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by Mick the Ram
British multi-billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe has agreed to buy a 25% stake in Manchester United Football Club for a figure of around £1.03bn ($1.3bn).
The locally born businessman is said to be a lifelong supporter of the football club (even though he unsuccessfully attempted to by Chelsea FC last year) and is believed to have a personal wealth of at least £15.8bn, possibly as much as £30bn.
The 71-year-old, who is the chairman of petrochemicals company Ineos, is also thought to have committed £236m for future investment into further development of the Old Trafford stadium, as part of the deal.
The announcement comes 13 months after the Glazer family stated they were considering selling to “explore strategic alternatives”. The American family bought the club for £790m in 2005 and will retain a majority stake in the club.
The team have struggled on the pitch for several seasons now and have not won the Premier League since 2013. In that time there has been persistent unrest and protests from the fanbase against the Glazer ownership.
The only other publicly declared bidder, Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani, withdrew his offer to buy 100% of the club in October of this year.
The club say the deal is “subject to customary regulatory approvals” but are “hopeful it will be completed as soon as possible”.
Rival bid withdrawn
Both the Ineos Group and the Qatari consortium led by Sheikh Jassim, submitted their first bids for the football club back in February 2023. Subsequent improved bids followed, with the Sheikh upping his offer to just under £5bn, but he wanted 100% control.
However, with it becoming clear that the Glazers were not prepared to release their majority share, the proposal was withdrawn.
Mr Ratcliffe had already amended his own initial plan to buy a 69% of the Glazer’s shareholding and reduced it to a “majority” stake.
It was very quickly fairly obvious that was not going to happen and it was only when he reduced it once more, this time to just 25%, that the potential for an actual agreement began to look realistic.
In a statement, Sir Jim spoke of global knowledge, expertise and talent from the wider Ineos Sport group to help drive further improvement at the club.
In an effort to reassure the supporters, he said: “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.”
He reiterated his commitment to work with everybody at the club to accomplish a shared ambition to see Manchester United back “where we belong” at the very top of English, European and world football.
Adjustment to board set up
There will be a six-to-eight week process for the deal to be ratified. The agreement is for the purchase of 25% of the club’s class B shares largely held by the Glazer family, and up to 25% of its class A shares, which are listed on the New York Stock Market.
Taking on sporting control at the club means Ineos will oversee the men’s and women’s football operations and academies. They will also receive two seats on the Manchester United PLC and Manchester United Football Club boards.
It is understood that the seats on the PLC board will be taken up by John Reece, a shareholder of Ineos, and Rob Nevin, chairman of Ineos Sport. On the UK club board he will delegate his seats to former British Cycling chief Sir Dave Brailsford and former Juventus and Paris St-Germain executive Jean-Claude Blanc.
Big sporting presence
Ineos already owns leading French Ligue 1 club Nice, and Swiss club Lausanne. Its sporting portfolio also includes high-profile sailing team Ineos Britannia – led by British Olympic gold medalist Sir Ben Ainslie. They also have a five-year partnership with Formula 1 team Mercedes, owning a third of the team – and took over the British-based Team Sky in cycling in 2019.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe was born in Greater Manchester and is one of the UK’s richest men, having got there on the strength of buying unloved assets, so there will be many football fans in England who will say that his latest purchase is very apt in that regard.
In all seriousness, it is through buying up and turning around cast-off parts of other businesses, that Sir Jim has built up a huge fortune. Forbes put his wealth at £15.8bn, but the Sunday Times say it is nearer to £30bn and have him in second place their UK rich list, only just behind Gopi Hinduja and family.
In almost everybody’s everyday life
His Ineos Group are responsible for chemicals and raw materials that go into nearly everything touched by mankind every day, from packaging for toiletries, medicines and food, to mobile phones and furniture. From 194 sites across 29 countries, Ineos generates sales of around £50bn and employs more than 26,000 people.
Sir Jim reportedly moved from the UK to Monaco in 2020, a place that does not collect personal income tax, or capital gains taxes.
Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (Must) released a statement upon hearing the news. It read: “Fans have very mixed feelings today with the Glazers’ ongoing role a cause for serious concern.”
Scepticism was voiced as to how any organisation can put its “very core business in the hands of a minority shareholder” and how that “meaningfully works in practice.”
They closed with a hint of optimism, measured with a large slice of distrust, born out of years of frustration: “Today might – just might – be a step forward for Manchester United after some very difficult years, but with the Glazers still in charge, people should understand that United fans will remain sceptical and wait for the proof in the pudding.”
It is thought that the Glazer family have pocketed a staggering half a billion pounds from the deal, which in the eyes of many represents a pretty decent return for a decade of lamentable underachieving.