There were no supporters inside Old Trafford on Sunday but if Ed Woodward happened to leave the stadium via the exit behind the Stretford End, he would have seen a banner with a rather uncomfortable message: ‘Glazers Out, Woodward Out – Over £1bn stolen from MUFC.’
Only a handful of supporters were present – but their sentiments are expressed by many, many more.
Their team had just been humiliated by opponents managed by Jose Mourinho, a man who was sacked by United in December 2018, as the club hierarchy felt no progress was being made after a second-placed finish the previous season.
That summer, Mourinho had fallen out with the club over their recruitment.
United now languish 16th, albeit with a match in hand on most teams in the Premier League, three games into a season following one where they finished third.
Although they hope to complete a couple of signings before the transfer window closes at 23:00 BST on Monday, it is easy to see why so many of those supporters blame the people running Manchester United rather than the manager, especially when the boss is someone as popular as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
On Sunday night, there was no sense of any knee-jerk reaction to the 6-1 defeat by Tottenham. If anything, there was a shrug of the shoulders at being caught up in what has been a bizarre start to the season across the league and a day where there were three results no-one would have predicted at the start of proceedings.
But while champions Liverpool and, to an extent, Leicester, can dismiss their defeats as awful days at the office and move on, at United, it is not so easy, not when fans such as those who stood outside Old Trafford continue to shine a light on the decisions being made by those in charge.
Club officials are stressing the positive aspect of the impending arrivals of Edinson Cavani and Alex Telles. In fairness, Cavani’s goal stats are impressive, roughly one in every two games in all forms, including Champions League and internationals.
They are not as keen to discuss why it has taken to within hours of the deadline closing to sign a 33-year-old who has not had a club since leaving Paris St-Germain on 30 June and has not played a game since March.
United’s database of potential signings is enormous – and gets trimmed down to a manageable number before players are scouted and pursued – so there must be something special about Telles given he is getting a four-year contract, with the option of another year, at the age of 27.
By the time the deal is over, there will be little resale value in the Brazilian.
Judgement on both players has to be reserved until they actually start playing – which for Cavani may come earlier than first imagined now Anthony Martial, who was sent off against Tottenham, must serve a three-game domestic ban that rules him out until the trip to Everton on 7 November.
But neither smacks of the kind of long-term vision United insisted they had in the wake of Mourinho’s exit. Neither feels to be part of the cultural reboot, which was also spoken of in those days.
And, for definite, neither are the product of a sporting director, the appointment of which was said to be a priority as Solskjaer settled into his role as caretaker manager but has now been quietly discarded on the basis all the parts of the role are already being carried out.
“We’re not going to go into that here,” said Solskjaer, when asked if it was acceptable a club of United’s stature should be in this position so near to the transfer window closing. “We need to look at what we’ve got here and make more of what we’ve got.”
It is the kind of answer Woodward should appreciate – unlike Mourinho, Solskjaer does not play politics.
It is impossible to imagine the Norwegian having any motive beyond what is best for the club. But fans see through this.
They remember the Europa League semi-final defeat by Sevilla in the summer, when Solskjaer waited until the 87th minute to make a change, and they feel it underlined a lack of faith in the depth of his squad. After that match Solskjaer said: “We need to strengthen squad depth of course.”
Now he is talking about making more of what he has and crossing his fingers his latest signings come off and two of last year’s – Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka – can return to some kind of form, because they are a shadow of their previous selves at the moment.
Under Louis van Gaal, Mourinho and now Solskjaer, United achieved top-four finishes. The seasons that followed saw United go backwards, both in position and points – and miss out on the Champions League.
These are very early days but the evidence indicates history is about to repeat itself. Again.