United have suffered their worst start to a season in 30 years after picking up just nine points from their opening eight league games. A dismal 1-0 defeat at Newcastle United before the international break left Solskjaer’s side just two points above the relegation zone.
Nevertheless, Solskjaer is understood to retain the full support of the United hierarchy, who believe he is establishing a defined culture at Old Trafford and expected a difficult season regardless.
At United’s annual all-staff meeting, recently held at a suite inside Old Trafford, Woodward told approximately 400 employees that Solskjaer’s plan for the club chimes with the ‘three pillars’ of senior management’s rebuilding process.
“Ole’s vision maps exactly to the core three football objectives we have: We must win trophies, we must play attacking football, and we must give youth its chance,” he told staff.
“The reality of Manchester United is we are a club in two parts. First of all, we are an incredible 141-year footballing institution with all that history, all that legacy, all that tradition and that tradition of success. That can never, ever change. We need to keep that protected.
“Then, like other football clubs, our commercial business allows us to reinvest in the football side. It’s how these two interact with each other at Manchester United that results in us having a competitive advantage in this area.”
United have traditionally been English football’s most commercially powerful club and that has not changed despite mediocrity on the pitch, but Woodward – a former investment banker – has previously been accused of prioritising financial success over football.
“What’s important is the commercial side is never allowed to take priority over the football side,” he said. “There is a myth that we have non-football people making football decisions, and I think it’s insulting to the brilliant people who work on the football side in this club.”
United’s recruitment process has come under scrutiny in recent years and the club admit it is an area in which they have failed, particularly during Louis van Gaal’s two-year reign, but there is a genuine belief within the club that this has been put right.
“We’ve expanded our recruitment department in recent years and we believe this now runs in an efficient and productive way,” Woodward told staff. “Player recommendations and decisions are worked on by this department and by the first-team manager and his staff, not by senior management.
“Last season we were the Premier League’s leading club in terms of the most match minutes given to our own academy graduates. We should all be proud that the significant investments we have made in our academy – spanning recruitment, facilities and analytics – are now bearing fruit.
“There’s a lot more we need to do in that but that’s coming in the next few years,” he added. “We know this is a strong competitive advantage for us and an area that we’ll continue to focus on and invest in. But this remains the heart of the club.”
United’s current form is a far cry from the results Solskjaer initially achieved as caretaker manager. After replacing Jose Mourinho on a temporary basis last December, the Norwegian won 14 of his first 17 games in charge. He has won just five of the 23 games since.
Club sources believe the poor start to this season can be put down to missed penalties, unfortunate refereeing decisions and injuries. United hope to pick up only their third league win of the season when unbeaten leaders Liverpool visit Old Trafford on Sunday.
“The middle section of last season, after Ole’s arrival, feels most relevant to what we want to achieve and where we want to be,” Woodward said to staff. “We saw a team playing fast, fluid football, with a clear representation of the style and philosophy the manager wants.
“Ole has also instilled the discipline back into an environment where we may have lacked it in recent years. He is building a squad that respects the club’s history, in which players work hard and respect their team-mates. No-one is bigger than the club.
“The changes we saw over the summer have resulted in a very young squad. But it’s also a squad, with the players and the culture, that provides a base camp for us to build and grow from as we start our new journey.”