Avram and Brian Glazer, part of Old Trafford's ruling family [Reuters].

When Sir Alex Ferguson stepped onto the sodden Old Trafford pitch in May, drenched in garlands and fawning eulogies, few would have imagined United's summer could have ended in such shambles. Ferguson promised a smooth transition and big-name signings to cushion the blow of his retirement; instead United were still frantically trying to secure someone, anyone as the transfer window slammed shut last night, after a summer of farce, frustration and failure.

Once renowned for their hard-nosed commercial prowess, United have been made to look like bumbling amateurs during their summer transfer debacle. First there was the snub from Thiago Alcantara, who flirted with Old Trafford then chose Bayern Munich as soon as Pep Guardiola fluttered his eyelashes. Then the attempt to lure Cesc Fabregas, a player clearly happy at Barcelona, with bids so low the Catalans must have laughed when they popped up in the inbox.

United pulled out of a deal for Ander Herrera because they thought his transfer fee was unrealistic - even though the buy-out clause was non-negotiable - and then claimed that the three men who travelled to Spain to complete the deal were 'imposters' with no connection to the club. Finally, they managed to sign Marouane Fellaini, even though they could have got him £4m cheaper had they met his own release clause earlier this summer.

It is easy to blame Woodward, a former banker who was plucked from the club's burgeoning commercial department, for this omnishambles. This is Woodward's first transfer window, and he has certainly appeared out of depth at various times. But when an employee is given a job beyond the limits of his capabilities, the blame must surely lie with the people doing the hiring.

The Glazers knew Woodward had no background in football transfers. They knew his only experience of signing multi-million-pound contracts lay with Russian airlines and Malaysian crisp manufacturers. But he has worked for United's owners ever since advising their original takeover at Old Trafford, and they knew he would follow their parsimonious diktats to the letter.

Similar thinking appears to underpin the appointment of David Moyes, a manager renowned for operating on tight budgets and refusing to complain about it. Never mind the fact that he's never won a major trophy, and lacks the profile to attract star players. Moyes is loyal, and the owners knew he won't kick up a fuss about the lack of funds - or the ridiculous tour of Asia which forced United to play five sapping matches in three weeks against powder-puff opposition.

In Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill, the Glazers had two men who consistently got the big decisions right, and carried the authority to force through expensive signings if necessary. But following the departure of their two senior employees, both of whom they inherited, the Americans have a free hand - and the true cost of their regime is rapidly becoming apparent.

In selecting Moyes and Woodward, they have prioritised profit margins over on-pitch success, without realising the two are symbiotic. The new regime is already scarred by embarrassment and recrimination, and it won't be too long before all those new sponsors, not to mention the millions of global fans United always trumpet in their marketing brochures, find another bandwaggon to jump on.

The Old Trafford empire is finally being brought down, and the men within the boardroom are the ones with the pickaxes in their hands.