Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Ed Woodward may have been capturing for posterity the moment Manchester
United plumbed new depths in Europe when his camera phone flashed
seconds after Robin van Persie’s late miss at the Karaiskakis Stadium.
Had the Dutch forward’s effort gone in, with United trailing 2-0 against
Olympiakos, it would have transformed the entire complexion of this Champions
League last-16 tie.
But in keeping with his and United’s season, Van Persie sent his shot high and
wide and the clock quickly ticked down to confirm a defeat which ranks among
the club’s very worst in Europe on what was their 250th appearance in this
This was bad. Think of all the puns you like about ‘Greek tragedies’, United’s
hopes ‘being in ruins’ and a ‘bankrupt team leaving a bankrupt country,’ but
none of them cover the full extent of the paucity of the United’s
Mike Edelson, the director sat alongside Woodward in the picture, is holding
his head in his hands for good reason.
When Sir Alex Ferguson’s United were humiliated by Jesper Blomqvist and IFK
Gothenburg in 1994, it was not as bad as this.
And the opponents were better when United lost to Lille in Paris in November
2005 and then again against Basle in December 2011, when a 2-1 defeat saw
Ferguson’s team crash out at the group stages.
Woodward, United’s executive vice-chairman and the man who has daily contact
with chairman Joel Glazer, has endured the bumps and bruises of his first
season in charge of the club in tandem with David Moyes, the manager
struggling to keep his head above water as Ferguson’s successor.
So far, there has been no wavering in Woodward’s support of Moyes and the only
talk has been of what will happen in the summer, with vast sums of money
being promised by the Glazers to rebuild a squad bequeathed by Ferguson
which looks in greater need of repair than the Acropolis this morning.
That backing remains and rather than place Moyes in the firing line, the sense
around Old Trafford is that the end of the season cannot come quickly enough
for the long overdue surgery to begin.
But while £100 million or more may be spent by United this summer, the
performance in Athens suggested that war-chest may not be enough.
Nemanja Vidic is leaving, Rio Ferdinand will follow him out of the club and
Patrice Evra, who has an option to stay, may also go.
Ryan Giggs is another, Anderson has been farmed out to Fiorentina on loan,
unlikely ever to return, and the likes of Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley,
Javier Hernandez, Ashley Young and, on this performance, Michael Carrick,
may find a P45 heading their way at the end of the season.
There will be plenty of pain at United this summer, but a valid question that
must now be asked is whether Moyes has done enough to be entrusted with the
scalpel and the chequebook.
His decision here to leave Adnan Januzaj out of the squad in order to avoid
burnout was admirable, but simply the wrong time to do it, with United’s
season hanging on the outcome of this tie.
United, out of the FA Cup, have no game for 10 days, so even a callow
18-year-old could manage ninety minutes here with over a week to recover.
Marouane Fellaini, Moyes’s big buy last summer, impressed in the weekend
victory at Crystal Palace, yet he was omitted in favour of Cleverley, an
honest, but limited player who was out of his depth until replaced on the
hour by Shinji Kagawa.
Moyes has handed over his list of targets for the summer and Woodward is now
charged with bringing them to the club, but the Glazers are unlikely to
sanction another £100 million spending next year if this one does not work.
As Roy Keane suggested in his brutal post-match assessment of United’s
performance, Moyes was dealt a dodgy hand by Ferguson with an ageing and
But Moyes could have acted quicker last summer, made big calls on big
personalities who have subsequently let him down and been more decisive in
terms of players he targeted.
The Scot takes it on his shoulders and accepts responsibility, but if the
players continue to fail him, he will know that the end result is usually
that the manager pays the price first.
He now needs Woodward and the Glazers to be stronger than his players.