrived at United. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Eric Bailly and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were also on Mourinho’s wanted list. Normally a list containing one of the most productive attacking midfielders on the planet, a young defender who’s proven himself at the highest level and a demi-god who transcends the world of football to reach a higher plane mere mortals can only dream of, oh and one of the best players on the planet too, would be laughed at by anyone other than Father Christmas. Had Jose arrived in 2013 instead of David Moyes – like many United fans wanted- there’s a good chance if he’d asked for a productive midfielder, young defender, superstar striker and world-class game changer he’d have ended up with Marouane Fellaini, a case of strong vodka and an apology.
When Edward Woodward succeeded David Gill, his first few months in the job were an unmitigated disaster. Transfer targets weren’t just missed, they were missed while the club publicly dropped its pants bent over and applied the KY jelly. Summer long pursuits of players who had no intention of ever joining United, last minute bids for players it was impossible to get signed, not to mention a scenario where such was the confusion and ineptitude of the Reds transfer shenanigans, imposters actually turned up at Athletic Bilbao trying to negotiate a deal to bring Ander Herrera to Old Trafford, were the order of the day. All that was missing was Paul and Barry Chuckle carrying a giant cheque book repeating their well known saying. It wasn’t Ed’s fault, like the hapless Moyes he’d been handed a task that was beyond his capabilities, although unlike the new Sunderland manager, Ed was given time to get it right. It wasn’t just that Woodward was given a few years to grow into the role, he was also given a set of tasks that were attainable yet not without difficulty or challenges.
Signing Juan Mata was the first time Ed seemed to be waking from the early season stupor which had threatened to turn United into something far more fatal than just a laughing stock. Chelsea reportedly wanted Wayne Rooney as part of the deal, but Woodward, by taking himself out of any negotiations on the ‘Mata’ - apologies, that was awful- took Rooney off the table before it became an issue that could grow into a deal-breaker. If Chelsea wanted to offload Mata, then they weren’t going to get one of United’s best performers under Moyes as part of the deal. Yes, Woodward had to splash the cash to get the Juan he wanted – okay I’ll stop now- but United got their man, despite it being too late to save Moyes’ job, it did at the very least give everyone an inclination Woodward might be up to his.
Once the inept Moyes had been jettisoned the next task Woodward faced was finding a decent replacement. Louis van Gaal’s Old Trafford reign may be looked back upon with disdain by most United fans but at the time of his appointment the voices of dissent were almost deafening in their silence. The Dutch ‘trainer coach’ was one of the most respected, experienced and successful managers in the world and when he took over at United there was a real sense of excitement amongst the Red faithful. Whatever van Gaal’s failings- the boring football, the over exuberance in trimming the squad, the bizarre comments following disappointing results, wearing socks and flip flops- the blame for them can’t really be placed at Ed’s door. It was actually during the much-maligned ‘van Gaal era’ that United’s Vice-Chairman began to show he wasn’t the moron many people feared he was. Big money signings Angel Di Maria, Ander Herrera- finally- Luke Shaw, Daley Blind, etc, and the acquisition of Radamel Falcao were all achieved without much drama as Woodward finally seemed to find his feet when it came to transfer dealings. Yes, the Reds paid high prices for many of their targets, but these were players that were wanted by other teams who in many cases were willing to splash the cash themselves. Even after Di Maria’s near-disastrous season at Old Trafford, Paris Saint Germain were prepared to spend upwards of £40 million on the winger – in many cases the Reds also couldn’t offer Champions League football, meaning wages often had to be more attractive to the player.
If we’re being critical of Woodward we could argue United didn’t receive the money they should have for many of their sales, the likes of Chicharito, Jonny Evans and Danny Welbeck were sold for less than expected but in the grand scheme of things it was hardly enough to keep Reds awake at night.
This summer has seen Ed truly shine, not only have United got the manager many fans coveted- and one apparently Woodward himself pressed for- but they’ve given him the quartet of players he demanded.
In most jobs many of us aren’t afforded the luxury of making a series of high-publicised blunders, but most of us aren’t handed one of the most difficult roles in world football, it’s easy to dismiss Ed’s achievements and criticise his failings but just like Pogba, maybe the Vice-Chairman will finally be given a second chance by fans.