Man United CEO Ed Woodward's business-first comments all wrong
There has been plenty of discussion this season over whether Manchester United are making progress under Jose Mourinho or not. While finishing second in the table shows a clear improvement on last season, the style of football that United have employed to get there has left a little to be desired.
If United win the FA Cup final Saturday, they can be content with a good season. Even when Sir Alex Ferguson was manager, finishing second with a trophy would have been fairly positive. But the gap between first-place Manchester City and United would have been unacceptable.
The cautious approach to their games is what seems to bother United fans the most, though. Many would have been happy enough with the FA Cup and finishing third or fourth if it had meant watching more entertaining football.
This is where the supporters and Ed Woodward disagree. United fans were horrified to hear the vice-chairman's response to United's recent financial update, which has seen them earn 8 percent more than at the same point this time last year, while also taking home slightly more of the overall payout from the league than champions City.
"Playing performance doesn't really have a meaningful impact on what we can do on the commercial side of the business," was Woodward's claim.
Business first, football club second? The fact that money is a priority over fan enjoyment, or "customer satisfaction" as he'd likely call it, is an awful thing to admit.
This stance is similar to the one Arsenal's board took for so many years, when it appeared that Arsene Wenger was kept around because he was a safe pair of hands. He used to guarantee them Champions League football, and therefore increased revenue, so that was good enough for the club.
The fans were crying out for success in the league and Champions League, but the board's aspirations didn't seem to match up. Making money was the priority.
Everton have recently bucked the trend and listened to their supporters this week, with the club giving Sam Allardyce the boot. The club sacked Ronald Koeman in October after they had picked up eight points from the opening nine games and fell into the relegation zone. Allardyce was named as his replacement and the club finished eighth in the league.
From the owners' point of view, when assessing the situation on paper, Everton had enjoyed a brilliant six months under Allardyce, but the fans weren't impressed with what they had seen.
They scored just 25 goals in the 24 games he was in charge, and the fans let their feelings be known, with the team booed off the field on more than one occasion. Everton made the surprising move of sending out a survey to the supporters to gauge their happiness, with one of the questions asking them to rank Allardyce's performance on a scale of 0-10.
You won't see a survey circulating at United anytime soon, but the responses when it came to Mourinho would be mixed.
United are in the Champions League for a second successive season, the first time this has happened since Ferguson retired. They have a cup final on the way. The season tickets for the campaign ahead have sold out. The debt has more than halved since the takeover in 2005, from the original £660 million to £301 million. So it's little wonder the Glazers are more than satisfied.
While the supporters can be pleased about all of these things, it doesn't make up for the fact that this current United squad is capable of doing all of this in a much more entertaining fashion.
Mourinho started the season well, with United averaging three goals a game in the weeks leading up to the 0-0 at Anfield when he reverted to type. United have had the odd high-scoring game since then, like the 4-1 win over Newcastle or 4-2 win over Watford, but they have largely relied on the goals David De Gea has kept out to win games, rather than plentiful goals at the other end.
The manager will point to the fact that United have claimed wins against City, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal this season, and that's the hardest part of his job achieved. He's won plenty of big games, even if some of those have come from stifling the opposition instead of battering them.
In terms of entertainment, Mourinho's United has been far less boring than Louis van Gaal's or David Moyes', but then neither had set the bar very high. In fact, it was painfully low, with fans desperate for those seasons to come to an end.
With the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard in the team, surely United should be capable of more.
But it's hard to argue why Mourinho should take the risk. This United team isn't comparable to City's, who have outspent every other club in four of the past five seasons, so finishing second is respectable. Mourinho's methods have largely worked, the shambolic Champions League exit against Sevilla aside. If Woodward isn't putting on any pressure to change, satisfied with the job the manager is doing given that it hasn't stood in the way of United making a profit, then why would Mourinho break the habit of a lifetime?
While he wasn't to everyone's liking before he got the job, plenty of United fans were desperate for him to bring some normality back to the club. He's done that, but at the cost of the entertaining football they enjoyed under Ferguson. But like Woodward says, the style of football doesn't have a negative impact on profits, so there's no reason for Mourinho to change.
Who cares what the fans want, anyway?
Scott is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @R_o_M.