A fairytale it was not. Salford City have risen through the English lower leagues to the promised land of the EFL with the backing of a Singaporean billionaire and six footballing legends with money to burn. Their wage bill of close to £2 million for a season in the fifth tier was hardly the mark of an underdog tale.
Nonetheless, Salford’s ruthless efficiency in achieving their aim of climbing onto the first rung of the senior league pyramid within five years, three years ahead of schedule, should be applauded. They might have had a huge financial leg up over their rivals, most of who have to scrap and scramble to just stay alive, but that advantage counted for something.
Contrast this to the recent fortunes of Manchester United, a club who have become a synonym for wastefulness. Indeed, only four clubs in all of Europe have spent more on transfer fees than the Old Trafford outfit in the last eight years, but what exactly do they have to show for their £993.5 million? They should have an advantage just like Salford.
It’s little wonder then that Man Utd are expected to hire a technical director this summer, someone to ensure their money goes further. There are countless candidates who could do this job – candidates with proven track records at the top of the game like Juventus’ Fabio Paratici and RB Leipzig’s Paul Mitchell.
When Manchester City first started plotting their way to the top, they hired two figures – Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano – key in Barcelona’s era-defining success. Begiristain and Soriano had no previous links to the Etihad Stadium club, but they were the best qualified candidates for the job and they have since justified their appointment, with City winning four Premier League titles in the past eight years playing a brand of exciting, dynamic football. This should set a precedent for United.
Instead, however, Ed Woodward is looking to the past in order to plot a route for the future, with United legends such as Rio Ferdinand and Darren Fletcher linked with the role. The flaws of this strategy are obvious, but if Woodward is determined to embark on a nostalgia trip why isn’t Gary Neville being considered as a potential Man Utd technical director?
Salford City’s success might have been bankrolled by the so-called Class of ’92 as a whole, along with Peter Lim, but Neville has been more hands on than most in his running of the club. His official title might be as a director and co-owner, but in footballing terms he has spent the past five years as Salford City’s Director of Football.
Neville has experience in handling contract negotiations, in buying and selling players, in hiring and firing managers and in assembling a title winning team. He even has experience in leading infrastructure projects, like the redevelopment of Salford City’s Peninsula Stadium or the establishment of the club’s youth academy.
What experience do Ferdinand or Fletcher have in such matters?
The former has a number of business interests, which at least give him a grounding in coin-counting, but his recent footballing experience extends only to his role as a television pundit. Meanwhile, the latter hasn’t even retired from playing, still under contract at Stoke City until the end of the month.
Neville certainly isn’t the best available candidate for the Man Utd technical director post, but if Woodward is determined to get the band back together, first hiring Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as manager, as well as Mike Phelan and Michael Carrick as assistants, then the former right back’s experience surely outstrips all other options. Salford City’s success, while not a footballing fairytale, underlines that.