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Ratcliffe wants struggling Man United back at the top of English and European soccer

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LA Post: Ratcliffe wants struggling Man United back at the top of English and European soccer
AP
JAMES ROBSON
December 24, 2023

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe has finally got his hands on Manchester United after securing a stake of up to 25% in the Premier League club.

Ratcliffe’s interest in sports — and soccer in particular — is long-standing. The 71-year-old owner of petrochemicals giant has been a United fan since childhood, and supporters will like his stated ambitions.

“We all want to see Manchester United back where we belong, at the very top of English, European and world football,” Ratcliffe said Sunday after a deal, subject to Premier League approval, was confirmed following lengthy negotiations with the Glazer family, United’s American owners.

The announcement comes after moves elsewhere in European soccer that could have seen Ratcliffe take control of one of United’s main Premier League rivals as recently as last year.

Ratcliffe, one of the richest people in Britain, had initially looked to buy the Glazers' controlling stake of around 69%, but eventually agreed to become a minority shareholder.

He had to see off competition from Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani, who withdrew in October from the bidding process after failing to agree a deal for a complete takeover.

CHELSEA BID

Ratcliffe made a surprise late bid for Premier League club Chelsea in 2022, despite not being involved in a months-long bidding process.

A consortium led by Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital had already seen off competition — from the likes of Chicago Cubs owner the Ricketts family, and Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca — to enter exclusive talks to buy out former Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich when Ratcliffe made his move.

Despite his long-standing support of United being well-publicized, Ratcliffe was adamant his interest was serious.

“We are British and have great intentions for Chelsea,” he said at the time. Ultimately his bid came too late to disrupt Boehly and Clearlake’s takeover.

Later that year, Ratcliffe let it be known that was interested in buying United as rumors of a Glazer sale surfaced.

He then altered that stance.

“Our position has developed since the summer and we are now focusing our efforts in Nice and raising our ambitions for the club to make them into a top-tier club in France to compete with PSG,” INEOS said in a statement. “This would represent much better value for our investment than buying one of the top-tier Premier League clubs.”

Then came the Glazers’ announcement that they would be open to selling, and Ratcliffe launched a bid to buy out the Americans’ stake.

NICE QUESTION

While Ratcliffe is tasked with helping to make United competitive again in the Premier League — a competition it once utterly dominated — his Nice side is impressing in the south of France.

Ratcliffe completed the takeover of Nice four years ago. After some inconsistent seasons, Nice, under its philosophy-studying Italian coach Francesco Farioli, is challenging defending champion Paris Saint-Germain.

Nice is second in the French league, five points behind leader PSG after 17 rounds.

So Nice can realistically target second place and an automatic spot in next season's Champions League.

But that could be problematic. UEFA rules in place for more than 20 years do not allow two clubs where the same owner has “decisive influence” on how they are run to both enter European competitions if they could cross paths at any point in the season.

If both teams qualify for the Champions League, priority goes to the team which finishes higher in its domestic league. On current form, that is Nice.

LAUSANNE

Ratcliffe’s first entry into soccer club ownership was Lausanne-Sport in 2017. INEOS already was a sponsor of its local club in Switzerland where it had moved parts of the business in 2010.

INEOS management’s stated ambitions for the top-tier Swiss club were to qualify for European competitions and work with youth academies in Africa. Its first player signing was soccer great Zinedine Zidane’s son, Enzo.

Lausanne is currently 10th in what is now a 12-team league.

Ratcliffe has also successfully ventured into the world of cycling.

Back in 2019, the mighty Team Sky became Team INEOS (and later INEOS Grenadiers) after a change of ownership.

The squad has remained a major player under Ratcliffe, although its dominance at the Tour de France has been ended by Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates after INEOS last won the race in 2019 with Egan Bernal.

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AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar, Samuel Petrequin and Jerome Pugmire contributed to this report.

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James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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