Sir Jim Ratcliffe participated in a live interview with the Financial Times this evening, amid speculation over his interest in purchasing Manchester United Football Club.
The interviewer remarked on how Ratcliffe had “expressed an interest in acquiring Manchester United or Chelsea” straight off the bat, but held off on that line of questioning, instead opting to gain an insight into his ownership style at Nice, the Ligue 1 club owned by the entrepreneur.
“We were hands off with Nice in the first couple of years and this summer we got more heavily involved.”
The suggestion that Ratcliffe could take his time making changes should he acquire Man United bodes well for Erik ten Hag’s project at the club.
Gradual improvements behind the scenes at the executive level could allow room for the Dutchman’s vision to grow, without interference from upstairs.
There were further positives to be gained from Ratcliffe even before the discussion centre on United.
“It’s not a permanent thing, debt,” Ratcliffe said a one point. While that remark in fact referred to INEOS’ response to changes in the energy market, it is certainly a line that will bolster the hopes of Red Devils fans.
A debt free United able to take full advantage of their own revenue would be a frightening prospect for Premier League rivals.
Couple that with an appreciation for steady, sensible planning and it is clear to see why a potential Ratcliffe-led takeover would appeal to so many United fans.
On his reputation for acting on hunches, Ratcliffe spoke of his acquisition of BP in 2005 – a company triple their size in revenue terms at the time.
“We didn’t meet a manager. We didn’t visit a site. The due diligence was… limited.” Nevertheless, Ratcliffe considered the acquisition to have been “transformational” for INEOS, in spite of the industry’s fluctuations since then.
“We quadrupled overnight,” he said, showing the value Ratcliffe places on rapid expansion and his unfailing trust in his own judgement.
Ratcliffe set pulses racing when he confirmed offhand that he had made a $5bn dollar deal this morning but refused to give any details on the company.
It is unlikely to have been for Manchester United, given the amount of secrecy that would have to have been involved to keep such a high-profile deal away from the media. But it is perhaps worth noting that any deal of that magnitude would require more than a little secrecy to keep quiet.
He gave another hint while discussing a meeting with Man City owner Khaldoon Mubarek.
“I went over to talk about chemicals and after about two hours and fifteen minutes we got onto the subject of chemicals. You can imagine what we were talking about. He told me some illuminating stories about his successes with football which has been quite helpful.”
The thought of City’s owners potentially helping to dig United out of from under Glazer ownership comes with its fair share of irony.
But it was shortly followed by a Ratcliffe seemingly pouring cold water on suggestions he could take over.
“I’m a lifelong Manchester United fan. I was there in 99. Manchester United is owned by the Glazer family, who I have met. They’re really nice people and they don’t want to sell it.
“We can’t sit around waiting for Manchester United to become available.”
No doubt that will upset the fanbase, who are by and large desperate for the removal of the Glazers.
But not everything is as it seems with high-level corporate dealings and Sir Ratcliffe hinted that owning Manchester United is still an ambition.
“If it had been for sale in the summer, we would probably have had a go.
“The most popular sport in the world is football and we should have a Premier club as an asset.”
If that asset ends up being Man United, Ratcliffe insists he would run the club differently.
“The biggest correlation in success in football is money. It’s not the only one, because there are exceptions. Manchester United have money and were one of those clubs at the top, but they’re not playing in the leagues of those other teams, and they haven’t done since Sir Alex stepped down. So there’s something else wrong there.”
But before anyone can tackle such problems, the grip of the Glazers must first loosen.
Perhaps Ratcliffe’s suggestion that he may bid for some other “Premier club” could help in that regard – after all, having different options is generally a good way to have sellers lower their prices.
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