The first month of the INEOS revolution at Old Trafford has seen the club’s new chiefs engage with Manchester United fans more than the Glazer family have across nearly two decades.
To describe the relationship between the American owners and their club’s fans is to misuse the word – there is none. The only emotions which United fans feel towards the Glazers oscillate between annoyance and apathy.
This stems from years of wilful neglect by United’s owners, who are more concerned with commercialism than sporting success; more focused on generating profits in their bank balance than producing trophies on the pitch; and obsessed with a quick buck over anything else.
With this in mind, Sir Jim Ratcliffe – the self-made British billionaire and boyhood United fan – has been very selective in how he, and his INEOS Sporting team, have presented themselves since his co-ownership bid was confirmed exactly one month ago today.
As part of the minority stake bid, Ratcliffe has been granted full autonomy over the football operation at Old Trafford. This will be headed by his INEOS Sporting team. They are awaiting ratification from the Premier League over Ratcliffe’s bid – expected to be approved in early February – before any meaningful changes are enacted, however.
In his new role, Ratcliffe is simultaneously keen to distance himself from the Glazers while being sure to not make disparaging comments about his co-owners.
Documents submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), explaining the INEOS owner’s formal bid, revealed a clause which forbids Ratcliffe to “directly or indirectly, make or cause to be public any public statement that constitutes an ad hominem attack on, criticises or otherwise disparages” the Glazers; and vice-versa.
While this appears unlikely – Ratcliffe contends he has built a strong relationship with the Glazers over the year-long negotiation process – there have been subtle references in his early comments to the state of disrepair United have fallen into under their American owners.
This delicate balance is one the businessman is engaging in because he knows it’s what the club’s fanbase needs to hear if he is to get them on his side. While Ratcliffe cannot criticise the Glazers directly, he absolutely cannot strike a positive tone over United’s current fortunes. The anger which is bubbling beneath the surface amongst the Old Trafford faithful can only be assuaged by an honest assessment of the club.
Ratcliffe appears to have walked this precarious tightrope perfectly as early reports of fan feedback are overwhelmingly positive. With good reason.
INEOS have made a concerted effort to engage with every part of the club.
Naturally, they have met with Erik ten Hag, his coaching staff, and the senior men’s squad. They have also met with Marc Skinner and the women’s team.
An all-staff meeting was chaired earlier this month by Ratcliffe and the INEOS Director of Sport, Sir Dave Brailsford. They laid out their expectations of every staff member at Old Trafford and promised meaningful change was coming. The Athletic reveals sources in the football department were left “buzzing” by Brailsford’s vision – a type which has never been articulated under the Glazers.
Brailsford told staff they should be prepared to “recalibrate…from a focus on raising revenues to winning trophies.” He informed them the club had been failing its “primary purpose of sporting success” and this would form the basis of the new INEOS approach.
Ratcliffe would likely have been twitching in his seat at Brailsford’s harsh words with a certain SEC clause in mind, but the INEOS director did not mention the Glazers directly. Instead, he focused on what staff could expect to see in the future, rather than spending too long analysing the past.
But INEOS have not limited their engagement with the club simply to paid employees. They have made considerable effort to talk directly to fans and members of the public.
A three-man delegation of Ratcliffe, Brailsford, Jean-Claude Blanc (chief executive at INEOS Sport) and Tom Crotty (INEOS director and communication head) took the time to meet with a number of supporter groups, including the Fans Advisory Board, Manchester United Supporters Group (MUST), and the fans’ forum. Attendees of these meetings were said to have all left with a “positive impression” of the INEOS team. One described how the words spoken were “just so different to everything we’ve heard from the Glazers…it was so refreshing.”
INEOS have also been conscious of reaching out to members of the local community in Manchester – people who may not necessarily support United but are directly impacted by their proximity to the club. The delegation met with local civic leaders to discuss United’s role in the wider community, as well as potential redevelopment at Old Trafford.
In these meetings, Ratcliffe elaborated on his plans for renovation at United’s decaying ground. Old Trafford has slowly become Old Trafford under the Glazers’ mismanagement. It is in desperate need of investment, which INEOS are committed to. The Athletic reveals the vision Ratcliffe laid out:
“[Ratcliffe] also expanded on his plans for stadium renovation, expressing a desire to develop the site into more of a campus for the club and an asset to the community. He said there is untapped potential in land surrounding the ground that United own and feels that by establishing better links with local authorities and civic leaders, the regeneration can happen quicker than the projections he has seen.”
The INEOS owner is even reported to have asked United staff who he should speak to on this topic of redevelopment. As a result, a group – comprised of Andy Burnham (Mayor of Manchester), senior executives from Trafford Council and Greater Manchester Combined Authority – was convened. It’s believed Ratcliffe’s presence at these types of meetings will provide a “sense of urgency” to an understandably protracted project.
United’s new owner “intends to hold talks in person” when necessary – a tactic which will paint him in direct contrast to his co-owners. But, as has become a theme in his first month at Old Trafford, this is his intention.
Ratcliffe wants to engage with the club he is now responsible for as much as he possibly can. It’s an ambition which will delight a fan base who have grown to expect the exact opposite from the previous incumbents at Old Trafford.