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Man Utd’s $2bn revolution is finally here. Will it end their 11-year ‘misery’?

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The reign of the hugely unpopular Glazer family at Manchester United is finally over – but how much will really change at Old Trafford?

On Tuesday it was announced that British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe had finally completed a part-takeover of the iconic club after a 15-month process, buying an initial 27.7 per cent in a deal worth just under $2bn AUD.

That’ll rise to 28.9 per cent by the end of the year, with Ratcliffe investing another $100m by December 31.

$300m USD of the cash has been dedicated to go towards stadium upgrades.

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While it isn’t the full takeover many fans wanted – and the Glazers themselves explored from November 2022 before pulling a major U-turn – Ratcliffe will be given control of the football department.

In many ways, it is a perfect outcome for the Glazers, who have never been particularly interested, or skilled, at handling the football side of the business.

Indeed, the historic club has largely been treated as merely a business plaything for the Glazers since they bought Manchester United for £790m in 2005 and immediately saddled the club with huge debts as part of the leveraged buyout. Indeed, since then, the club has spent over a billion pounds servicing those loans, and Manchester United – as of June 30 last year – has a total gross debt of £773m.

While they remain majority owners of the club, the American Glazer family will hand complete control of the football side of things to Ratcliffe. That includes the academy and both the men’s and women’s teams.

After a decade of failure following the departure of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, it could be the start of United’s long hoped-for revival.

Already, Ratcliffe has declared he wants to knock neighbours Manchester City and old rivals Liverpool “off their perch” – but admits there are no easy fixes for the struggling club.

Here’s everything you need to know.

Manchester United’s US co-owner Avram Glazer (R).Source: AFP

WHO IS JIM RATCLIFFE?

Ratcliffe is a British billionaire who made his money as founder of petrochemicals giant INEOS, the fourth-largest chemicals company in the world where he remains CEO.

He is one of the hundred richest people in the world, and as of the 21st of February was estimated to have a net worth of $21.1bn USD by Forbes ($A32bn). The Sunday Times 2023 rich list thinks it’s significantly higher – just under 30 billion pounds ($A57.7bn), good enough to make him the second-richest person in the UK.

Either way, buying a stake in Manchester United for 1.3 billion pounds is well within his means – and he’s done so effectively in cash, without any debt.

71-year-old Ratcliffe was born in Manchester and claims he is a lifelong fan of United – though he tried unsuccessfully to take over Chelsea in early 2022.

Under what is known as the INEOS Sports Group, Ratcliffe has stakes in a number of other sporting teams.

That includes owning a third of the Mercedes F1 team.

There’s the INEOS Grenadiers cycling team who won the 2019 Tour de France through Colombian Egan Bernal – more on that later.

They own Swiss top-flight football club FC Lausanne-Sport, and French top-tier club Nice (currently third in the league).

And Ratcliffe also is a heavy backer of British sailing (particularly in the America’s Cup competition) through INEOS Team UK.

Jim Ratcliffe has big dreams at United.Source: AFP

HOW DID THE PURCHASE HAPPEN?

In November 2022, the Glazers announced a strategic review – potentially including a sale of the club. It soon sparked a bidding war, with Ratcliffe battling mega-rich Qatari businessman Sheikh Jassim.

In February 2023, Sheikh Jassim – the former Qatar Prime Minister – submitted a formal bid. But he never met with the Glazer family, and the somewhat mysterious figure never showed proof of funds for a potential purchase.

“Still nobody’s ever seen him, actually,” Ratcliffe told journalists today. “The Glazers never met him. He never … I’m not sure he exists! I think it’s extraordinary, really. But I agree with that – it was confounding.”

The Glazers’ asking price for a full takeover of the club was not met by either party, and in October last year Sheikh Jassim pulled his £5bn offer.

Meanwhile, Ratcliffe continued to negotiate with the American family. When the Glazers backed out of a full sale, he revised his offer to instead attempt to purchase around 70 per cent of the club, and then again to the current deal worth an initial 25 per cent rising to just under 30 per cent by the end of 2024.

It was a long and gruelling process.

“I remember at the Monaco Grand Prix, which was in May, we opened a bottle of very expensive champagne and all celebrated,” Ratcliffe 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.”

The deal was agreed in December, but took until this week for various bodies including the Premier League to sign off on the agreement.

Now it’s done, and Ratcliffe is already working hard to turn the club around.

The mysterious Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani (C) alongside Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (L) before the start of the AFC Qatar 2023 Asian Cup final a fortnight ago.Source: AFP

THE WORK SO FAR

Ratcliffe has visited Old Trafford and the club’s other facilities multiple times while waiting for the deal to be approved and finalised. If the Glazers were criticised for being too hands-off, it appears the British billionaire is determined to ensure he is a public presence.

Former CEO Richard Arnold left the club in November, with Ratcliffe securing a major coup by poaching Manchester City’s Omar Berrada for the role. 45-year-old was Chief Football Operations Officer at City Football Group, and is highly respected for his handling of both footballing and financial operations at City and previously at Barcelona.

But there’s an ‘absurd’ fight going on for a man Ratcliffe hopes will be crucial to his long-term plans at the club: Dan Ashworth.

Ashworth is an English football guru who is currently the sporting director at Premier League rivals Newcastle United.

Newcastle are reportedly demanding a payout of up to 20 million pounds in order to let him leave for Manchester United.

For now, the Magpies have placed him on gardening leave – and are apparently willing to leave him there for one-and-a-half years until his contract with the club expires.

Ratcliffe said: “I think Dan Ashworth is clearly one of the top sporting directors in the world, I’ve no doubt.

“He’s a very capable person. He’s interested in the Manchester United job because it’s probably the biggest sporting director job in the world just now, with the biggest challenge. It’s the ultimate challenge for a sporting director so we’ll have to see how it unfolds.”

And Ratcliffe lashed out at Newcastle for demanding what is effectively a sky-high transfer fee – but not for a player.

Ratcliffe said: “It’s a bit silly, personally. I won’t get dragged into that. What I do think is completely absurd is suggesting a man who is really good at his job sits in his garden for one-and-a-half years. That’s completely stupid.”

Should Ashworth join Berrada at United, it would form a significantly more capable and respected leadership than the club has had for many years. The other key figure in the club’s new leadership plan is Sir Dave Brailsford, effectively Ratcliffe’s right-hand man when it comes to sport.

Dave Brailsford (C) watching a Manchester United game in December.Source: AFP

WHO IS BRAILSFORD … AND WHY DOES HE MATTER?

Brailsford was a highly regarded cycling coach who led a renaissance in British cycling, which included successful Olympics performances in 2008 and 2012. His philosophy of ‘marginal gains’ – or what Australians call one-percenters – became widespread in both the sporting world and in general culture.

“The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together,” he told BBC once.

He took charge of British cycling team Team Sky, which dominated the Tour de France with six wins in seven years from 2012 to 2018. Ratcliffe bought the team in 2019, whereupon Brailsford also led them to another Tour de France win.

Brailsford has played a key role in all of INEOS’ sporting endeavours, and has spoken openly of looking to use the knowledge and expertise from other INEOS-backed teams to help Manchester United, in areas such as nutrition and recovery.

“Take nutrition,” he told ITV Sport. “You can take the best learnings from that and shift it across into football or into the sailing team …

“It could be the data and analytics or strategic planning of the F1 team and bring it here [to cycling]. So there’s a ‘cross-pollination’ of ideas … British Olympic sports, when I was part of that, did that ever so well. So to do that in a professional group of sports is exciting. I’ve been involved in that quite a lot.”

Brailsford resigned as the head of the INEOS Grenadiers cycling team recently ahead of the Manchester United deal being concluded, and has already begun a full audit of the club.

His role is effectively to provide the sporting nous, while Ratcliffe is a proven operator on the business side of things.

Crucially, Brailsford and Ashworth are close – with the latter even inviting Brailsford to speak to Newcastle’s players last season.

“I’ve known Sir Dave for a number of years, working across various different sports and he is without doubt the best in world sport at creating high-performance culture and turning that into winning,” said Ashworth.

For Ratcliffe, building an effective and cohesive leadership team at Old Trafford is a priority – and the trio of Brailsford, Ashworth and Berrada tick all the boxes.

Old Trafford could be refurbished for around a billion pounds – or a new stadium built.Source: Getty Images

REPAIR OR REBUILD THE STADIUM

The ageing Old Trafford has long been a sore point among supporters – especially since the Glazers refused to pitch in money to upgrade it. There have been no upgrades to the stadium since the 2005/06 season.

Ratcliffe has already committed $300m USD in funds that will go directly to infrastructure upgrades.

He revealed that the stadium could be ‘refurbished’ or expanded to seat between 80-90 thousand fans.

But the club is also investigating whether a new stadium could be rebuilt – which would have a higher upfront cost but would be more profitable in the long term for the club.

“What we can see so far – we haven’t had much time – what we’ve seen of the stadium so far: there is a really good case to refurbish Old Trafford, probably about £1 billion in cost, or something like that.

“You finish up with a great stadium, it’s probably an 80 or 90,000-seater. But it’s not perfect because you’re modifying a stadium that is slap bang up against a railway line and all that type of stuff, so it’s not an ideal world. But you finish up with a very good answer.

“Manchester United needs a stadium befitting one of the biggest clubs in the world and at the moment, it’s not there. Old Trafford maybe was 20 years ago but it’s certainly not today.”

He added to BBC: “There is quite a big argument, in my view, for regenerating that whole south side of Manchester. The nucleus of it would be building a new world-class state-of-the-art stadium which could take England games, the FA Cup final, Champions League finals. It could serve the north of England.”

Within 24 hours of the announcement the takeover deal had been approved, Manchester United legend Gary Neville was announced as part of the group looking into whether the stadium should be refurbished or a new one built.

Neville co-owns Hotel Football and University Academy 92, both in the area surrounding the stadium.

After years of protests, the Glazers aren’t quite out – but they will no longer be in control.Source: Getty Images

FIX THE RECRUITMENT

One of the biggest issues that has dragged down the club has been player recruitment – with exorbitant amounts spent of transfer fees with little to show for it.

In fact, a UEFA report released this week found that the 2022-23 Manchester United squad was the most expensive ever assembled.

Per UEFA, United’s squad cost a whopping €1.42 billion ($A2.34bn) in combined transfer fees, overtaking the Real Madrid 2020 team which cost €1.33 billion.

Much of the hefty expenditure down the years has been to the revolving door of managers, who each have reformed and reshaped the squad to fit their tactics – instead of the club having a clear identity or approach and finding managers and players who can fit into the system.

Ratcliffe said: “I think recruitment in the modern game is critical. Manchester United have clearly spent a lot of money but they haven’t done as well as some other clubs.

“So when I was talking about being best in class in all aspects of football, recruitment is clearly top of the list. I’m more thinking about getting recruitment in a good place in the future.

“There’s not much I can do about what’s happened in the past, so there’s no point they never want me going there really.

“So our thinking is all about how we become first in class in recruitment going forward. Which means you need the right people.”

One of the major issues when it comes to signing players will be Financial Fair Play or FFP rules, which limit a club’s losses over a rolling three-year period. But because the Red Devils have spent so much over the last couple of seasons, their transfer budget for the new season could be far more limited than many fans would have hoped.

“FFP has become a new aspect of running the football club, and it’s clearly a really critical part of running a football club.

Ratcliffe said: “Effectively, it takes into account your prior expenditure, and the club’s spent quite heavily in the last couple of seasons.

“So that does impact FFP going forward, because they’ve used quite a large part of their allowance if you like. So we need to be quite clear in the summer as to what the extent of … I don’t know the full answer to that question at the moment.

“It’s obviously related to sales as well as purchases, and so we need to get our heads around that well before the summer window, so we understand the number but there’s no question that history will impact this summer window.”

Years of a topsy-turvy transfer policy have come back to bite United.Source: Getty Images

DECIDE ON THE COACH

Another major question facing the new United hierarchy will be over the future of coach Erik Ten Hag.

The Dutchman’s future is secure until the end of the season, according to reports, but there’s no doubt that a change in leadership in the club could lead to a change in coach.

But, as Ratcliffe acknowledged, there’s been no shortage of exceptional coaches at the club in recent years – and none of them have really managed to turn the club’s fortunes around.

“I’m not going to comment on Erik ten Hag because I think it would be inappropriate to do that,” said Ratcliffe.

“But if you look at the 11 years that have gone since David Gill and Sir Alex [Ferguson] have stepped down, there have been a whole series of coaches, some of which were very good. 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’s 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 right. And it’s not for me to judge that anyway. I’m not a football professional.”

Manchester United’s Dutch manager Erik ten Hag has been under pressure this season, but will survive until the end of the year.Source: AFP

HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?

The early indications are that the Ratcliffe era of control over Man United will prioritise football over financial gain, will include significant upgrades to the ageing Old Trafford, and will feature experienced football brains in leadership positions.

While that all sounds promising, there’s plenty of work to be done.

“[It’s] certainly the biggest challenge in sport that we’ve undertaken. It’s enormous – and the club is enormous,” Ratcliffe said.

He added: “It’s been a complete misery really in the last 11 years and it’s just frustrating if you’re a supporter during that period of time.

And Ratcliffe has warned fans not to expect success overnight.

“It’s not a light switch. It’s not one of these things that changes overnight.

“We have to be careful we don’t rush at it in a way, you don’t want to run to the wrong solution rather than walk to the correct solution.

“We have two issues – one is the longer term, getting Manchester United to where we would like to get it but there’s also the shorter term of getting the most out of the club as it stands today because we would like to see the Champions League for next season if we can.”

“The fans would run out of patience if it was a 10-year plan,” he added. “But it’s certainly a three-year plan to get there.”

Time will tell.

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