Jim Ratcliffe could have a major say in Manchester United if he buys a minority stake in the club

Thu, Oct 19, 2023
Soccer News (AP)

Jim Ratcliffe could have a major say in Manchester United if he buys a minority stake in the club

MANCHESTER, England (AP) - If British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe is successful in his attempt to buy a minority stake in Manchester United, he could end up with a major say in the running of the underperforming club.

The owner of petrochemicals giant Ineos appears to be ready to invest in the storied English soccer club after rival Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar said over the weekend he was withdrawing from the bidding process.

Ratcliffe is trying to buy a 25% share of United and also wants to run soccer operations, a person with knowledge of the proposal told The Associated Press.

The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.

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United's American owners, the Glazer family, in November announced plans to seek outside investment that could have resulted in the sale of the 20-time English league champions.

Ratcliffe initially bid for the family's controlling stake of about 69%, while Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim wanted 100% of the club.

With the process dragging on beyond an expected completion date of June, Ratcliffe has adjusted his offer and that could pave the way to him becoming a co-owner of the club he has supported since he was a child.

THE PROPOSAL

Ratcliffe's bid would mean the Glazers, who also own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, remain in control of United. But if he is given responsibility of running the sporting side of the business, it would give him a real opportunity to improve the team's performance on the field.

United has not won a league title since former manager Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.

United won the Champions League title in 2008, five Premier League titles, one FA Cup, five League Cups and the Europa League under the Glazers, but the vast majority of those trophies were won by Ferguson. United has won four trophies in 10 years since his retirement.

Ratcliffe reportedly still eventually wants to take complete control of the club over a staggered process, but that has not been confirmed.

Ratcliffe is one of Britain's richest people and is said to be worth $15.1 billion. He previously tried to buy Chelsea and already owns French club Nice and cycling's Team INEOS. He is one-third shareholder of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One team and competes in the America's Cup with sailing team INEOS Britannia.

THE RECRUITMENT

Despite spending about $2 billion on transfers in the past decade, United has been toppled as English soccer's most dominant force. While rival Manchester City has been backed by the vast wealth of Abu Dhabi's ruling family, United has still been able to compete for the world's leading players and has broken records to sign the likes of Paul Pogba and Harry Maguire.

But that hasn't brought success, with many of United's signings failing to live up to the expectations of leading the team back to the top.

There have been changes in recent years. Former executive vice chairman Ed Woodward has gone. The role of football director was introduced, with John Murtough appointed to that position, and Matt Hargreaves was recently hired to lead player negotiations.

The club believes its soccer operations department has been strengthened, pointing to the recent signings of Andre Onana, Mason Mount and Rasmus Hojlund as evidence of an improving recruitment policy.

Hojlund is considered among the best emerging strikers in Europe and was signed from Atalanta for 64 million pounds ($82 million).

Critics, however, would point to Hojlund joining Atalanta just a year earlier for a reported 20 million euros ($21.2 million) and Onana moving from Ajax to Inter Milan on a free transfer in 2022. United paid 51 million euros ($57 million) for the goalkeeper this year.

THE MANAGER

United manager Erik ten Hag has been backed by Murtough and United since he was hired last year.

The Dutchman has been allowed to bring in expensive signings like Brazil internationals Antony and Casemiro, as well as Hojlund, as he tries to overhaul the squad.

He enjoyed an impressive first season when winning the club's first trophy in six years - the League Cup - and leading United back to the Champions League.

Ten Hag has also been backed over his disciplining of star players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho, while Maguire has been stripped of the captaincy and made a peripheral figure in the team after falling out of favor.

While fans have jeered as United has endured a difficult start to this season, losing six of its first 11 games, Ten Hag remains popular.

His record at Ajax when winning three league titles and two cups shows he can deliver success.

He is the club's fifth permanent manager since Ferguson retired.

A policy of hiring and firing clearly hasn't worked, but would Ratcliffe want to make his own appointment if in charge?

THE STADIUM

Old Trafford may be iconic, but it is in need of redevelopment. It remains the biggest club stadium in the country, but looks dated compared to Tottenham's new ground, which regularly hosts NFL games.

Ratcliffe is reportedly offering about 1.3 billion pounds ($1.58 billion) for a minority stake, but it is not known how that money will be spent. Ratcliffe also reportedly wants to expand Old Trafford from 74,000 seats to 90,000.

It is not likely that stadium redevelopments would come under soccer operations, but it would be a meaningful change that would generate extra funds and also appeal to supporters.

Last year, United appointed stadium developers Populous to look at options for Old Trafford. While another possibility would be to rebuild the stadium, that would pose problems in terms of relocating the team during the building process and lost revenue as a result.

THE FANS

Manchester United's supporters have long-campaigned to drive out the unpopular owners since the late Malcom Glazer bought the club for 790 million pounds (then about $1.4 billion) in 2005. Fans have been critical of the leveraged nature of the Glazers' buyout that loaded debt onto the club, as well as a perceived lack of investment and the dividends taken out by the owners.

Many have called for the Glazers to be completely removed. The Manchester United Supporters Trust told the AP that propping the family up permanently would be a "nightmare scenario."

Fans have continued to protest against the family and chants of "Glazers out" are regularly heard at games.

Ratcliffe, who was born in the Manchester area, has risked angering supporters by offering to buy a minority stake. But if he is successful in gaining control of soccer operations and oversees a period of success, he could help to placate them and ease tension around the club.

However, if United's decline continues, he would be in danger of being a visible figure of blame.

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James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

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