Sir Jim Ratcliffe is in at Manchester United... here's what comes next

Sir Jim Ratcliffe is in at Manchester United... here's what comes next

As the man himself tells it, for one Manchester United away game at Elland Road, a young Jim Ratcliffe once scaled a wall just to see his beloved club.

Now, having been finally confirmed as a 25 per cent shareholder at Old Trafford, the Manchester-born billionaire must overcome a mountain of issues to restore this stuttering giant to former glories.

A fresh face taking only a minority stake and the much-maligned Glazer family keeping the lion’s share of control is not what United supporters had in mind when the American overlords invited investment into the club, including a potential full sale, all the way back in November 2022.

But after a frustrating process in which the Glazers tried, in vain, to parade the club in front of potential suitors in the hope of garnering upwards of £6billion - a record fee for a sporting institution - this is what fans are left with: a future with the Americans still very much at the helm.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe is a lifelong Manchester United fan (PA Wire)
Sir Jim Ratcliffe is a lifelong Manchester United fan (PA Wire)

However, all is not lost. Much-needed change, some of it verging on the radical, is afoot, and the upheaval has already begun.

Part of what has lured Monaco-based Ratcliffe back to Greater Manchester is the prospect of assuming control of United’s footballing matters.

In March, when United rolled out the red carpet for the only two serious bidders - Ratcliffe and a Qatari group fronted by Sheikh Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani - the INEOS chairman told the Old Trafford hierarchy, in the straight-talking manner that has defined his business life, what he thought of their performance in the transfer market in the decade of decay since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.

Once Ratcliffe has passed the Premier League’s Owners' and Directors' Test, one of his first tasks will be to oversee an audit of the hierarchical structure of the club to avoid further failures.

According to multiple sources, he will work alongside Sir Dave Brailsford, director of sport at INEOS and the mastermind behind British cycling’s triumphs at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, and Joel Glazer on a committee overseeing football matters, leaving the rest of the Glazer family, who will retain a majority stake, to assume control of the hugely successful commercial arm.

Erik ten Hag’s role is expected to change to focus solely on coaching the team

It has been reported that Ratcliffe will lean on legendary United manager Ferguson for advice and guidance over some matters. As it stands, it is understood there are no plans for coach Erik ten Hag to be replaced, despite United having lost 12 games in all competitions already this campaign, last losing more before Christmas in 1930-31, a season in which they finished bottom of the top flight.

With so many other areas to be addressed, no other managerial candidates are being considered for now. The progress made under Ten Hag last season has also bought him some time, with United winning their first trophy in six years with their Carabao Cup success, before securing a return to the Champions League for this term.

Ten Hag’s role, however, is expected to change to focus solely on coaching the team. Since the former Ajax boss was appointed in 2022, United have shifted their previously unsuccessful approach to the transfer market to allow for more input from the manager. As a result, Ten Hag has largely brought in players who have played for him previously, such as goalkeeper Andre Onana, defender Lisandro Martinez and Brazilian forward Antony, for huge fees, to rather limited success.

Ratcliffe is, therefore, set to change the policy once again and instil a transfer hierarchy to match the well-oiled unit across town at champions Manchester City, where chief executive Ferran Soriano and director of football Txiki Begiristain give Pep Guardiola the tools he needs with which to dominate the English game.

Ratcliffe’s impending arrival had major implications before his investment was even confirmed, with the club announcing in November chief executive Richard Arnold is to step down after 16 years at United. General counsel Patrick Stewart stepped in as CEO on an interim basis.

While Ratcliffe did not give Arnold the boot from afar, it is understood that he was one figure in particular whose position would have been under intense scrutiny, and the feeling is that he jumped before he was pushed. Football director John Murtough is another figure under the spotlight. Ratcliffe is understood to be considering bringing in his own figures as sporting director, with former Tottenham head of recruitment Paul Mitchell and Newcastle’s Dan Ashworth leading candidates.

Quite how Ratcliffe and the six Glazer siblings in charge at United run the rule over other areas remains to be seen.

What has dragged this sales process on for so long is the indecision within the family. Multiple sources have said two of the six siblings - Joel and Avram - have always been keen to stay on in some capacity, with the other four happy to sell up and move on should they have received an inflated price, given the vitriol towards the family from United supporters.

Protests at Old Trafford have remained commonplace even as Ratcliffe has closed in, and they will carry on, supporters’ groups insist, until the Glazers leave the club for good.

This new unholy alliance will soon have to decide whose responsibility it is to redevelop a dilapidated Old Trafford and a training centre that pales in comparison to the facilities available to City players. Architecture firm Populous, which oversaw the redevelopment of Wembley and construction of the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, was appointed by the club in April 2022 to assess ways to improve Old Trafford. Now, it is a question of who pays for it. Such is the scale of work needed, it is understood the club was considering building an entirely new stadium next door to the current one, but funds could be an issue for such a project.

Old Trafford is in dire need of improvements (Getty Images)
Old Trafford is in dire need of improvements (Getty Images)

Ratcliffe is reportedly set to provide around £250million for infrastructure improvements, but that would not be enough for major changes to Old Trafford and the Carrington training base simultaneously.

This is not Ratcliffe’s first venture into the sporting world. So far, his record is a chequered one. Swiss football team Lausanne, which Ratcliffe bought in 2017, were relegated soon after and have achieved little since. French side Nice, which INEOS acquired in a €100m (£87.6m) deal in 2018, have fallen short of their target of competing in the Champions League.

Away from football, INEOS Grenadiers cycling team have not recently challenged for top honours, while his minority stake in the Mercedes Formula One team has made little impact, with their last constructors’ championship coming in 2021.

Turning things around at United, given the scale of the task at hand, might just be Ratcliffe’s biggest challenge, in sport or the business world, yet.

“He is a hostage to fortune,” said a source close to the matter. “If he says he is ‘taking control of football matters’, does that mean it is his fault if things continue to go wrong instead of the Glazers?”.

For others, however, the fact that this will be very much a passion project for the 71-year-old long-standing fan of the club means that he will be even more determined to succeed, with several insiders claiming this is just the first stage of a gradual full takeover.

Ultimately, whether the Old Trafford roof leaks or not, results on the pitch and catching City is all that will win over supporters, with better-equipped personnel needed to drive any revival, as the path to the summit is fraught with obstacles.