Football: Ratcliffe finally arrives at Manchester United

A billboard with an effigy of Jim Ratcliffe in Manchester on December 9, 2023 (Oli SCARFF/AFP)

The Glazer family has finally sold part of Manchester United to British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, founder of petrochemicals group Ineos, after a year of stalling, eager to restore the storied English giants to their former glory), the club announced on Sunday.

Of course, the American owners remain in control, but the sale of 25% of the shares to the 71-year-old industrialist represents the first major release since they arrived in 2005. Perhaps before a more significant pullback?

The Ineos boss, already the owner of OGC Nice among other things, paid 1.25 billion pounds (around 1.44 billion euros) to enter the capital, according to the club’s press release.

The deal stipulates that Ineos will have “management responsibility” for football-related matters. Ratcliffe recently said he wants to see Manchester United, who are currently in sporting trouble, “find their place again”.

The club is eighth in the Premier League, 12 points behind leaders Arsenal after Saturday’s 2-0 defeat by West Ham, their eighth in 18 days. In the Champions League, they were eliminated in the first round in last place in Group A.

This is not the epilogue dreamed of by a new minority shareholder, eager to buy the club as a whole, or by Red Devils supporters angry at nearly two decades of doomed rule and, in their minds, synonymous with sporting decline. .

The Glazers accuse the club of going into debt at the time of his takeover and not investing enough to keep the Mancunian institution competitive.

Past glory, pristine appeal

It was therefore with relief and optimism that they welcomed the announcement in November 2022 of considerations relating to “all strategic alternatives, including a new investment in the club, a sale or other transactions relating to the company”.

Last year was marked by successive bids from Ratcliffe, one of Britain’s richest men, and Sheikh Jassim Ben Hamad Al Thani, chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank (QIB).

The agreement envisages an investment of 300 million dollars (272 million euros) to renovate the famous Old Trafford stadium. Ratcliffe also promised to improve Carrington’s training center and attract players capable of taking the Red Devils back to the heart of Europe.

Dust has indeed begun to cover the trophy cabinet of Manchester United, one of the most successful in the kingdom, but whose last league title dates back ten years (2013) and the last of its three Champions Leagues fifteen years (2008).

The former club of Bobby Charlton, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo today lives in the sporting shadow of neighboring Manchester City (owned by the ruling family of the United Arab Emirates), yet retains a certain appeal around the world.

At the end of October, he announced a turnover of £648.4m (€744m) for last season, during which he won the League Cup and finished fourth in the Championship.

According to the press, the owners were demanding a £6 billion (€6.9 billion) check for the total sale of the club acquired by the late Malcolm Glazer, the father, in 2005 for £790 million (around €910 million).

Ratcliffe, the wealthy ‘Brexiter’

Manchester United Stadium, Old Trafford
Manchester United Stadium, Old Trafford (Oli SCARFF/AFP/Archives)

The amount demanded and the procrastination overwhelmed Sheikh Jassim’s patience. And Ratcliffe, a die-hard Red Devils supporter who grew up in social housing near Manchester as a child, was left alone in the running.

Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2018, the businessman founded Ineos twenty years earlier, which became an industrial giant employing more than 26,000 people in 29 countries through multiple buyouts and cost cutting.

A fierce negotiator, particularly with unions, he defended “Brexit” as favorable to the UK, “a very creative and hard-working nation”. “We don’t need people in Europe to tell us how to run our country,” he said.

According to NGOs, which point to the devastation caused by its petrochemical company (air and water pollution, plastic waste, etc.), this political bias is not so much due to supposed patriotism, but rather a desire to circumvent European environmental standards.

Ineos, 60% of which it owns, has increased its investment in the world of sports, whether in football (Lausanne, Nice), cycling (Ineos Grenadier, ex-Team Sky), Formula 1 (participation in Mercedes) or even sailing (Ineos Britain).

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