Woodward views next transfer window as crucial

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Ed Woodward believes the next transfer window will be an "important opportunity" for Manchester United as he accepts the club is "not yet where we want to be".

United has undergone an extensive resetting of the playing squad and transfer strategy under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who admitted this month he had to "tear the house down" after inheriting a disjointed and unhappy dressing room.

Solskjaer has focused on encouraging more opportunities for United academy players while prioritising the signings of younger, hungrier talent, as highlighted by last year's arrivals of Daniel James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire, now club captain.

United also spent an initial fee of roughly £47million to sign Bruno Fernandes in January, and brought in Odion Ighalo on loan, to strengthen the squad ahead of the final months of the season.

However, United and Woodward have still come in for heavy criticism, with Solskjaer's side underwhelming on the pitch and facing a battle to qualify for the Champions League.

The Red Devils are eighth in the Premier League and could be nine points off the top four if they lose to Chelsea on 17 February.

Woodward insists they can still have a positive season, though, as he looks ahead to a potentially vital next stage of their rebuild.

The United executive vice-chairman told a fans forum: "The signing this week of Bruno Fernandes and return of key players from injury will be a boost to Ole and the squad as we head into the second half of the season. We remain in contention in the Europa League and the FA Cup, as well as for Champions League qualification, so there is still lots to play for.

"However, as a club and a board, we do recognise that we are not yet where we want to be. It is the overwhelming priority of everyone at the club to get us back to regularly challenging for Premier League and Champions League titles. Although progress may not always be smooth, everyone across the club is focused and committed on playing their part in helping achieve those aims.

"Significant work has already been done – and investments made – to strengthen the academy and we're pleased with the progress being made behind the scenes to ensure we have the right players, the right infrastructure, and the right culture to sustain long-term success.

"Similarly, there has been extensive work on our recruitment process, with considerable investment in scouting, data and analytics. The recruitment department is working to a clear plan and philosophy, along with Ole and his coaching staff. Our focus is on bringing in a combination of experience and the best young players with potential to develop further, fusing graduates from our academy with high-quality acquisitions.

"Our recruitment process focuses on analysis and selection of players over the course of a season, with a view to the following summer transfer window. As part of the rebuild, we see this coming summer as an important opportunity."

Woodward appeared keen to point out that Solskjaer has been backed substantially in the transfer market, despite some suggestions the United board have not made enough funds available.

"We had consistently taken the view that – because January is not an optimal time in terms of availability of players – we would only buy in January if players we had already targeted for the summer became available and we were pleased that this strategy played out with the signing of Bruno Fernandes this week," Woodward said.

"Bruno Fernandes and the players we brought last summer are evidence that our process is the right one. There has been no shortage of investment in players over the past few years, with over £200million spent since Ole became manager; our aim is to ensure that we continue to achieve consistency in quality of recruitment.

"Off the pitch, it is important to note that the commercial elements of the club are geared to ensuring we have a self-sustaining model, which supports investment in the playing side.

"Meanwhile we continuously look for ways to improve the experience of fans - from the £11million investment to transform facilities for disabled supporters at Old Trafford, improvements in security, engagement with fan groups around stadium atmosphere or a potential rail seating trial, to ongoing reviews of match-day catering and beverage provision."