Inside the mind of Sir Jim Ratcliffe: MIKE KEEGAN sits down with the new Man United


In the bathroom of the INEOS HQ in Knightsbridge a sign gives staff simple instructions on how to use the toilet brush so that the cleaners do not have to. The expectation is clear – you clean up after yourself.

Moments later, a man who has just paid a fortune to erase someone else’s mess at Britain’s biggest football club strides into a nearby meeting room.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe looks as relaxed as one can be, having dropped more than £1bn to take a 25 per cent in what, Chelsea aside, is the Premier League’s prime basket case. He is speaking less than 24 hours after handing a vast sum to the hated Glazer family for a quarter share in Manchester United and appears to be on good form.

The first question to the petrochemicals billionaire is the obvious one. Why? ‘I’ve always been a fan from the age of six or seven,’ he explains of a childhood growing up in Failsworth, where Manchester meets Oldham to the east. ‘When I was a kid growing up in Manchester at primary school half the class was pale blue and half the class was red, and I came from a family that was red. I would have had to leave home if I’d been any other colour.’

It is a decent, if succinct summary of his credentials. So why then, if he loves United so much, did he try to buy Chelsea not two years ago?‘

Mail Sport’s Mike Keegan spoke with Sir Jim Ratcliffe (above) after the British billionaire and INEOS were officially confirmed as part owners of Manchester United on Tuesday evening

Ratcliffe has now taken control of football operations at the club, with a 27.7 per cent stake

Ratcliffe has now taken control of football operations at the club, with a 27.7 per cent stake

The British billionaire wants to transform Manchester United's home into the 'Wembley of the North' in a complete rebuild of the stadium which could cost upwards of £2billion

The British billionaire wants to transform Manchester United’s home into the ‘Wembley of the North’ in a complete rebuild of the stadium which could cost upwards of £2billion

‘It’s simple,’ he says. ‘We have a collection of quite interesting sports clubs – we’ve got Formula One, the Americas Cup, cycling. But we’ve always recognised that the biggest sport in the world is football and the Premier League is the biggest league in the world. We’ve always had an interest in having a Premiership club, but they don’t come up very often. And you know, at the time, we had no inkling that United might ever be sold.

‘That’s why we finished in that Chelsea equation. We spent quite a lot of time thinking about whether we really wanted to go there. By the time we got there, we were too late in the process. There is no comparison between Chelsea and Manchester United. The scale of Manchester United is incomparable to any of the London clubs to be honest with you.’

A fair response, but it is when talking about a crumbling Old Trafford – something else that may well cost him north of £1bn to fix – that Ratcliffe gives the strongest glimpse of his true colours.

‘Old Trafford area is quite an interesting area because it was the heart of the Industrial Revolution,’ he says. ‘It is the oldest industrial park in Europe, the first industrial park in Europe, it’s where the Industrial Revolution began. And they obviously built the Manchester Ship Canal to service it. That’s where all the coal came in, the cotton and that sort of stuff. And that’s why they built Old Trafford there. People would finish their shift and then walk to the ground as there was no transport in those days. That’s the history of why the club is there.’

While what concerns Ratcliffe now is the club’s future, he draws inspiration from yesteryear to outline his aims. I had been told that he has cast admiring glances across town, at Manchester City’s success, and is friendly with City supremo Khaldoon Al Mubarak. I ask him if he views the project at the Etihad as the ‘blueprint’.

‘We have a lot to learn from our noisy neighbour and the other neighbour,’ he admits, using Sir Alex Ferguson’s pet name for City. ‘But they are the enemy at the end of the day.’ 

He then channels his inner-Fergie again. ‘There is nothing I would like better than to knock both of them (City and Liverpool) from their perch,’ he declares. ‘They have sensible organisations, great people within the organisations, a good, driven and elite environment that they work in. I am very respectful of them but they are still the enemy.’

Ratcliffe, dressed in a navy suit, white shirt and no tie, is 71. He knows that time is against him and is a man in a hurry. While his investment was only officially confirmed on Monday night, his INEOS lieutenants have already made a series of changes, including the hiring of City’s highly-regarded Omar Berrada as chief executive. 

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

Ratcliffe described Man United's hierarchal structure as 'outdated' and vowed to change it

Ratcliffe described Man United’s hierarchal structure as ‘outdated’ and vowed to change it

He believes boss Erik ten Hag (middle) shouldn't be reporting in directly to the chief executive

He believes boss Erik ten Hag (middle) shouldn’t be reporting in directly to the chief executive

Newcastle’s Dan Ashworth is lined up next, with Ratcliffe describing the prospect of the Saudi-backed north-east club allowing him to sit on gardening leave for 18 months as ‘completely absurd’. United have not won a Premier League title in more than a decade since Ferguson left. Is there a timeframe for this perch-knocking?

‘It’s not a ten-year plan,’ he says. ‘The fans would run out of patience if it was a ten-year plan. But it’s certainly a three-year plan to get there. To think that we’re going to be playing football as good as Manchester City played against Real Madrid last year by next season is not sensible. And if we give people false expectations, then they will get disappointed. So I think the key thing is our trajectory, so that people can see that we’re making progress.’

Mail Sport's Mike Keegan

Mail Sport’s Mike Keegan

Insiders say INEOS, headed by sporting director Sir Dave Brailsford, ‘have the keys’. Control of the football operation has been handed over by the Glazers. They are making the decisions. While the guidance from the club was that Mason Greenwood would not play for them again after rape charges against him were dropped – and sent to Spanish side Getafe for the rest of the season – Ratcliffe reveals the England striker’s fate was another call that they would make.‘

The process will be: understand the facts not the hype and then try and come to fair decision on the basis of values, which is basically is he a good guy or not,’ he explains. ‘Could he play sincerely for Manchester United and would we be comfortable with it and the fans would be comfortable with it? We will make a decision.’

Another decision may be on the fate of manager Erik ten Hag. While there have been signs of recovery, there have also been missteps in the transfer market since the Dutchman took the reins, not least on one-footed, £82m winger Antony. The jury among sections of the fanbase is out, and it would appear the new investor shares that view, although he declared that the environment, rather than the man in the dugout, was key.

‘I won’t comment on Erik – that would be inappropriate,’ he says. ‘What I would say is if you look at the 11 years gone since David Gill and Sir Alex stepped down there’s been a series of coaches, some of which very good, and none of them have been successful or survived for long. You can’t blame all the coaches. The only conclusion is that the environment didn’t work. Erik has been in that environment.’

Manchester United's new structural hierarchy under co-owners Joel Glazer and Ratcliffe

Manchester United’s new structural hierarchy under co-owners Joel Glazer and Ratcliffe

Manchester United are on the cusp of luring sporting director Dan Ashworth from Newcastle

Manchester United are on the cusp of luring sporting director Dan Ashworth from Newcastle 

Ratcliffe urged that Newcastle United placing Ashworth on gardening leave was 'absurd'

Ratcliffe urged that Newcastle United placing Ashworth on gardening leave was ‘absurd’ 

Ratcliffe, who does add that in the new United the sporting director and their staff, rather than the manager, will decide the style of play, is punchy and on the front foot. So what of Brailsford, who came in for criticism over the British Cycling scandal which saw Dr Richard Freeman, a direct report, struck off after a medical tribunal found that he had ordered banned testosterone to the team’s Velodrome HQ knowing or believing it would be used to improve an athlete’s performance? 

The ears of the INEOS sporting director, sat in an office two doors down taking a Zoom call, may have burned.‘

I’m not interested in all that,’ Ratcliffe says. ‘Really, I’m not. You can keep harping on at the past but I am not interested in the past. I’m interested in the future. My view is he is a really good man and is really good at his job. That for me was all nonsense, in the past, I’m not interested.’

And what of his own move to Monaco? ‘I paid my taxes for 65 years in the UK,’ he says, sharply. ‘And then when I got to retirement age, I went down to enjoy a bit of sun. I don’t have a problem with that, I’m afraid.’

With the rain bouncing against the windows it feels like a long way from the south of France – even if Harrods’, directly opposite, provides a touch of glamour. But while we are at a sprawling and no-doubt eye-wateringly expensive Knightsbridge address which may scream wealth, INEOS HQ is certainly not showy. 

A small intercom had allowed access through frosted glass double doors into a poky reception, where a lone man sat behind a desk. On the wall of the lift was a picture of the ‘INEOS compass’, which features words that do, and do not, form part of the company’s ethos.

Under ‘words we like’ sits ‘northerners’ and it is clear that Ratcliffe, raised first in Manchester and then Hull and with assets of £29.3bn at the last count, is fiercely proud of his roots when he speaks about plans for Old Trafford and the prospect of an approach to the government to fund a mass regeneration and new, 90,000-capacity ‘Wembley of the North’. 

Klopp confirmed he would leave Anfield at the end of the campaign

Guardiola's side sit second in the title race behind Liverpool as it stands

The Red Devils have been in the shadow of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in recent seasons, having once been the juggernauts of English football

The INEOS chief has vowed to knock United's rivals, Man City and Liverpool, off their perches

The INEOS chief has vowed to knock United’s rivals, Man City and Liverpool, off their perches

Sir Alex Ferguson, similarly, famously vowed to knock Liverpool off their perch back in 2002

Sir Alex Ferguson, similarly, famously vowed to knock Liverpool off their perch back in 2002

‘People in the north pay their taxes like the people in the south pay their taxes,’ he declares. ‘But where’s the National Stadium for football? It’s in the South. Where’s the National Stadium for rugby? It’s in the South. Where’s the National Stadium for tennis? It’s in the South. Where’s the national concert stadium, O2? It’s in the South. Where’s the Olympic Village? It is in the south. So you know all this talk about levelling up and the northern powerhouse and all that, where is the stadium in the north?’

He continues: ‘How many Champions Leagues has the north-west won and how many champions leagues has London won? And the answer to that is north-west has won 10. Liverpool have won more than us. And London’s won two. Where do you have to go if you get to the semi-final of the FA Cup and you are a northern club? You have to schlep down to London.’

Warming to the theme, he switches to the HS2 debacle. ‘What happened to HS2 which was going to be a substantial amount of investment in the north? What happened to that? They’ve cancelled that and where they’re gonna spend all that money? They’re going to spend it on the rail network in London.’

In January, Ratcliffe spent four hours at Ferguson’s house. ‘He was fiercely competitive and that is why he was successful,’ he explains. ‘We have to be the same. I remember Queen Victoria was present at the first Americas Cup when we challenged America in 1851. They sent a yacht across called America. We had eleven yachts and we had a race around the Isle of Wight. It was hosted by the Royal Yacht Squadron. In the end, the American boat – called America – won the race. Queen Victoria turned to the commodore and said ‘Did we come second?’ And the commodore said: “There is no second”.’

After an hour in his company, the impression is of a man who cares deeply and who wants to end the misery for his fellow supporters. Admittedly the bar is a low one. The Glazer family have rarely answered questions from the English press in close to 20 years in control. Some have headed to their Florida headquarters in an attempt to snatch a word and have been rebuffed on strip mall car parks.

Omar Berrada has been poached from Manchester City to take on the role of chief executive

Omar Berrada has been poached from Manchester City to take on the role of chief executive

Ratcliffe also hinted that Mason Greenwood (above) may have a future at Manchester United

Ratcliffe also hinted that Mason Greenwood (above) may have a future at Manchester United

The 22-year-old English forward is currently on a season-long loan at LaLiga club Getafe

While there will be scepticism and talk of deals with the devil given the deeply unpopular Americans retain a majority stake, United fans will welcome the fact that Ratcliffe, whose accent is also much closer to home, has made himself more visible in 24 hours than the Glazers have managed in two decades.

Before we finish he wants to make another point. ‘I have a very simple view of a big club like Manchester United and that is that it’s a community asset,’ he says. ‘The club is owned by the fans. We are just guardians or stewards for a temporary period of time. I am not going to be there forever. Its important we communicate to the fanbase. Its such an important aspect of their life and how it affects them. 

On a wet Monday morning in Manchester the first thing you talk about in the factory or office is how they did at the weekend and you start off with a good week or a bad week depending on how it went. It’s important we are seen by the true owners – and the true owners are the fans.’



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