With news of Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s minority stake ownership bid finally reaching ratification, The Peoples Person takes a look at the most-pressing needs on a comprehensive ‘to-do’ list for Manchester United’s new (minority) owner.
As explained in greater detail here, the INEOS bid acquires 25% of the club’s shares (both Class A and Class B), while pledging an additional £300 million in future investment.
Ratcliffe released a statement alongside the news of his successful deal, describing himself as a “local boy and lifelong supporter of the club” who wants to see United “back where we belong, at the top of English, European and world football.” The INEOS CEO was quick to acknowledge the enormity of the job involved in restoring the club to its former glories, however.
“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”
Even the most ardent and fervent United fan will agree this process will be a slow one.
There are a multitude of decisions that will need to be taken in both the short-term as well as the long, however, in order to drive this improvement; evolution as much as revolution.
Most fundamentally, a decision will be needed on the manager’s future at Old Trafford.
Erik ten Hag enjoyed an extremely successful debut season in England, steering United towards their first trophy in six years and a return to Champions League football, courtesy of a comfortable third place finish. There was a rekindling of the relationship between the fans and the players and a sense for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement that United finally had the right man at the helm.
Fast forward six months and Ten Hag’s side languishes in eighth place in the league, having already been knocked out of the Champions League and Carabao Cup in equally absymal fashion. United have lost thirteen games already this season; they lost twelve across the entirety of last year. Even matches they’ve ultimately won have been via lucky moments rather than positive performances.
United’s form this season has simply been sack-worthy. At any other major European club, the Dutchman would likely have already been shown the exit door.
Yet a horrific injury list, a mentally fragile dressing room and an incompetent executive structure above Ten Hag offer glimmers of a context which excuses the Dutchman. Or, at least, they provide a case for continued patience.
Not once this season has Ten Hag been able to field his ideal starting eleven. With long-term injured players – Mason Mount, Lisandro Martinez and Casemiro – set to return in the next few weeks, alongside short-term absentees in Marcus Rashford and Raphael Varane, United’s squad will soon be significantly strengthened.
If the performances continue after these players have returned, the first job on Ratcliffe’s plate will be serving Ten Hag his P45 notice. If they improve, it will be helping ensure the Dutchman has all the tools he needs to continue the recovery process.
Task One – Make a decision on the manager’s future.
The second bullet point on the short-term INEOS ‘to-do’ list will be constructing a competent and capable sporting operation above the manager, regardless of who that person is.
Reports indicate such moves have already been considered by Ratcliffe’s team, with a new Chief Executive, a new Sporting Director and a new Head of Recruitment all believed to be in the process of being implemented.
The minority stake ownership bid is thought to include full control over the football operation at Old Trafford. Given the abject failing of this department over the last decade, it will be essential for INEOS to establish a brand new executive team, free from the errors of the past.
Task Two – Install the correct executive structure at Old Trafford.
With the future of the manager (either existing or new) settled and the establishment of a sporting operation above them, Ratcliffe’s team will then have to turn their attentions to the United squad.
There are a host of players in the dressing room at Old Trafford who have long overstayed their welcome. INEOS must empower the new sporting structure to remove these individuals from the squad, even if it incurs financial loss in the short-term. The improvements in the long-term, in regards to both quality and mentality, will be profound.
Similarly, there needs to be a clearly defined template for new recruits.
Antony and Casemiro, signed a few weeks apart last summer, share a passport and an overinflated transfer fee, but little else. One was a 22-year-old technician who functions best in a possession-heavy side looking to press from the front; the other was a 30-year-old defensive midfielder who thrives in a reactive low-block system. United spent nearly £150 million in the space of a fortnight on two players who are not remotely compatible.
This lack of coherency window to window, even transfer to transfer, needs to end.
Task Three – Streamline the squad and decide on a consistent profile for new recruits.
While change can happen quickly in terms of personnel and process, physical and permanent improvements are much slower and more effortful.
The Glazers’ willingness to run the club into the ground in order to save costs has seen United transition from the envy of Europe in terms of facilities into one in desperate need of upgrades.
A host of clubs in the Premier League have training grounds which make Carrington look like a relic from a bygone era. A comparable number play at stadiums which are lightyears ahead of Old Trafford as a stadium facility, for both players and fans alike.
The decline on the pitch over the past decade has almost been dwarved by the one off it.
Old Trafford is in desperate need of rejuvenation. The INEOS bid includes a £300 million pledge for infrastructure investment which will be welcomed by every matchday fan who has sat under a leaking roof or been served raw chicken at a home game this year. Old Trafford must become New Trafford under Ratcliffe’s reign.
Similarly, Carrington requires a comprehensive overhaul. While Cristiano Ronaldo’s perception of himself borders on delusional, his assessment of the state of United’s training ground – that parts of the training ground were the exact same as when he left in 2009 – offers a damning insight into the decline the Glazers have actively enabled.
Whether £300 million is sufficient to fix both of these problems seems doubtful. It’s likely to cost far more to perform the surgery both facilities need, but this initial pledge will hopefully be an opening gambit to further investment down the line.
Task Four – Invest in the infrastructure required to bring United into the 21st century
Which brings us to the last task – removing the Glazers once and for all.
The INEOS bid must be a first step by Ratcliffe towards securing majority ownership at Old Trafford. It is thought that the premium price he paid for the 25% stake suggests a path to this has been discussed, but it is not set in stone (publicly at least). A businessman as experienced and ambitious – and ruthless – as Ratcliffe is unlikely to be content being a minority owner, however.
The Glazers are a virus who have relentlessly laid waste to a once great footballing institution. Ratcliffe’s long-term plan must be one which provides a permanent antidote.
Task Five – Don’t stop at 25% ownership.