Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ed Woodward.

Woodward confident of United's resilience

Ed Woodward has voiced confidence about the “underlying strength and resilience” of Manchester United as the club navigates the “big challenges and uncertainties” created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

United's executive vice-chairman said recent months had demonstrated the “special role that sport plays in our societies” and he was proud of how the club continues to respond.

Speaking after the release of the club's annual financial results, Woodward highlighted our commitment to welcoming fans back to Old Trafford as soon as it is safe. He also stressed the club's desire to help address the financial challenges created by the pandemic for the wider English football pyramid, and to work with other clubs to strengthen the national game for the long term.

On the day after our 2-1 Champions League away victory over Paris Saint-Germain, Woodward gave a positive update on the progress made by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the team over the past year.

“On the field, we will never be satisfied at Manchester United, unless we are winning trophies,” he said. “But our third-place finish in the Premier League and strong cup runs last season showed that, while there is more hard work ahead and the path is not always smooth, we are making progress. We have a clear strategy under Ole to build a successful, committed team, with a core of homegrown talent blended with high-quality recruits, that plays fast flowing, attacking football.

“To that end, we are pleased with our recent additions to the first-team squad of Donny van de Beek and Alex Telles, two players we had been tracking as part of our recruitment process for a long period, and Edinson Cavani, a top striker who adds a new option to our forward line.

“We also welcome Facundo Pellistri and Amad Diallo, who will join in January, two exciting young prospects who have also been scouted extensively. Added to the arrival of Bruno Fernandes earlier this year, these recruits underscore our continued commitment to strengthening the squad and take our net investment in new players since summer 2019 to over €200m – more, I believe, than any other major European club over that time period.

“We also continue to invest strongly in our thriving Academy, whose graduates make up a third of our current first-team squad. The pipeline of new talent looks as exciting as ever, with Ole giving first team debuts to eight Academy graduates last season – the highest number since the Busby Babes were breaking through in 1952/53. This faith in youth remains an integral part of our identity as a club. Even with the addition of some more experienced players this month, our squad remains one of the youngest in the Premier League with an average age of 25. This means the team has potential for significant further improvement as our young players develop and mature.”

Woodward said he was also “tremendously excited by the progress being made by our Women’s team under Casey Stoney following the arrival of several new players this summer, including Tobin Heath and Christen Press, both two-time World Cup winners with the US national team.”

Commenting on recent discussions about the financial challenges facing many English clubs, particularly smaller ones, Woodward said Manchester United had been “playing an active role in those discussions because we strongly believe in supporting the English football pyramid, both in the short term, to address the issues created by COVID-19, and in the long term to improve financial sustainability at all levels of the game.

“There will always be intense debate around any changes to the structure of football, just as there was before the formation of the Premier League 28 years ago. Now, at this critical juncture for the game, we must ensure that the huge success of the Premier League is reinforced while ensuring that the wider football pyramid continues to thrive in a rapidly changing media environment.

“Achieving this will require strategic vision and leadership. We are pleased that the Premier League has committed to work together on a plan for the future structures and financing of English football. Now it must deliver on that promise, and we are committed to playing a leading role in pushing that process towards a successful outcome.”

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Woodward also highlighted the importance of getting fans back into stadiums as soon as it is safe. He said the club’s plans for reopening Old Trafford to supporters were “well advanced and we are confident of ours and the whole league’s ability to welcome them back in a safe, bio-secure environment.

“Crowds have been permitted to return to varying degrees in over 20 European countries, albeit with significant capacity restrictions to allow for social distancing, and we urge the UK government to follow these positive examples as soon as it is safe to do so.

“While we recognise that public health must always be the priority, what is needed is consistency of approach. If people are allowed to sit in a plane for hours, or in the cinema, or even watch football in a cinema, why not outside in a stadium environment which is professionally managed and controlled? If indoor concerts are allowed, why should outdoor, socially-distanced football fans be treated differently? Fans are the bedrock of this game and some of the inconsistencies out there are frustrating for them and for the clubs.”

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