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Sir Jim Ratcliffe is saying all the right things – but just how realistic is new Man Utd co-owner’s three-year plan?

Sir Jim Ratcliffe Manchester United Ten Hag

Less than 24 hours after officially taking over football operations at Manchester United, Sir Jim Ratcliffe outlined his lofty ambitions for the future from the boardroom suite of his INEOS headquarters in London. He struck all the right notes, even going so far as to channel legendary former manager Sir Alex Ferguson when vowing to end 11 years of “complete misery” and close the gap on Manchester City and Liverpool.

“We have a lot to learn from our noisy neighbour and the other ­neighbour,” Ratcliffe said. “They are the enemy at the end of the day. There is nothing I would like better than to knock both of them off their perch.”

The 71-year-old billionaire went on to warn fans there will be no “overnight change”, but also insisted United can accomplish their goals by as early as 2027, one year before the club’s 150th anniversary. “The fans would run out of patience if it was a 10-year plan,” he added. “But it’s certainly a three-year plan to get there. I think the key thing is our trajectory, so that ­people can see that we’re making progress. Because it’s not easy to turn ­Manchester United into the world’s best football team.”

That last sentence is the understatement of the century. Ratcliffe’s arrival has generated a new wave of optimism at Old Trafford, but bringing United back to the top of the game in such a short period of time would be nothing short of a miracle.

Ten Hag Manchester United

Ten Hag’s position

Ratcliffe clearly understands the huge task on his hands at Old Trafford, but he is now under pressure to deliver on his promise, and that begins with what happens on the pitch.

United are currently enjoying their best period of the season, with six wins and one draw from their last seven games across all competitions. That run has eased pressure on head coach Erik ten Hag, but it hasn’t made up for the damage that was done between August and December. United are still five points adrift of the Premier League’s top-four and only have the FA Cup left to play for in terms of silverware after crashing out of the Champions League and Carabao Cup in embarrassing fashion.

Even more concerning is the fact United still don’t seem to have a cohesive structure under Ten Hag, with the dressing room reportedly split on whether he is the right man to take the team forward. Results have improved because certain individuals have stepped up to the plate, but the glaring weaknesses across the pitch haven’t been fixed, and the reality is United are further behind City and Liverpool than ever before.

Ten Hag’s contract is due to expire in 2025, and Ratcliffe has hinted his future is very much in the balance, albeit while pointing out David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer also failed in an environment that has become toxic since Ferguson’s exit.

“If you look at the 11 years that have gone since David Gill and Sir Alex stepped down, there has been a whole series of coaches,” said Ratcliffe. “Some of them were very good, but none of them has been successful or survived for very long. You can’t blame all the coaches. The only conclusion is that the environment in which they were working didn’t work. Erik’s been in that environment and what we have to do is make sure that environment, the organisation, the people in the structure, are right.

“But we’ve made some quite difficult decisions in our time in business. We’ll just be logical about it, assess the facts and make a fair judgement. We’re not a brutal organisation really. But sometimes you do have to make decisions, that may not be popular.”

Jim Ratcliffe Manchester United

Not afraid to ruffle feathers

Beyond United’s lack of identity and clear style of play, Ten Hag is also responsible for wasting a hefty transfer pot, with the likes of Antony, Casemiro, Andre Onana and Mason Mount all unable to live up to their price tags. Ratcliffe recognises that recruitment has been United’s biggest problem over the past decade, and it appears that Ten Hag will no longer be trusted to have the final say on new additions to the squad.

“We need to be as good as anyone else in the game at recruitment and we haven’t been,” Ratcliffe told the BBC. “FFP [Financial Fair Play] is a new element in football and a really important part of managing a football club well. We will assess how much money we have available and use it well.”

It has been reported that United’s transfer budget will be significantly squeezed in the summer due to Financial Fair Play restrictions, and an even bigger hit will be taken if they fail to qualify for the Champions League, which means player sales and extensive scouting will be necessary.

To that end, Ratcliffe has already managed to poach City recruitment guru Omar Berrada – who played a key role in Erling Haaland’s move to the Etihad Stadium – with his appointment as the club’s new CEO described as a move to put “football and performance on the pitch back at the heart of everything we do”.

The INEOS chairman has also identified Dan Ashworth as his number one choice to take over as sporting director, and expressed his frustration over Newcastle’s attempts to prevent the 52-year-old from taking on a new challenge at Old Trafford. The Magpies have placed Ashworth on gardening leave until their receive a £20m compensation fee, which might mean he will be left twiddling his thumbs at home until the expiration of his contract in 2026.

He said: “I think it’s a bit silly, personally. I won’t get dragged into that. What I do think is completely absurd is suggesting a man who is really good at his job sits in his garden for one-and-a-half years.”

Ratcliffe is not worried about ruffling a few feathers to assemble his dream team, though. “We have to make sure that the right people end up in the right positions,” he added to De Tijd. “Every person in management has to be world-class.”

Mason Greenwood Manchester United

The Greenwood situation

Ratcliffe was also asked whether it is possible Mason Greenwood could still be reintegrated into the first team at Old Trafford. United originally planned to do exactly that after a six-month internal investigation, only to perform a U-turn after a public backlash and send Greenwood out on loan to Getafe in August.

Greenwood saw criminal charges of attempted rape, assault, and coercive control against him dropped in February last year, but he is still facing the court of public opinion. Ratcliffe’s answer was a surprising one, as he confirmed that a fresh decision on the 22-year-old’s future will be made at the end of the season.

“All I can do is talk about the principle of how we will approach decisions like that. Is he the right type of ­footballer, are we happy with the… is he a good person or not?” said Ratcliffe. “It’s quite clear we have to make a decision. There is no decision that’s been made. The process will be: understand the facts not the hype and then try to come to a fair decision on the basis of values which is ­basically ‘is he a good guy or not?’ Could he play sincerely for Manchester United – and would we be comfortable with it and would the fans be comfortable with it?”

The last time Greenwood played for United was way back in January 2022, but he has been given a fresh start by Getafe, and has recorded 13 goal contributions in 24 appearances for the club to date. His performances have reportedly attracted the interest of La Liga giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, and the expectation was he would complete a permanent transfer away from Manchester in the summer.

Ratcliffe’s words suggest Greenwood could yet revive his United career, which is likely to divide opinion. There is no doubt that Greenwood remains a talented player capable of adding extra quality to the squad, but in the eyes of supporters’ groups and councillors, bringing him back would set a worrying precedent.

Re-assessing the issue serves as proof that Ratcliffe is covering all bases, but nothing has really changed in the last seven months, and he risks alienating a large section of the fanbase by reversing the club’s original stance.

Old Trafford Premier League Jim Ratcliffe

Rebuilding Old Trafford

United’s sub-standard team is currently mirrored by the stadium, which Ratcliffe acknowledges is “tired and in need of refurbishment”. Old Trafford has been a home for the Red Devils since 1910, and boasts the largest capacity in the Premier League at 74,310, but plans are being drawn up for a new venue to be built next to the existing ground.

Ratcliffe’s preference is to relocate as he feels the option of refurbishing a decaying Old Trafford “won’t be perfect”. He explained to the BBC: “There is quite a big argument, in my view, for regenerating that whole south side of Manchester. The nucleus of it would be building a new world-class state-of-the-art stadium which could take England games, the FA Cup final, Champions League finals. It could serve the north of England.”

United legend Gary Neville, who co-owns the Hotel Football establishment that sits just a hundred yards away from Old Trafford, has been chosen to advise on the feasibility of the project, after years of criticising the Glazer family for failing to invest in the upkeep of Old Trafford. Ratcliffe has suggested the government’s Levelling Up scheme as a possible source of funding, while pointing out “people in the north pay their taxes just as people in the south pay their taxes”.

The idea will certainly feel rich to most of the British public given it’s coming from a billionaire who is a resident in the tax haven of Monaco. The Telegraph reports that building a new stadium could cost over £2 billion, with only £237m ($300m) coming from the deal that saw Ratcliffe complete a purchase of a minority 27.7 percent stake in the club.

The Glazers Ratcliffe Manchester United

Working with the Glazers

The Glazers may have relinquished control of football operations, but they remain United’s majority owners, and Ratcliffe was reluctant to be drawn on the possibility of a full takeover in the near future. “The ultimate aim is just for Manchester United to play really good football,” he asserted. “It’s not about what am I going to do in five years’ time.”

Fan protests have been staged frequently throughout the Glazers’ 19-year tenure at Old Trafford. United were plunged into debt for the first time ever when the American family completed their £790m ($1.1bn) takeover in 2005, with the majority of that amount borrowed against the club, and repayments, dividends and interest have since set them back over £1bn.

For that reason, many supporters favoured the only proposal to rival INEOS’ from Qatari businessman Sheikh Jassim, who reportedly tabled a £5.5bn offer to buy United outright. He eventually withdrew from the process, and Ratcliffe gave a hilarious response when quizzed on his beaten rival.

“Still nobody’s ever seen him, actually,” Ratcliffe said. “The Glazers never met him, I’m not sure he exists!” That sharp wit might have been enough to win over a few sceptics, but the 71-year-old was careful not to bite the hand that feeds him.

“I only know Joel and Avram [Glazer] and they are, despite what you might read in the press, very nice people, very courteous and they are avid supporters of Manchester United,” Ratcliffe said of the co-chairmen. “I understand the frustrations and the anger [of supporters] but I am looking forward not backward. Try to be patient and we’ll try to build Manchester United back to where it should be, which is as one of the very elite clubs in the world. The key to it working is the relationship we will have with Joel and Avram, which in my view is a very good and trusting relationship.

“I think in a way it might have been the easier solution for the Glazer family to sell outright to the Qataris. To be fair to the Glazers, they thought the best solution was to sell to me because they thought United would benefit more from that.”

The Glazers have never really acted like “avid supporters”, and for all of Ratcliffe’s posturing, there will still be those who won’t believe in a revival while they remain lurking in the shadows.

Manchester United

There is no second

Ratcliffe also made no secret of his admiration for Pep Guardiola’s relentless City side, who matched United’s 1998-99 treble success last season. They blew Real Madrid away en route to lifting the Champions League, and their scintillating display left a lasting impression on United’s new co-owner.

“When Manchester City played Real Madrid at home in the [semi-final] second leg last season, that was the best football I’ve ever seen,” Ratcliffe said to the BBC. “That first 45 minutes where Real Madrid couldn’t get the ball was the best quality of football I’ve ever seen. If we can ever get to that point then that will be a great achievement for Manchester United.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean United will try to copy City’s football blueprint exactly, though. “We’re not going to go back and forth between the Jose Mourinho style and the Pep Guardiola style,” Ratcliffe continued. “That’s not the way we’ll run the club. Otherwise you change all the time, we won’t do that. In modern football, you have to decide which path to follow and stick to it.”

Ratcliffe has pledged to work out a unique philosophy alongside ex-City mastermind Berrada and INEOS’ director of sport Sir Dave Brailsford, but also stressed the importance of the coach implementing the chosen style. Whether Ten Hag is deemed capable of taking that crucial job on remains to be seen.

Much will depend on how United finish the current campaign. If Ten Hag fails to deliver another trophy and Champions League qualification, its highly unlikely Ratcliffe will let him be the face of a new era.

He revealed his uncompromising nature when regaling journalists with the story of sailing’s maiden America’s Cup in 1851. “Queen Victoria was present,” Ratcliffe began at the mid-week media briefing. “The U.S. sent a yacht across called America. We had 11 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 won the race. Queen Victoria turned to the commodore and said ‘Did we come second?’ And the commodore said: ‘There is no second’.”

Whatever happens over the next three years, its safe to say that mediocrity will no longer be tolerated at Old Trafford. That alone, will be huge step in the right direction.