Sir Jim Ratcliffe has completed a deal to buy a minority stake in Manchester United. The British billionaire has spent just over £1bn to acquire 25% of the club and gain control of football operations. He will provide a further $300m (£237m) for investment in infrastructure at Old Trafford.
Ratcliffe’s arrival will throw a spotlight on the future of Erik ten Hag. While the club has been in flux there has been no structure to sack the manager and Ratcliffe will decide whether to keep faith with the Dutchman after a miserable first half of the season. United are out of Europe after finishing bottom of their Champions League group and go into the Boxing Day game at home against Aston Villa eighth in the Premier League. They have not scored in their past four matches.
Sir Dave Brailsford, the Ineos sporting director, is poised to hold discussions with key United personnel and will make decisions, including about Ten Hag, thereafter. Brailsford will have a prominent role but it is unclear whether he will take over from John Murtough as United’s football director. The Guardian understands Murtough is not minded to leave and may accept a different role if Brailsford decides to replace him. High on Ratcliffe’s priority list will be to replace Richard Arnold, who has left as chief executive. Jean-Claude Blanc, the CEO of Ratcliffe’s Ineos Sport, is a favourite to succeed Arnold.
Ratcliffe has used his company Trawlers Limited – named after the famous Eric Cantona quote – to make the purchase. He said: “As a local boy and a lifelong supporter of the club, I am very pleased that we have been able to agree a deal with the Manchester United board that delegates us management responsibility of the football operations of the club. Whilst the commercial success of the club has ensured there have always been available funds to win trophies at the highest level, this potential has not been fully unlocked in recent times.
“We will bring the global knowledge, expertise and talent from the wider Ineos Sport group to help drive further improvement at the club, while also providing funds intended to enable future investment into Old Trafford.
“We are here for the long term and recognise that a lot of challenges and hard work lie ahead, which we will approach with rigour, professionalism and passion. We are committed to working with everyone at the club – the board, staff, players and fans – to help drive the club forward.
“Our shared ambition is clear: we all want to see Manchester United back where we belong, at the very top of English, European and world football.”
Ratcliffe, who previously attempted to buy Chelsea, wanted a majority holding in United from the Glazers but has had to settle for a quarter of the club. The deal is said to have been funded without debt and is subject to Premier League approval. Of the $300m Old Trafford investment, $200m is due on completion of the transaction and the rest by the end of 2024. Ineos is getting two seats on the board.
The Glazers signalled 13 months ago that they were “commencing a process to explore strategic alternatives” and decided against a full sale. Avram Glazer and Joel Glazer, the executive co-chairmen, said: “Sir Jim and Ineos bring a wealth of commercial experience as well as significant financial commitment into the club. And, through Ineos Sport, Manchester United will have access to seasoned high-performance professionals, experienced in creating and leading elite teams from both inside and outside the game. Manchester United has talented people right across the club and our desire is to always improve at every level to help bring our great fans more success in the future.”
Qatar’s Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani withdrew from the takeover process after making little progress with his £5bn offer for United, paving the way for Ratcliffe’s deal. Ratcliffe owns two football clubs, Nice and Lausanne, plus the Ineos Grenadiers cycling team and a sailing team.
The Failsworth-born businessman founded and runs Ineos, the petrochemicals and fracking company. Blanc has held executive posts at Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus, and Brailsford was British Cycling’s performance director for 11 years during which a strategy founded on “marginal gains” drove GB to head the sport’s medal table at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.