Fans of Manchester United know 2024 will be anything but boring as the club tries once again to end a period of on-field decline that has lasted 10 years for the record 20-time English league champions
British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe agreed Sunday — Christmas Eve — to buy a minority stake in United. The owner of petrochemicals giant INEOS, and a number of sports teams, will also take charge of United’s soccer operations.
The announcement of the deal, worth around $1.6 billion, came more than a year after American owners the Glazers put United up for sale in November 2022. The deal requires Premier League approval.
Here’s a look at the people involved and issues likely to be raised by the deal, including the future of United manager Erik ten Hag.
The 71-year-old Ratcliffe is one of the richest people in Britain and a boyhood United fan from Greater Manchester.
He already owns French club Nice and cycling team INEOS Grenadiers. He is a one-third shareholder of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One team and competes in the America’s Cup with sailing team INEOS Britannia.
“We all want to see Manchester United back where we belong, at the very top of English, European and world football,” Ratcliffe said.
Fans will welcome such talk, but want it to be backed up with results.
Ratcliffe has paid $1.3 billion for “up to 25%” of the club and will invest a further $300 million for “future investment into Old Trafford,” United said.
Ratcliffe will provide $200 million upon completion of the deal and a further $100 million by the end of 2024. That additional investment will eventually take Ratcliffe’s stake up to 29%. The Glazers will have a 49% stake under the deal.
The Dutch manager has endured a troubled season, with his team losing 13 games in all competitions and being eliminated from the Champions League at the earliest possible stage.
He has faced reports of locker room unrest and speculation about his job, but there has been no suggestion from United that his position is under threat and he said this month that he believes he has the backing of the club’s hierarchy.
Still, his relief was evident as United came back from 2-0 down against Aston Villa to win 3-2 in the Premier League on Tuesday.
Afterward, Ten Hag was positive about the arrival of Ratcliffe.
“They have a lot of experience in sport at the highest level — F1, a cycling team, football clubs,” he said. “They can only help us and support us to get our targets. We are looking forward. They want to work with us and we want to work with them.”
Ratcliffe will take charge of United’s failing soccer department. How that will work in practice is one of the biggest questions.
After more than 20 years of success under former manager Alex Ferguson, United hasn’t won the title since he retired in 2013. Ten Hag is the fifth permanent manager United has had in repeated attempts to turn its fortunes around.
INEOS’s director of sport Dave Brailsford — who was at the Villa game — and CEO Jean-Claude Blanc will join the board of the soccer club. Brailsford was credited for his role in the success of British cycling in recent years. Blanc has held prominent positions at Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.
INEOS CFO John Reece and chairman of INEOS Sport Rob Nevin will join the board of United’s PLC, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
As the deal is expected to take up to 10 weeks to go through, Ratcliffe will not be in place in time for the January transfer window. He will, however, be consulted on any major soccer decisions such as transfers and the future of Ten Hag.
Members of Ratcliffe’s team have already visited United’s training ground and discussed operations. It is likely they will have already been consulted on plans for January and possible signings.
It is not yet known how football director John Murtough’s position will be affected by Ratcliffe’s investment, but the club’s recruitment operations will be part of the INEOS owner’s remit under the new structure.
It has been agreed that no dividends will be taken for a period of three years, with investment in the team and infrastructure said to be the immediate priority.
Old Trafford is in need of modernization, while Ten Hag’s squad still looks well short of rivals like Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool after suffering early elimination from the Champions League.
There is no obligation for the Glazers to sell any further shares to Ratcliffe. But Ratcliffe does have right of first refusal if any further shares are sold within a year of the deal being completed.
If the Glazers choose to sell the entire club to a third party after 18 months of the deal being completed, Ratcliffe would be forced to sell his shares subject to them being priced at a minimum of $33 per share.