Man Utd have rightly sacked Mourinho – now it’s time for disastrous Woodward to step aside as well

The deed has been done. Manchester United have sacked Jose Mourinho, bringing to an end the two-and-a-half-year reign of the Portuguese at Old Trafford. Now the real overhaul should begin.

If returning Manchester United to the top of the world game was a 12-step program, the dismissal of Mourinho would be step one rather than 11 or 12.

His toxicity on the training ground and downright disregard for the desire of the fans to see attractive, attacking football were always going to bring about his demise sooner or later, and his sacking will leave the club on more even ground going forward.

But Mourinho’s departure alone will not right the wrongs that have occurred at Old Trafford over the last six years, and in executive vice-chair Ed Woodward they have another man who should be held accountable for his actions over recent years.

While his success in the commercial market has taken the club to new heights on the balance sheet, the football side of the business has been a train wreck by Manchester United’s standards under his watch.

Having handed David Moyes a six-year contract in 2013, Woodward is now adding a third managerial pay-off to the debit column before the Scot’s initial deal would even have expired. And that speaks more about his own shortcomings than those of Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Mourinho.

Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement and the departure of David Gill as CEO, United have got a lot more wrong than right, making for a volatile atmosphere in all football departments. And much of it has come under Woodward’s remit.

His record in the transfer market has been atrocious, starting with the chaotic summer window in 2013 which saw them chase the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Gareth Bale, Ander Herrera and Leighton Baines only to finish up with Marouane Fellaini, and ending with the 2018 campaign in which he refused to back a manager to whom he had handed a new contract only months earlier.

Ed Woodward Manchester United

The refusal to sign a centre-back last summer made Mourinho a lame duck of a manager. Why tie him down until 2020 on a rich new deal, only to then say that business must be done in the vision of the board rather than the boss? They knew what he was like, and they knew it could only end in disaster but sat idly by and let it happen anyway.

Mourinho hardly helped matters. From the moment he walked in the door and said publicly that he wanted four signings that summer, the pressure was on. He would always let it be known what he would ask for, and Woodward would always be held to account as a result.

When Ivan Perisic wasn’t recruited in 2017, the manager was unhappy but went with it. But 12 months on the decision not to pursue the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Harry Maguire to bolster the back line was too much for Mourinho to take.

Woodward told reporters as the summer window was closing that he would have splashed out on Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane but not on those Mourinho had identified. It was pie-in-the-sky thinking. He had paid through the nose for Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez but was unwilling to do so when it came to less fashionable, less marketable names.

Even Florentino Perez has accepted the need to widen the net beyond Galacticos at times in Madrid, yet Woodward has always thought of the pounds and pence that may return to the coffers through shirt sales and mattress sponsorships when considering signings.

In truth, his unsuitability to his current role is no real surprise. He is a finance person, not a football person, and his dealings broadcast that fact loud and clear.

Ed Woodward Bobby Charlton

Ed Woodward Manchester United quote

He has been put in place to make money for the club-owning Glazer family and he has certainly succeeded in that. But if United don’t start to address their needs on the pitch then the dividends will decrease as fans start to turn their backs.

They need a Director of Football almost more urgently than they need to appoint a successor to Mourinho. The need to take football-related responsibilities away from Woodward is now 10 times more important than getting the right man in the dug-out. What is the point of bringing in the most perfect manager to lead United forward only to then hamstring him with misguided direction from the boardroom which has already proven to only hamper rather than help the club’s fortunes?

“As it is easy to get caught up in the game-by-game fluctuations of our season, I would like to take this opportunity to take a step back and look at the bigger picture,” Woodward told investors in September.

“We’re the biggest sports team in the world as measured by number of fans. We know that position is one that requires continued effort and investment to maintain. Our board, our investors and everyone at the club are aligned with the fans on what we need to do on the pitch, and that is to win trophies.

“That’s one of the reasons why we hired Jose Mourinho and we’ve already won three with him.”

It was as though just throwing in the odd new superstar occasionally and telling Mourinho to get on with the job was the only way he knew to govern from the top.

Woodward may earn the club millions away from football, but he has frittered it away on the playing side. Three managers sacked and paid off to the tune of a combined seven-and-a-half years’ worth of salary. Players like Angel di Maria, Alexis Sanchez and more brought in on a whim in a bid to show their pulling power rather than increase their chances of winning a Premier League title.

How many more disastrous decisions must Woodward make before accepting that he needs to step away from the football and concentrate on the commerce role at which he is so adept?

While hoofing Woodward out of the same door through which Mourinho has just departed might be the idealistic next step for many Manchester United fans, the very least he can do is seek with urgency a Director of Football to begin to sort out his mess.

Then, and only then, should United sit down and consider who will be the next manager. Because the club is doomed to fail for as long as Woodward is still pulling all the strings.

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River Plate 2 Al Ain 2 (aet, 4-5 on penalties): Perez misses decisive spot kick

Al Ain caused a major upset at the Club World Cup on Tuesday as they dumped Copa Libertadores winners River Plate out on penalties in the semi-finals. 

Nine days after they were crowned South American champions for a fourth time, River were unable to book a second Club World Cup final appearance as Enzo Perez missed the decisive spot kick after the match had finished 2-2 after 120 minutes. 

Rafael Santos Borre had given River hope with a first-half double to cancel out Marcus Berg’s scrappy opener, the Colombian’s brace taking his tally to four goals in his last two outings. 

After Caio had levelled proceedings, Borre twice went close to grabbing himself a hat-trick before Gonzalo Martinez saw a penalty hit the crossbar. 

Perez also failed from 12 yards out in a dramatic shootout, allowing Al Ain to progress by a 5-4 scoreline after they converted all of their attempts from the spot.

Buoyed by their two earlier wins in the competition, Al Ain broke the deadlock in the third minute as Berg scrambled home a right-wing corner with the help of a deflection off Javier Pinola. 

Their lead did not last long, though, as Borre levelled things up after Khalid Eisa had made a sensational double save to deny both Lucas Pratto and Exequiel Palacios. 

Borre doubled his tally five minutes later with a composed finish after being released on the right by Martinez, the 23-year-old lifting the ball over Eisa’s outstretched right leg. 

Hussein El Shahat thought he had fired Al Ain level on the stroke of half-time only for VAR to rightly rule it out for offside, but Caio’s low strike soon after the restart restored parity – the forward profiting from some slack River defending. 

River were awarded a penalty in the 68th minute when Mohamed Ahmad was adjudged to have fouled Milton Casco, but Martinez could not take advantage as his spot kick thudded against the bar. 

Franco Armani denied Ahmad with a point-blank save in the closing stages of extra time but it was Eisa who was the hero at the end, diving to his left to end a run of nine successful penalties.

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Replays scrapped for FA Cup fifth round

FA Cup fifth round ties will not go to replays if they finish all square in this season’s competition.

The Football Association has brought forward the change to its flagship knockout competition a year earlier than planned.

With four Premier League teams – Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham – qualifying for the Champions League last 16, and Arsenal and Chelsea reaching the knockout phase of the Europa League, the FA has taken the decision to help those side reduce fixture congestion. 

A statement from the FA read: “The move was agreed by the Professional Game Board and has been introduced to alleviate fixture congestion, with six Premier League clubs qualifying for the knockout stages of European competitions and UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League ties and a midweek round of Premier League fixtures scheduled in latter February and March.”

Games will be settled on the day, with extra-time and, if necessary, penalties they are all square after 90 minutes.

It will also be the last season fifth-round ties take place on a weekend, with games on February 16-17.

From 2019-20, last-16 fixtures will take place in midweek as part of the mid-season break agreed by the FA, Premier League and English Football League this year.

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Steffen named U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year

Zack Steffen has been named the 2018 U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year, the federation announced on Tuesday.

The goalkeeper beat out midfielders Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie and Wil Trapp as well as defender Matt Miazga to the award, winning a total of 44 percent of the vote.

Adams followed in second with 38 percent while McKennie rounded out the top three with 16 percent of the overall vote.

With his victory, the 23-year-old goalkeeper becomes the youngest player at his position to win the 35-year-old award, following Kasey Keller (1997, 1999, 2005), Tim Howard (2008, 2014) and Brad Friedel (2002) as winners.

“It’s an honor to be put with those names that have won before me and to have the respect and confidence from teammates, coaches and staff,” Steffen said.

“I’m thankful for my support system. Without them I couldn’t have done any of this. It gives me motivation and confidence to keep going and do bigger and better things.”

Steffen led all USMNT goalkeepers with six appearances in 2018, keeping clean sheets in the 1-0 victories against Paraguay and Mexico.

His best moments, though, came in France as Steffen made eight saves to help the U.S. earn a 1-1 draw with the eventual World Cup winners just days before the start of this summer’s tournament.

The MLS Goalkeeper of the Year also kept 10 clean sheets in 29 matches for the Columbus Crew this season, prompting an eventual transfer to Manchester City.

Steffen will begin the 2019 season in MLS before joining the Premier League champions in the summer.

In addition, U.S. Soccer announced that U.S. U-20 star Alex Mendez has been recognized as 2018 Young Male Player of the Year.

Mendez earned 43 percent of the vote for his star efforts throughout World Cup qualifying, followed by Mark McKenzie and Giovanni Reyna who each had 18 percent. 

“It’s a very proud moment,” Mendez said. “First, I want to thank U.S. Soccer for the nomination. I also want to thank my family, my teammates and the U-20 squad that won the Concacaf Championship.

“Obviously, this is an individual award, but none of this would be possible without them pushing me to be a better player.”

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Leicester City vs Manchester City Betting Tips: Latest odds, team news, preview and predictions

Leicester City and Manchester City meet in the League Cup quarter-finals at King Power Stadium on Tuesday night.

It is a repeat of their meeting at this stage of the competition 12 months ago – a match that was won on penalty kicks by Pep Guardiola’s side, who went on to lift the trophy.

Latest odds

This renewal could prove to be just as tight and bet365 offer 15/4 (4.75) that the match remains level at the end of 90 minutes.

Leicester are available at 15/2 (8.50) to take their revenge on the men from Manchester with victory on home soil – although it is worth noting that the Foxes have failed to make the last four of the League Cup since winning the competition in 2000.

James Maddison Jamie Vardy Leicester City 01122018

The holders are chalked up as a 4/11 (1.36) chance to win this tie inside 90 minutes and, once again, send the Foxes crashing out of the competition.

Team news

Jamie Vardy and Harry Maguire were both restored to Leicester’s starting line-up on Saturday and could come into contention here as they look to build up match fitness ahead of the busy festive period.

Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero were named as substitutes on Saturday and, so, all three men could be in line to face the Foxes.

Brahim Diaz and Phil Foden will also be hopeful of starting this match, having already featured prominently for Manchester City in this competition this term.

A low-scoring clash?

Leicester have yet to concede in this competition so far this season and have reached the last eight following penalty shootout wins against both Wolverhampton Wanderers and Southampton respectively following goalless draws in 90 minutes.

Leicester City v Manchester City Betting Preview

Manchester City, too, have managed clean sheets in both of their League Cup ties thus far and bet365 go 19/20 (1.95) that either side fails to find the net here, while the same firm go 27/20 (2.35) that there are fewer than three goals scored.

Prediction

Manchester City’s remarkable strength in depth could be the key to success for them when they face the Foxes on Tuesday night.

The 20/21 (1.95) quote for Guardiola’s men to win by at least two clear goals could provide punters with a path to profit from this tie – it is a selection that would have landed in six of the last seven matches that the Premier League champions have won in domestic competition.

Odds correct at time of writing. Please gamble responsibly.

Betting Banner - Best Bet Manchester City (-1) at 20/21 (1.95) for a 1pt stake at bet365

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