Where are they now? Woodward’s first 10 Manchester United signings
During his nine years as Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward wasn’t exactly the most popular figure at Old Trafford, despite spending a lot of money on signing new players.
Woodward, who replaced David Gill in 2013, was criticised for United’s struggles in the transfer market and their poor performances in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.
We’ve taken a look at his first 10 signings at United and how they’ve fared since. Note: we’ve only included players that were 18 or over at the time and went on to play for United’s first team. Apologies to Sadiq El Fitouri.
The first player signed in the David Moyes era (if it can indeed be called an era), Varela spent his debut season in United’s reserves and was on loan at Real Madrid B for the following campaign.
He made 11 first-team appearances under Louis van Gaal in 2016 but a poor display against Liverpool in the Europa League marked the end of his United career.
A loan to Eintracht Frankfurt in 2016-17 didn’t work out as planned either as the right-back went for a tattoo days before the German Cup final, only to ultimately miss the match after it became infected.
He rejoined Uruguayan side Penarol on a permanent deal and then spent a couple of years at Copenhagen, where he played against United in the Europa League in 2020.
The 29-year-old has since represented Uruguay at Qatar 2022. He moved to Russia but is currently back in South America, plying his trade at Flamengo, on loan from Dynamo Moscow.
After being linked with Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas in the summer of 2013, United fans were a bit underwhelmed when Fellaini arrived at Old Trafford.
United famously allowed the midfielder’s £23.5million buyout clause to expire in mid-August, only to buy him on deadline day for £27.5million.
“You can ask my staff – the last thing I wanted was for Marouane Fellaini to be my first [first-team] signing,” Moyes later told Radio 5 Live. “I knew, coming from my old club, the look was never going to be good.
“I’ve got to say we looked at [Nemanja] Matic as well. He hadn’t done well for Chelsea and had gone back to Benfica. He was a consideration. We probably did need a more defensive type player in hindsight.
“Someone who would sit and play, make passes from the middle of the park. But we didn’t get a lot of the things we hoped for.”
The Belgium international had a disastrous debut season at United but proved to be an important player for both Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, scoring several crucial goals along the way.
He was later deemed surplus to requirements by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and joined Chinese Super League side Shandong Luneng in a £10.4million deal in January 2019.
The 35-year-old has now made over 100 appearances for the club, where he has won the Chinese Super League and two FA Cups.
In an attempt to lift the gloom around Old Trafford after a poor start to the 2013-14 season, United signed Mata from Chelsea in the January transfer window.
Woodward proudly reported that United gained more than 200,000 Twitter followers and 250,000 Facebook likes in the five days after signing the Spaniard.
But the midfielder did also have an impact on the pitch and provided some memorable moments in a United shirt, including his overhead kick winner against Liverpool in 2015.
He fell down the pecking order in his latter years and departed Old Trafford on a free transfer at the end of the 2021-22 season.
The 34-year-old is currently turning out for Turkish Super Lig leaders Galatasaray. Surprisingly, Mata has never won a league title – might this be his year?
— RedMancunian (@RedMancunian) March 22, 2016
United tried and failed to sign Herrera from Athletic Bilbao in the summer of 2013 before finally activating his £29million release clause 12 months later.
The midfielder quickly established himself as a fan favourite at Old Trafford and won the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award in 2016-17.
But he called time on a five-year stay at the club when his contract expired in 2019 and joined Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer.
“When I look back a year ago, my intention was not to leave Manchester United,” Herrera told ESPN in 2020.
“I had some different opinions with the board, but I respect them. I respect them a lot. They do things for Manchester United and I disagree with the people who say they don’t.
“They really suffer when things don’t go well and they really fight to bring Manchester United back. I disagreed with some of the decisions they made, but this happens in football. It happens in every company.”
He since won two Ligue 1 titles in three years in Paris before returning to his beloved Athletic Club on loan. He’s since made the move to the La Liga outfit permanent.
Shaw had a very difficult start to his United career, suffering a horrific double leg fracture in September 2015 before becoming Mourinho’s punch bag.
But he remains at Old Trafford to this day and has made over 200 appearances for the club, winning United’s Players’ Player of the Year award in 2018-19 and 2020-21.
The left-back, who scored for England in the Euro 2020 final, had a difficult 2021-22 season but has since rediscovered his best form under Erik ten Hag.
Having produced some impressive performances as Argentina finished runners-up to Germany in the 2014 World Cup, Rojo arrived at United for a reported £16million.
The centre-back inherited Rio Ferdinand’s No.5 shirt but failed to fill the boots of his predecessor and became renowned for his rash challenges and hotheadedness.
He left Old Trafford in February 2021 and returned to his native Argentina with Boca Juniors, where he’s shown so signs of calming down.
After a defeat to Atletico Mineiro in Copa Libertadores in July 2021, the 32-year-old appeared to punch a security guard during a post-match brawl and was also filmed grabbing a fire extinguisher.
Angel Di Maria
Woodward was seemingly determined to embrace a Galactico model at Old Trafford and signed Di Maria in 2014 for a then-British record transfer fee of £59.7million.
But the Argentina international failed to live up to expectations, scoring four goals in his solitary season at United before joining PSG.
“Firstly, he couldn’t communicate with anyone,” translator Debora Gomes said when asked why Di Maria was unhappy at United. “And second because he realised the club bought him not because the club thought ‘Oh, he will bring titles to us because he is a good player.’
“No. Because they simply wanted to sell his shirts. This I heard inside the club, the people talking. ‘Di Maria sells t-shirts, so let’s buy him.’ So he was not happy.
“Then I realised, after Sir Alex Ferguson left the club, the club lost interest in football. It’s money, money, money. It’s making money and that’s it.”
He got his career back on track during his seven years at PSG, scoring 91 goals and notching 119 assists in 295 appearances and winning five Ligue 1 titles.
After leaving PSG last summer, Di Maria lifted the World Cup with Argentina, finishing a stunning counter-attack goal in the final against France. He’s currently turning out for Juventus.
An Ajax academy graduate, Blind won three trophies and made 141 appearances for United before returning to his boyhood club in 2018.
He played a prominent role in their run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2018-19 and has also added three Eredivisie titles to the four he won in his first spell at the club.
In January, Blind departed Ajax for a second time. He’s now lending his considerable experience to Bayern Munich.
Another big-name signing, Falcao was regarded as one of the best strikers in the world when he joined United on a season-long loan deal in 2014.
But the striker was still recovering from a serious knee injury and netted just four goals in 29 appearances for United in 2014-15.
After another disastrous loan at Chelsea, he rediscovered his best form for Monaco and was a key part of the side that upset the odds to beat PSG to the 2016-17 Ligue 1 title.
The 36-year-old later had an injury-plagued spell at Galatasaray but is now becoming a cult hero at Rayo Vallecano.
An absolutely lethal finish for a Rayo Vallecano debut goal from the Colombian superstar 💥 pic.twitter.com/jAMGldZiBA
— Viaplay Sports UK (@ViaplaySportsUK) September 18, 2021
Signed on a free transfer in January 2015, Valdes made just two appearances for United and was placed on the transfer list after Van Gaal accused him of refusing to play in a reserve match.
He saw out his playing career with Middlesbrough in 2016-17 and then decided to move into coaching. The former Spain international had a very brief spell as Barcelona Under-19s boss and then managed Spanish fourth-tier side UA Horta.
Valdes has since helped Joan Laporta become Barcelona president but reportedly turned down the opportunity to become Barcelona’s goalkeeping coach.