Sir Jim Ratcliffe outlines his plan to revive Manchester United

Sir Jim Ratcliffe now has full control of football operations at Manchester United
Sir Jim Ratcliffe now has full control of football operations at Manchester United

Sir Jim Ratcliffe has outlined his vision to knock Manchester City and Liverpool “off their perch” by restoring Manchester United to the top of world football within three years.

In an hour-long briefing at his Ineos HQ, his first since taking control of football operations at Old Trafford on Tuesday night, Ratcliffe borrowed Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous quip to take aim at the club’s fiercest rivals.

Ratcliffe also spoke of using state funding for a major regeneration around Old Trafford and said he still had a decision to make on Mason Greenwood’s future.

The Ineos owner promised an end to 11 years of “complete misery” but asked for “some patience” as the team closes the gap on their “enemy” neighbours in the North West.

However, the lifelong United fan said the club must take lessons from the success City and Liverpool have enjoyed in recent years.

“We have a lot to learn from our noisy neighbour and the other neighbour,” Ratcliffe said. “They are the enemy at the end of the day. There is nothing I would like better than to knock both of them from their perch.”

Ratcliffe, 71, has already spent an initial £1.03 billion securing 25 per cent of the A shares and 25 per cent of the B shares from the Glazers - but investments in the club take his ownership to 27.7 per cent.

He cited player recruitment and the stadium as two key areas in which he can guarantee immediate improvement and declined to go into specifics about Erik ten Hag’s future.

The three-year plan to get United back to the summit

Asked about the timeframe to make United truly competitive, Ratcliffe said: “It’s not a light switch. It’s not an overnight change – it’s going to take two or three seasons. You have to ask the fans for some patience. I know the world these days likes instant gratification but that’s not the case with football really. It’s not a 10-year plan. The fans would run out of patience if it was a 10-year plan. But it’s certainly a three-year plan to get there.”

He said the last 11 years had been “complete misery” and “it’s just frustrating if you’re a supporter during that period of time”. Asked if taking full control was his ultimate aim, Ratcliffe said: “The ultimate aim is just for Manchester United to play really good football. It’s not about what am I going to do in five years’ time?”

How a morning with Sir Alex lit the fire

Ratcliffe spent so long chatting on Sir Alex Ferguson’s sofa last month that it was no wonder his hero’s old battle cries came rolling off the tongue. “He [Ferguson] was the first person I met when I went up there,” he said.

Ratcliffe’s meeting with Ferguson was scheduled for breakfast between 9am to 10am but he ended up leaving at 1pm. “He never stopped,” Ratcliffe said. Ratcliffe says, following their morning together: “I am in the same place as Alex - 100 per cent”.

Ratcliffe and Sir Alex Ferguson have spent time together both at, and away from, United matches
Ratcliffe and Sir Alex Ferguson have spent time together both at, and away from, United matches - Getty Images/Matthew Peters

“He is still very thoughtful about the club and he has an immense amount of experience,” Ratcliffe explained. “He really understands the values and traditions of the club and what it’s all about. He’s still fiercely competitive, Alex Ferguson.” Ratcliffe says United “have to be the same” as Ferguson in restoring success at the club “there is no second”.

Sheikh Jassim - did he really exist?

Ratcliffe was particularly candid about the “biggest challenge in sport” he has faced - the fraught sale process at United after the Glazers first announced they were exploring a sale in November 2022.

His main rival came from a Qatari bid headed by the mysterious figure of Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani and Ratcliffe joked: “The Glazers never met him - I’m not sure he exists.”

Ratcliffe also admitted Ineos thought they were on the brink of sealing the deal seven months before the Glazers finally announced at agreement.  “I remember at the Monaco Grand Prix, which was in May, we opened a bottle of very expensive champagne and all celebrated,” he said. “That was in May… but that was a false dawn and we went through several more false dawns after that. We had a few surprises on the way.”

Why Levelling Up money could help rebuild

Telegraph Sport detailed a fortnight ago how Ratcliffe believes the North of England should have a “world-class” venue to rival 90,000-capacity Wembley.

At his briefing, he confirmed state funds could be used as part of a plan for regeneration around Old Trafford but he has yet to make up his mind about demolishing or rejuvenating the existing stadium. A taskforce, likely to include Gary Neville, will start exploring various options from next week.

“You have to think practically because money doesn’t grow on trees, obviously,” he said. A new stadium build and regeneration could soar beyond £2bn but Ratcliffe would envisage hosting England games and FA Cup finals. He is still considering redeveloping the existing site at a cost of £1bn. United, he added, “needs a stadium befitting one of the biggest clubs in the world and at the moment, it’s not there”.

On the issue of potentially using Levelling Up money to fund the wider project, he said: “People in the north pay their taxes and there is an argument you could think about a more ambitious project in the north which would be fitting for England, for the Champions League final or the FA Cup final and acted as a catalyst to regenerate southern Manchester, which has got quite significant history in the UK.”

As a scoping exercise begins on regeneration for the Old Trafford stadium, Ratcliffe is pondering possiblity of a new world-class stadium built alongside Old Trafford, which would be “reduced in size to a smaller facility still in the same footprint” and “used for all sorts of community things, be it a concert or whatever”. “The ladies’ teams could play there,” he added. “The academy teams could play there. Some of the local teams could play there and Old Trafford could sort of become a community asset and then you’d have this world-class stadium next door to it.”

Refusing to pay Newcastle £20m for Dan Ashworth

Ineos have already attracted Omar Berrada as chief executive from City but they face a tougher task agreeing a deal to recruit Ashworth as director of football after he was placed on gardening leave.

Manchester United are hoping to bring in Newcastle sporting director Dan Ashworth, the PA news agency understands. Issue date: Thursday February 15, 2024. PA Photo
Bringing Dan Ashworth to Old Trafford is said to be an Ineos priority - PA Wire/Nick Potts

Ratcliffe said “Ashworth is clearly one of top sporting directors in the world.... You can understand why Dan would be interested because it’s the ultimate challenge.” However, he said it would be “a bit silly” if it took £20million to secure Ashworth’s services, and added: “What I do think is completely absurd is suggesting that a man who’s really good at his job, sits in his garden for one and a half years.”

Admitting United has failed previous managers

Ratcliffe said it would be “inappropriate” for him to pass comment on Ten Hag’s record but felt he and his predecessors were not working in the best possible structure.

“If you look at the 11 years that have gone since (former chief executive) David Gill and Sir Alex have stepped down, there have been a whole series of coaches, some of which were very good,” Ratcliffe said. And none of them were successful, or survived for very long. And you can’t blame all the coaches.

“The only conclusion you can draw is that the environment in which they were working, didn’t work. And Erik has been in that environment. I’m talking about the organisation, the people in the structure, and the atmosphere in the club. We have to do that bit. So I’m not really focused on the coach. I’m focused on getting that bit (the structure) right. And it’s not for me to judge that anyway – I’m not a football professional.”

Finding the next Eric Cantona or George Best

Ratcliffe was sitting in front a red United No 7 shirt. It appeared to be from the David Beckham era, but Ratcliffe said the No 7 was Cantona’s. United, he then explained, should always have a lynchpin on the pitch.

“There has always been a bit of glamour attached to Manchester United, which has been lacking a bit in the last few years. You’ve had George Best, Bobby Charlton, Eric the King [Cantona] for a while. But there’s always been a bit of a glamour attached to this Manchester United brand and that is quite important.

“At the end of the day we are in the entertainment business...We are cognisant of that fact you do need a bit of glamour in this.”

Restructuring the Nice board to keep Uefa happy

After Telegraph Sport reported how Ineos could surrender direct day-to-day involvement at Nice, Ratcliffe said he was “crystal clear” that United’s status in European competition would not be in conflict with Uefa’s multi-club ownership rules.

“There are no circumstances upon which an ownership of Nice would prevent Manchester United from playing in the Champions League – I’ll be crystal clear on that,” he said. “Because we would have to find a solution. The rules are changing, and the rules are shades of grey, not black and white. We have spoken to UEFA and I have to say the conversation wasn’t directed at ‘you have to solve this problem and we don’t like it’.

“We might have to change some things but what UEFA recognises is that the multi-club model, in many circumstances, benefits the smaller club quite a lot.”