Never mind the infamous ‘Battle of the Buffet’, Sky Sports should dub Super Sunday’s clash between Man United and Newcastle the ‘Battle of the Buffoons’, in honour of Ed Woodward and Mike Ashley.
Yes, I’m sure both of these well-heeled magnates will sob themselves to sleep when they read this article by a man whose greatest achievement in business was successfully recouping the money for two Michael Bublé tickets via Gumtree. PS they weren’t mine, long story.
However, while Woodward and Ashley’s decision-making in business has been astute, their decision-making in football-related matters has been, well, sh*te.
Both men have had tumultuous tenures at their respective clubs since taking the reins.
Their roles may differ, with Ashley the outright owner of Newcastle and Woodward the vice-chairman of United. But, their insistence upon meddling in areas beyond their expertise is very much the same.
Each is reviled by their own supporters. Each has made a succession of failed managerial appointments and each has faced calls to fall their own sword.
But who has been the sh**test?
Mike Ashley’s appointed a total of nine managers during his thirteen-year reign at Newcastle. Some have been permanent, some interim but all have ended horribly for one reason or another. Sam Allardyce (inherited) was sacked after just six months to make way for fan-favourite Kevin Keegan.
However, Kev’s second stint as boss lasted just eight months due to a series of clashes with the newly appointed director of football Dennis Wise. Next in the St James’ hot seat was Joe Kinnear, who won just four of 18 games in charge before falling ill.
Club legend Alan Shearer presided over Newcastle’s first Premier League era relegation during an ill-fated eight-game spell in charge, then was overlooked in favour of Chris Hughton as the man to lead the club’s promotion charge. Despite bringing the club back up and steering Newcastle to a comfortable mid-table position in the Premier League, popular Hughton was sacked at Christmas.
Coach John Carver took the reins on an interim basis, winning only three of his 20 games in charge – including a final-day victory over West Ham which staved off relegation. Ashley disposed of Carver during the summer and drafted in former England boss Steve McClaren, to whom he handed a £70M war chest. But McClaren was sacked by March with the Geordie outfit languishing in the bottom three.
Ashley turned to Rafa Benitez who was unable to prevent the club from a second relegation during the final ten games of the season. The Spaniard clinched promotion as second-tier champions at the first time of asking and remained at the helm until the summer of 2019 when he failed to reach an extension agreement with Ashley.
His counterpart at Old Trafford has overseen the arrival of four managers during his six-year tenure as executive vice-chairman. The decision to hire David Moyes as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor was not Woodward’s, although he was instrumental in the decision to sack the Scot just ten months into a six-year contract.
Ryan Giggs was Woodward’s first managerial appointment, although on an interim basis spanning just four games. Dutchman Louis van Gaal was the former investment banker’s first permanent appointment on a three-year contract. However, the former Ajax boss barely saw out two of those years when he was sacked just two days after winning the FA Cup in May 2015.
Jose Mourinho was appointed his successor and was also handed a three-year deal by Woodward.
Despite winning the Charity Shield, League Cup and Europa League in his debut season, then finishing runners-up to runaway leaders City in his second (their highest league position since the Fergie era), the Portuguese was sacked mid-way through his third and replaced by the current incumbent, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Verdict: Both have an itchy trigger finger, averaging a managerial sacking every 1.5 years but Ashley is the sh**test here, primarily for hiring Joe Kinnear.
At the time when Ashley seized control of Newcastle they’d been consistently challenging for European football. Within two years they’d been relegated.
Initially endearing himself to the Geordie faithful by replacing the unpopular Sam Allardyce with Kevin Keegan, the Sports Direct owner became public enemy No.1 when he fired the terrace idol. He compounded this PR blunder by replacing Keegan with Joe Kinnear, who’d been out of the game for five years doing f**k knows what?
The former ‘Crazy Gang’ chief’s results on the pitch were only slightly more embarrassing than the expletive-laden verbal tirade he launched at journalists, swearing at them seventy times during one particular outburst. Kinnear was so off his rocker, he could barely remember the names of his own players, including ‘Charles Insomnia’ (Charles N’Zogbia). Next up was his treatment of record goalscorer, Alan Shearer.
Ashley verbally agreed to appoint Shearer the manager but never bothered to speak to again before appointing Chris Hughton. Shearer openly criticised Ashley, who in turn renamed the stadium’s ‘Shearer’s Bar’ and denied him a statue outside the ground.
Not content with renaming the pub, Ashley decided to enrage The Toon Army further by calling St James’ Park ‘The Sports Direct Arena’. Rehiring Joe Kinnear, this time in a director of football capacity, was viewed by most Geordies as the final piss-take by Ashley.
Similarly, Ed Woodward has done little to endear himself to the Old Trafford faithful since his appointment. The 47-year-old accountant was on a hiding to nothing from the get-go because of his association with the Glazer family.
It was Woodward who masterminded their aggressive takeover of Manchester United back in 2005 which has afforded him teacher’s pet status among the US magnates. And despite United’s failings on the pitch, Woodward’s ability to generate revenue for the Florida-based tycoons has never wavered.
The fact the man who’s orchestrating the club’s demise is bulletproof in the eyes of the owners, is particularly irksome for United supporters. David Moyes became a lightning rod for the fan’s fury during the early days of the post-Fergie era. But, over the ensuing seasons, it’s become abundantly clear that a fish starts rotting at the head.
Woodward is a banker making footballing decisions and it shows. As Louis van Gaal best summed up, “At Bayern, the people in charge are football men. I always appreciated that. At Manchester United, on the other hand, Ed Woodward was installed as CEO – somebody with zero understanding of football. It cannot be a good thing when a club is run solely from a commercially-driven perspective”.
His point-blank refusal to relinquish any control by appointing a director of football will ensure he remains the main focus for scrutiny at the club.
Verdict: Again, both men have attained public enemy No.1 status at their respective clubs, but the purveyor of cheap tracksuits renamed Newcastle’s 127-year-old stadium after his business. Absolute s**thousery. 2-0 Ashley.
Total Spent: £419.49M (13 seasons)
Notable bad signings: Siem de Jong (£6m), Florian Thauvin (£15m), Henri Saivet (£5m), Matz Sels (£6.5m), Emmanuel Riviere (£6m).
Particularly sh*te: Ignacio Nacho Gonzalez
Total Spent: £948.53M (7 seasons)
Notable bad signings: Fred (£53m), Memphis Depay (£30m), Morgan Schneiderlin (£31.5m), Angel Di Maria (£67.5m), Falcao (£6.84m – Loan), Marouane Fellaini (£29.16m).
Particularly sh*te: Alexis Sanchez
Verdict: Hands down winner in the s**t stakes for transfers is Eddy boy. Spent almost £1B since Fergie retired to send United 25 years backwards. However, the absolute coup de grace is the signing of Alexis Sanchez. £400k-per-week scored five goals in 18 months before being loaned out to Inter.
Ashley: Championship Winners – 2009/10, 2016/17
Woodward: Charity Shield – 2013/14 & 2016/17, FA Cup – 2014/15, Europa League – 2016/17, League Cup – 2016/17
Verdict: Another victory for Ashley. Even the two trophies won during his tenure were the result of two relegations.
Overall Winner: Mike Ashley. The only reason this isn’t a clean sweep for the rotund businessman is that Ed Woodward has wasted more money – albeit someone else’s. Congrats, Mike. You are the sh*t!