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Inside Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s Manchester United revolution: How new part-owner will transform club – in a hurry – and what it means for Erik ten Hag’s transfer war chest


Sir Jim Ratcliffe turned to his friend at Nice’s Allianz Riviera Stadium with a pained expression on his face. ‘He’s going to pass it backwards, isn’t he?’ he said. 

Below, on the field, the wide player with the ball at his feet in the team he acquired in 2019, did just that. ‘For f***’s sake,’ Ratcliffe exclaimed.

While the new, 25 per cent stakeholder in Manchester United is unlikely to demand Erik ten Hag bans Alejandro Garnacho from doing anything other than going forwards, those who know the petrochemicals billionaire believe the short exchange speaks volumes of his personality – and of what his fellow, long-suffering United fans can expect over the coming days, weeks, months and years.

Ratcliffe is a man in a hurry. Not just because he is 71, although father time is a consideration, but because he wants to get things done quickly. 

Already, the view within Old Trafford is of an impatience, but of the right kind. A man and a group on the front foot who want to transform quickly.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe now has the keys to Old Trafford and the INEOS billionaire is a man in a hurry

Sir Jim Ratcliffe now has the keys to Old Trafford and the INEOS billionaire is a man in a hurry

The intention is to take the fight to dominant neighbours Manchester City in the years ahead

The intention is to take the fight to dominant neighbours Manchester City in the years ahead

Ratcliffe greets United manager Erik ten Hag at the Carrington training ground last month

Ratcliffe greets United manager Erik ten Hag at the Carrington training ground last month

Outside the club, some have raised eyebrows at the perceived value of the deal. 

Why would one of the country’s most successful businessmen, who has made a career from making sound decisions, spend more than £1bn to take only a quarter stake in a club that has underperformed for a decade?

According to those who know Ratcliffe well, there are two reasons. 

The first is that he is a ‘proper’ United fan. As a child, his father recounted tales of the Munich Air Disaster. From Failsworth, where Manchester meets Oldham in the east, he regularly travelled across the city to matches. 

In 1968, he was left devastated when his father watched the Busby Babes’ healing European Cup win at Wembley – and could only get one ticket. 

After moving to Hull father and two sons tended to watch United at away matches in Yorkshire. Ratcliffe recalls desperately scrambling over a wall to get into Elland Road when United played rivals Leeds and the turnstiles had closed thanks to serious overcrowding.

The second is that he already has the money and is not in this to make more, which may come as music to the ears of those scarred by close to two decades of dividend-paying, debt-servicing Glazernomics. 

Last year, United posted record revenues of £648m. To put that into context, INEOS’ estimated turnover is around £59.3bn.

The Glazers, who remain United's majority owners, have come to appreciate better on-field performance will help boost revenues

The Glazers, who remain United’s majority owners, have come to appreciate better on-field performance will help boost revenues 

Supporter anger over the Glazers' ownership has been simmering away for years now

Supporter anger over the Glazers’ ownership has been simmering away for years now

The aim, as it always is, is to win. While the deal is not expected to be formally signed off until next week, the speed of change and the amount of involvement has already taken those at Old Trafford aback. 

The view is that, despite only taking a quarter share, INEOS now ‘have the keys’. 

There appears to have been a recognition in Florida that while United’s commercial growth since their controversial 2005 takeover has been second-to-none, performance on the pitch – at least post Sir Alex Ferguson – has been far from it. 

There is said to be an acceptance that INEOS may well fare better, which would be in their own interest given they retain the majority share.

Off-the-field, much attention has been paid to the stadium itself, suffering badly following years of neglect. 

In 2022, in a move some saw simply as an attempt to appease fans on the back of a leaking roof, the Glazers asked the renowned designers of Spurs’ stadium, Populous, to come up with options. Three were presented. 

One was to redevelop, the second was to knock down and build next door while the third was to move elsewhere. That project is now in INEOS’s hands and they are not wasting any time. Already there have been developments. 

Sir Jim Ratcliffe wants to transform Manchester United's Old Trafford home into the 'Wembley of the North' in a complete rebuild of the stadium which could cost upwards of £2billion

Sir Jim Ratcliffe wants to transform Manchester United’s Old Trafford home into the ‘Wembley of the North’ in a complete rebuild of the stadium which could cost upwards of £2billion

Wembley, in north London, has a capacity of 90,000 and holds many major football matches

Wembley, in north London, has a capacity of 90,000 and holds many major football matches

Old Trafford currently has a capacity of 74,310 but United have long wanted to increase that

Old Trafford currently has a capacity of 74,310 but United have long wanted to increase that

The third option has been discarded. While no decisions have been made, the second option is currently viewed as the most favourable, although fans will be heavily consulted. 

Spurs’s sublime new manor, along with its single-tier, 17,500-capacity ‘Kop’ style stand behind a goal, may well be recreated on a larger scale as part of a 90,000, state-of-the-art venue. A ‘new’ Stretford End in a ‘new’ Old Trafford. 

Already, private investment partners at home and abroad are being sought. They are used to funding projects on a much bigger scale and they have the contacts book. 

It has already been reported that talks have taken place with local politicians with regards to government involvement, including mayor of Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham. 

What can also be disclosed is that talks with the Football Association at some stage are likely over luring some England matches away from Wembley to what is hoped would become a Wembley of the North. 

The view is that such a redevelopment, which stretches from Old Trafford down to the water and links the area with MediaCity, would take around five years. If there is any way to speed that up, it will be found. 

INEOS billionaire Ratcliffe has committed £237m to infrastructure improvements initially

INEOS billionaire Ratcliffe has committed £237m to infrastructure improvements initially 

While nothing is set in stone, a 5 star-hotel and facilities to cater for those who travel to United from across the planet, who currently have a megastore and modest museum to entertain them on non-matchdays, is highly likely.

Vast injections of cash and a huge rebuild on the field will not, however, be forthcoming. The early view from INEOS’s period of observation is that a knock-it-down and start again is not needed. 

The group have been enthused by the performance of the team as a whole since their arrival was announced on Christmas Eve and particularly with the likes of Garnacho, Kobbie Mainoo and Rasmus Hojlund. The improvement shown by right-back Diogo Dalot has also caught the eye. 

There is an acceptance that certain areas of the squad need strengthening, particularly in attack and defence, and while the intention is to address those needs a vast summer spending spree is not on the cards. 

Investment in Carrington and a focus on continuing and improving United’s famous academy conveyor-belt will also feature while the INEOS experience at Nice will also be drawn upon. 

There is a belief within the group that a number of mistakes were made following their arrival on the Cote d’Azur. 

Young trio Rasmus Hojlund (left), Alejandro Garnacho (middle) and Kobbie Mainoo (right) have impressed Ratcliffe and INEOS since their arrival

Young trio Rasmus Hojlund (left), Alejandro Garnacho (middle) and Kobbie Mainoo (right) have impressed Ratcliffe and INEOS since their arrival

Ratcliffe shares a joke with legendary boss Sir Alex Ferguson watching at Old Trafford

Ratcliffe shares a joke with legendary boss Sir Alex Ferguson watching at Old Trafford

One of key principles of the INEOS ‘compass’, a series of values shared with staff on which the companies behaviours are based, is an ease with making errors – as long as they are learned from and not repeated. 

Interestingly, among ‘Words We Don’t Like’ on the compass are ‘lukewarm cappuccino’, ‘loose tongues’ and ‘quitters’.

Since acquisition in 2019 there have already been five managers and a host of ups and downs. An appearance in the Coupe de France final in 2022, for example, was followed by exit at the hands of third-tier Le Puy Foot 43 the next. 

In a quest for Champions League football (which may well cause a headache should United pull off an unlikely qualification) they currently lie in second place in Ligue 1, top of a cluster of five clubs separated by four points.

Nice are one of a wide range of sporting involvement for INEOS and Ratcliffe wants his stable to share its expertise. This is where sporting director Sir Dave Brailsford comes in. 

A visit from the All Blacks (INEOS are ‘performance partner) to Carrington? It is not as far-fetched as it may seem. 

Ratcliffe and Brailsford pictured watching Ligue 1 club Nice, another owned by INEOS

Ratcliffe and Brailsford pictured watching Ligue 1 club Nice, another owned by INEOS 

Ratcliffe and Brailsford with Chris Froome at a launch event for INEOS Cycling in 2019

Ratcliffe and Brailsford with Chris Froome at a launch event for INEOS Cycling in 2019

When Eliud Kipchoge, from the INEOS-backed NN professional running group, broke the marathon world record and went sub two hours in 2019 he did so on the back of aerodynamic advice from those within INEOS’s sailing (INEOS Britannia) and motor racing (Mercedes-AMG F1) ventures.

In Nice, Kenyan running coaches have given players tips on pace explosions, and how to be quicker off the mark. 

When a manager introduced a system which had the wing-backs leading the charge they started picking up a certain type of muscle injury – common in rugby thanks to the stop-start nature of the sport – and medical experts from the All Blacks were brought in to assist in treatment and prevention. 

Kenyan marathon runners have also given talks to the New Zealanders on mental endurance.

Brailsford is at the heart of this. He made a career on the back of his marginal gains philosophy, most notably at Team Sky and British Cycling, and one of those who visited the Manchester Velodrome HQ, later dubbed ‘the gold medal factory’, was Ferguson. 

INEOS are performance partners with the New Zealand All Blacks rugby union side

INEOS are performance partners with the New Zealand All Blacks rugby union side

Ratcliffe also backs Sir Ben Ainslie's America's Cup bid this year on INEOS Britannia

Ratcliffe also backs Sir Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup bid this year on INEOS Britannia 

On a later trip to the United legend’s house the pair were discussing how to ensure all within a team were committed to the common goal. 

Ferguson leant over and delivered a typically blunt line in his native Glaswegian tones. ‘Dave,’ he said. It’s simple – just get rid of the c***s’.

While it remains to be seen if that identification process has taken place, Carrington insiders say Brailsford has hurled himself into the task. 

United's head of sports medicine Gary O'Driscoll, who moved from Arsenal in September, has impressed Brailsford

United’s head of sports medicine Gary O’Driscoll, who moved from Arsenal in September, has impressed Brailsford 

Already he has held a series of meetings with the various football departments, including players and coaches. He has also struck up a close bond with head of sports medicine Gary O’Driscoll. 

While highly-regarded O’Driscoll, who joined the club from September from Arsenal, was not an INEOS hire, the pair have been described as ‘peas in a pod’.

Some have wondered how useful Brailsford’s marginal gains theory will be in the richest football league on the planet, where top clubs hurl millions at anything that can be seen to improve performance. 

Where analysts at various clubs undertake a daily battle for the best insights, information and advancements. The view, however, is that United have fallen behind in this area and that there is substantial room for improvement.

While United fans may find it difficult to stomach, inspiration for such improvement comes from the noisy neighbours.

Interestingly, Ratcliffe spent time with Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak during which the pair spoke about financial strategy in football, and how return could far outstrip investment. 

Al Mubarak estimated that City and their group of clubs were worth twice how much had been spent since the Abu Dhabi takeover in 2008. 

Ratcliffe has spent time with Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak (right), pictured with Pep Guardiola after they won the FIFA Club WorldCup in December

Ratcliffe has spent time with Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak (right), pictured with Pep Guardiola after they won the FIFA Club WorldCup in December

Ratcliffe sent Al Mubarak a congratulatory message when City completed the Treble in June

Ratcliffe sent Al Mubarak a congratulatory message when City completed the Treble in June

Ironically, he could have played a role in Ratcliffe’s arrival four miles to the west.

When City won the treble last summer Ratcliffe sent Al Mubarak a congratulatory message, which was warmly received. 

While City and their supporters are basking in their status as the world’s best, a re-ignition of the old rivalry, which has now lain dormant for a number of years thanks to United’s struggles, may not be entirely unwelcome – especially if it were to lead the global Premier League narrative.

While INEOS, are yet to have their stake officially rubber-stamped, the appointment of City’s Omar Berrada as chief executive officer is indicative of that admiration and was effectively their hire. 

That move was indicative of two factors. The first being the speed of change since INEOS arrived and the second being a knowledge of the industry and of who is viewed as its key players and rising stars.

It should come as no surprise that Newcastle United’s Dan Ashworth – who carries a hefty reputation – is top of the list for the post of sporting director and, as Mail Sport reported on Thursday, and a move could happen within days following an expected approach – although there may well be a significant period of gardening leave as there was with Berrada. 

Omar Berrada has been poached from City to be United's new chief executive officer

Omar Berrada has been poached from City to be United’s new chief executive officer 

Manchester United are expected to reach an agreement to poach Newcastle sporting director Dan Ashworth next week

Manchester United are expected to reach an agreement to poach Newcastle sporting director Dan Ashworth next week 

Ashworth will lead recruitment in an area which most would agree has substantial room for improvement.

That gardening period may sting a little given Ratcliffe’s desire to get things moving. Friends say that while his hero on the field was Eric Cantona (who delivered a video message for his 70th birthday along with Ferguson and David Beckham), in business he looks to Warren Buffett, the US billionaire investor who shows little sign of slowing down at the age of 93. 

While Ratcliffe, who keeps himself fit and lean, may well seek to do similar, he is not going to take any chances.

On the INEOS Compass, which features on the wall of the list at the company’s non-descript Knightsbridge HQ, ‘wafflers’ are listed among the don’ts.

The time for talking is almost over as Ratcliffe and his crew attempt to navigate United back to the top of world football.



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