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Raiola just saved Woodward: Why Neville claim should stun Man Utd fans

COMMENT: Mino Raiola. He's just played a blinder. Well, at least in the eyes of Ed Woodward. The timing. The target. Raiola could not have done better for Manchester United's vice-chairman exec.

By rights, we all should be talking about Woodward today. The headlines. The airwaves. They should've all been about the United chief and the revelation made by Gary Neville on Monday night.

Instead Raiola, with that early morning tweet, sucked all the oxygen out of the room. Rather than focus on how a former United captain had effectively fingered Woodward as a club leak. The backpages are screaming today. Dominated by a personality clash. A twitter spat between two men with no direct involvement in the running of the club.

Yeah, it's good fun. Raiola accusing Paul Scholes of using his client to garner attention for himself, "fear of being forgotten", as the super agent put it. But in the grand scheme of things, so what? Neither Scholes nor Raiola have gone out of their way to do their best by Manchester United in recent times. Scholes has always been quick to pull apart Jose Mourinho and yes, Raiola's star client Paul Pogba. But the Italian has been no different, showing zero regard when trying to place Pogba at Manchester City in January. Actions which were gleefully revealed by Pep Guardiola, the City manager, not a few weeks later.

But with that early morning post, Raiola effectively ran interference for Woodward. Yesterday - and even today - should've been all about Neville's revelation of a "briefing" given by Woodward to selected media before the Leicester City game.

The ex-United skipper declared: "I think of the briefing Ed Woodward gave journalists ahead of the Leicester game, where he explained why United weren't going to buy centre-backs and why Jose was not being backed, trying to justify to the media why he's not backed his manager."

No cameras. No photos. But a 'briefing'. Others would describe it as a 'strategic' leak. A way to get Woodward's position in the media cycle without any direct quotes. In other words, no backlash from fans. And no public confirmation of the manager's preseason complaints.

Neville continued: "The briefing undermined Jose Mourinho, there's no doubt about that. Jose knows that and he's not going to take any messing around from anybody."

Forget Pogba. Forget Raiola, Scholes... the lot of 'em. This is the story. The most important piece of information a United fan has had this year. The chief exec speaking to the media in direct conflict with his manager. As Neville clearly puts it, using a considered media campaign, Woodward is actively "undermining" Mourinho.

Is this Woodward going rogue? Or has he done this with the board's approval? If not, then management needs to pull him into line. Leaks from the locker room are bad enough. But from the top? How does the manager press forward knowing off-the-record 'briefings' are being held over his head?

The latest from some ex-players is United are failing in the transfer market because of Mourinho. Apparently - of course there's no confirmation from any individual - top drawer players don't fancy a move to United because of the Moody One. But let's go a step further. Let's go to the story being ignored today...

We all know Louis van Gaal's feelings about Woodward. Stick a mic under the old man's chin and he needs little encouragement. And now? Now we have the Neville claim. Forget your star players. What top class manager is going to want to work with a chief exec who has treated two of the game's greats like this?

It's already been a big news week. We also had the story of United making an attempt for Virgil van Dijk in January. Problem was, Woodward's call wasn't made until the day the then Southampton defender was undergoing his Liverpool medical. On the face of it, it was portrayed as another Woodward transfer flop. But it also raises the question - if he was happy to try for a big money centre-half at Christmas, six months on what changed?

The latest is Woodward, on direction from the board, is now actively planning a football director's appointment. Someone to act as liaison between himself and Mourinho. As discussed in a previous column, United had that man on the books - Javier Ribalta. But a year after learning the ins and outs of the club, the Catalan was allowed to leave for Zenit St Petersburg and take up the very role now being created at United. Again, is this a case of poor management?

A non-football source close to Old Trafford told this column not to expect any big name appointment. "It'll likely be a token", we were told. Woodward would still pull strings. He'd make the major calls on transfers. It's reason enough why the ambitious Ribalta left for Zenit. He wanted to be a football director - with all the responsibility such a title demands.

But for now, those duties remain with Woodward. The one constant in the post-Fergie era. A period when the club has rarely appeared completely united. And is it any wonder given Neville's revelation on Monday night...?

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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