Ed Woodward was recruited by the Glazer family when the American firm bought Manchester United in 2005. The former accountant was initially hired as chief officer of commercial affairs and enjoyed success in tying up lucrative sponsorship deals such as with Chevrolet and Adidas. In 2012, the University of Bristol graduate was promoted to the top operational role at Old Trafford. This meant he had strong influence over which players the club would sign. It is since taking this role that Woodward has come under fire from fans, as a lot of his decisions have appeared careless and haven’t paid off. Woodward should look to poker experts to have a better understanding of playing with a large stack and getting good value. At present, his transfer strategy seems highly disorganised and erratic – behaviour that would result in instant elimination in poker.
Woodward should look to how chip leaders bet in poker
United are one of the richest clubs in the world, with only Barcelona and Real Madrid worth more than the Manchester club. The Old Trafford outfit generates revenues of around £618 million each year, meaning that they have the financial might to purchase nearly any player in the world. They proved this when they made Paul Pogba the most expensive signing ever in 2016 when they snatched him from Serie A giants Juventus for £89.3 million. However, despite being one of the heavyweights in the game, United have been frivolous, and have not spent wisely in the years since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Woodward could look to professional poker players for tips on how to operate with such a big bankroll. Tournament players need to develop a huge stack over the course of a competition. This has to be done gradually, and making rash decisions can see it diminish quickly. Doug Polk makes a lot of online videos showing beginners how to build up their chips gradually and keep hold of them. He discusses the different strategies for players who have short stacks and those who have big piles of chips.
The most important thing for poker players to remember is to not throw money into every hand and allow opponents back into the game. United have been tossing money at players who haven’t returned results, and this can be viewed as bad bankroll management. Like a poker player waits for good positions on the table or favourable poker hands, Woodward should bide his time and wait for the best signings to emerge. The fact that he has a deep stack allows him to play a wider range in poker terms. This means that he can afford to make the odd substandard signing, but he shouldn’t be doing this all time. Just as a deep-stacked tournament player can take a few risks with weaker hands – if the price to call is right.
United have been spending money for the sake of it
Since Woodward’s first transfer window at the beginning of the 2013-14 season, he has spent nearly £650 million on transfers. Only a handful of players have been successful, with the majority of Woodward’s signings falling flat and not adding anything to the squad. Anthony Martial, Juan Mata, and Zlatan Ibrahimović could be considered among the best additions. But the list of substandard players is much longer with Pogba, Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, and Romelu Lukaku providing little value for money.
Perhaps the worst signing of all was Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean was picked up from Arsenal in a swap deal which saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan head the other way, but it’s the former Gunner’s wages which are particularly shocking. The 30-year-old is being paid £400,000 per week, but has only mustered three goals in his 32 league appearances for the club.
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A lot of fans believe that Woodward is spending money for the sake of it, and bringing in big names without considering how they will fit into the team. Sanchez was a luxury signing, who didn’t fit into Jose Mourinho’s side at all. The club already had Martial and Marcus Rashford who played in the same position as the Chilean, which made it seem all the more absurd.
If Woodward were to operate with a poker brain, he would be patient and identify the specific areas of the squad which need enhancing. In the same way, a poker player would wait for the perfect time to pounce on the river after holding the nuts and milking the opponents for as many chips as possible in the earlier rounds. It should also be remembered that having pocket aces doesn’t always win the hand. In the same sense, bringing in superstar players doesn’t always enhance the team. In cases like Pogba, it can even be detrimental to the side’s success when that star player doesn’t want to perform.
Could bluffing be used to acquire key targets?
Managers and chief executives need to be clever in the transfer market in order to get the players they desire. Sometimes, this can involve bluffing and deception. In hindsight, the Sanchez deal could be seen as a clever ploy by the Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. At the time, the Spaniard made it seem that he was desperate to get hold of the former Barcelona attacker. This could have made Sanchez more appealing to United, who swooped in and hijacked the deal.
Poker players often bluff to try to deceive the other players at the table. It is designed to make people think that you are holding a stronger hand than you have. Woodward could try to incorporate bluffing techniques in the transfer market. To do this, he could feign interest in public so that United’s rivals think he wants a certain player. Then, he could go in for a surprise target to confuse the competition.
There is no denying that Woodward’s transfer strategy needs a complete overhaul. The United executive vice-chairman could do a lot worse than look to poker professionals for tips.