There was a great deal of mirth from Manchester United fans on social media following Ed Woodward’s latest conference call.
The key themes to emerge from the discussion between United’s top brass and investors were not footballing issues. The topics included the progress of the club’s app (excellent, by the way), releasing new kits early to maximise revenue and, oddly, proposed changes to UEFA and FIFA’s major tournaments.
So while there was little mention, other than a cursory opening statement from Woodward, of United’s on-field struggles and no mention at all of the transfer window that had just opened earlier that day, it was all a little curious.
The commercial element of the discussion was to be expected, but bare in mind United officials when asked about potential changes to the Champions League from 2024 were talking about a competition in which the team will not compete next season.
As for the FIFA 2021 Club World Cup, which was also mentioned, well surely this must concentrate the minds in the Old Trafford boardroom.
In June and July 2021, FIFA will get its bite at club football when the tournament, which will replace the old Confederations Cup, begins with 24 clubs from six continents competing. It will replace the old, rather dull one-team-per-continent version which Real Madrid have won for three successive years. Some have called it the precursor to a European Super League.
In qualification terms, Europe will have eight places: represented by the winners of the Champions League and Europa League from the previous four seasons (those ending in 2021, 2020, 2019 and 2018). Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have already booked their places having won the 2018 trophies and four English sides (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham) will have the chance to do the same in the next few weeks. That’s two guaranteed places for United’s rivals.
So that gives the rest of Europe’s elite two seasons to book their places at this new and prestigious tournament, which will inevitably have major financial benefits too.
It says a lot that the tournament is on Woodward’s mind. And perhaps it will be of benefit to United’s decision-makers if they restated those qualification terms to themselves: United must win a European tournament in the next two years to qualify.
Some may argue with some decent reasoning, therefore, that it’s a good thing United are in the Europa League next season.
It could be — as it was in 2017 — a tournament they’ll have a good chance of winning in 2020. There’s no doubt Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will want a crack at Champions League football in 2021, though.
In short, if Woodward and United want to reap the financial rewards of a Club World Cup place and enjoy the prestige too, they have to solve the on-field problems first.
It doesn’t need re-emphasising how Liverpool and Man City have outmanoeuvred United in the transfer market in recent years. But that Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea — all dysfunctional in their own way — are better placed to compete at this FIFA festival of football says a lot about United’s travails.
That’s where off-field and on-field issues must meet. Where a technical director must operate. To fuse the ambitions of Woodward and the board to ensure United’s name to grace the world’s best competitions with a functioning team capable of delivering.
At the moment, there is a schism to resolve there.
So Woodward may not have directly mentioned the transfer window, but United’s aims to grace the Club World Cup can only be achieved if they start work straight away. There’s a huge amount of ground to make up.