Enough column inches have been devoted to the mixed fortunes of Manchester United in recent times, with Jose Mourinho’s woes generating headlines from Salford to Sydney. As most United fans are, painfully, aware, the troubles of the club are not just about lacking quality in certain areas on the pitch, but rather encompass the full spectrum of what’s wrong with modern global football.

Is that too harsh an assessment for a team that finished second in the Premier League last year? Who won the Europa League just a couple of seasons ago? Perhaps. But even when achieving those, admittedly secondary, goals fans have been acutely aware that all was not right. That second-place finish in the Premier League last year was the embodiment of the phrase ‘runner-up is the first loser’. United were so far behind Manchester City that the contest was effectively over by Christmas.

United already ruled out of title race by bookies

Now, as we approach the Premier League’s important Christmas period, the league title looks well beyond United’s reach again. Some online betting sites, like Betway, have put United’s odds at 500/1 to win the Premier League. To make matters worse, it looks like a two-way fight between their hated rivals, Manchester City (1/4) and Liverpool (4/1). Even when United stuttered under Sir Alex Ferguson, bookmakers did not rule out their chances to mount a comeback at this stage of the season.

If you want to appreciate how far United have objectively fallen, consider how they are priced at 40/1 by Bet365 to win the Champions League, whereas Liverpool have been given odds of 16/1. While that might seem normal, it has to be noted that Liverpool have yet to secure the place in the knockout stages and are precariously placed to do so, whereas United, through some good fortune, have booked their spot.

Mourinho has escaped criticism

Normally when a club faces a decline in fortunes, fans’ ire is turned towards the couch. It has been remarkable how little flak Jose Mourinho has received, given the results of a club whose spending on transfers has been among the world’s highest over the last few years. After several notable defeats, Mourinho has been clapped off by the fans. It feels like they will stick with him for the foreseeable future.

Why has Mourinho had relatively little criticism? Because fans are angry with nearly every level of the club hierarchy. Mourinho hasn’t caused Paul Pogba to be infuriatingly erratic, or Romelu Lukaku to look cumbersome and lethargic. Both those players have been turning it on at international level, which suggests their attitude is wrong. As for Alexis Sanchez? Well, he looks like an imposter.

Woodward a target for fans

However, most of the fans’ anger is reserved for Ed Woodward, the Executive Vice Chairman who controls the purse strings of the club. Under Woodward’s stewardship United have acquired marketing deals all over the globe, allowing the club to rake in unprecedented revenue. The problem is that Woodward has no experience in football. Glaring problems have become apparent in United’s team, especially the defence, and the infrastructure of the youth set up.

These have been ignored over the years by Woodward and the owners, the Glazer family. Players are sitting on huge contracts that they would not receive at any other club, yet results remain sluggish. It’s a sign of bad management from top to bottom when a club is spending money and spending badly.

There is no easy answer when a club has so much of a multi-faceted set of problems. United have huge debts that encourage Woodward to pursue those marketing deals. But, as a consequence, there is also a demand for instant success, with United throwing money at issues when they should be patiently re-building. The main question now is if we are seeing the end of an empire, or if this once great club can turn things around.