There was a photo-shopped picture doing the rounds on Twitter last night. It featured a famous shot of Russian President Vladimir Putin topless on a horse, an image choreographed, no doubt, to demonstrate his epic manliness and power. We in the west laughed, but then when the laughing stopped we realised that Putin has ALL THE NUKES and is most definitely not afraid to use them. To demonstrate his powerful hand in this international game of poker he later went on to invade another European country, and what with Russia being genuinely sh*t hard and also controlling a large proportion of the world’s natural resources, either as the source or as the route through which they reach the West, there’s not a whole lot anyone can do about it. So, as it turned out, Putin is perhaps more of a man than even the photo conveys. And also completely insane, but that doesn’t fit my lead-in, so we’ll set that conveniently to one side.
Back to the photo. In the Twitter version Putin’s head has been removed and replaced by one with which we have all become very well accustomed, that of cuddly Manchester United Executive Vice-President and corporate whizz Ed Woodward. I guffawed when I saw it and I’ve seen a hell of a lot of Woody photo-shops. But there is a serious message behind the humour. The chubby, scruffy, perma-stubbled Weeble is doing a hell of a lot right this summer, which is quite a turnaround given the utter clusterf*ck which was his first and fortunately David Moyes’ only ever transfer window at the club. It was a summer of remarkable ineptitude, incessant briefings and almost nothing bar an over-priced Marouane Fellaini to show for it. It was all rather summed up by the last-second attempt to loan left back Fabio Coentrao from Real Madrid, United telling journalists that they had a deal done when, in fact, the Spaniards had failed to get their alternative and simply didn’t file the relevant paperwork. It was laughable stuff and Woodward quite rightly took a large portion of the blame. The whole thing had the look of a car crash from the off. The boasting about the money the club had, the desire to bring in a ‘stellar’ name, just because they thought they could and this was Manchester United, f**k yeah, the biggest, baddest club in the mother-f*cking universe.
In hindsight, my and others’ criticism was a little harsh. Parachuted in from another job requiring a totally different skillset, working with people who moved in very different circles and had very different morals and being lumbered with that vacant-faced bell-end Moyes, it was a bloody tough gig. Regardless, he did spectacularly screw it up though. Still, last summer was better, even if vitally needed defensive reinforcements were not acquired. Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw were purchased early in the summer as an outstanding coach in Louis Van Gaal was signed up to manage the side. In came four more players, perhaps over-priced, but then with no Champions League football and revenue clubs could smell the fear at Old Trafford.
And so to this summer’s transfer window. As a fan the elements required for a successful break were the purchase of players in weak areas of the squad, to do it quietly, to clear some of the dead wood and to milk Real Madrid for as much money as we could possibly get for David De Gea. So far it appears that that that is exactly what we’re going to get. And then some. Real have briefed their favoured papers all summer that De Gea was done, or that they wanted it done before their pre-season tour and that they value him at a relatively low sum because of his contract situation. The Spaniards usually turn up, cause some jip and disappear with the player. In fact they always do. But not this time. Not only has Woodward held firm but De Gea has refused to kick up the fuss which most who wish to head to the Bernabeu are forced to do. On top of that United have gone out and taken advantage of Sergio Ramos’ displeasure with his club and got the man assumed to be Real’s next captain demanding that he be allowed to leave for United. This is unprecedented. No one forces their way out of Real. On social media fans of the White Satan are throwing their toys out left, right and centre. It is a glory to behold. And it sends a powerful message to Florentino Perez and the gang that not only will United not be bullied, but if you try to we will come and sh*t in your bed when you’re out. Even if ultimately Ramos does not come the point will have been made.
Away from the De Gea saga it looks as if the gifted Southampton midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin will waltz into the saloon this week, finally providing us with a Carrick alternative and it appears that the club have other matters well in hand. Well that’s the way it feels, which is quite something coming from the person who two years ago considered Woodward to be the second most incompetent human being on the planet after Moyes. I have a strange feeling of reassurance about the summer, like lessons have been learned quickly. There is stability at United for the first time in two years and a clear strategy in place.
All of this hasn’t stopped the Twitter critics laying into the club, assuming that this transfer window will be one of inglorious failure and that United can no longer attract the World’s finest. This will continue regardless of how the summer progresses. Even if Woodward successfully offloads Nani to Fenerbahce and, praise be to Allah, Jonny Evans to anywhere that’s not here they will still complain. Of course, the job is not close to being finished yet. Shows of strength are only of value if that strength can be backed up in practice. Woodward knows that, especially when he’s sitting topless on the back of a horse.