The Touchline

Five More Minutes of Football
— Every Tuesday and Thursday

Join The Touchline - a free, twice weekly newsletter with analysis, stories and interviews from the world of football.

Is the Glazer REIGN OF TERROR Over? Sir Jim Buys 25% of Manchester United

6 minute read Published December 28, 2023

June 2005, that’s when the Glazer brothers bought a controlling stake in Manchester United. They did so using an acquisition strategy called “leveraged buyout”, commonly used by private equity firms. It’s a strategy that lets you buy a company by taking up debt in the company you’re buying to pay for it. In some cases this can be a good strategy for expansion but for the Glazers, it’s become a way to squeeze money out of the club. 

The financials in the deal were astounding. The Glazers bought the club for almost 800 million pounds, but only put up 200 million pounds themselves, instead loaning against the club's assets to make up for the rest. They’ve since taken more than a billion pounds out of the club, while the value has more than sextupled.

Good deal for the Glazers? Yes. For the club? The fans? No.

Protests started pretty much immediately after the American brothers bought the club and have been going on ever since. Now, finally, they’re at least giving up some control. Of course, most fans were hoping that the Glazers would leave the club entirely.  Duncan Drasdo, CEO, Manchester United Supporters Trust, said:

There’s a feeling that a full takeover would have been preferable clearly, and so there’s some concern about that, and is this just the new limbo that we get into?

The Deal

The Glazers announced that they were looking to sell the club a little over a year ago. ”Selling the club” became “seeking strategic investments” not long after. The Qatari Sheik Jassim and Sir Jim Ratcliffe quickly became the frontrunners in the acquisition race but Sheik Jassim dropped out after the Glazers rejected a bid of $6 billion to buy the club outright.

On Christmas eve INEOS and Sir Jim Ratcliffe were announced as the buyer of 25% of the Manchester club. The deal is said to give INEOS and Ratcliffe sporting control of the club and they’re bringing their entire network, experience and expertise from their sports branch into the club.

Now, the question is, INEOS and Sir Jim have bought 25% of the club, why would the Glazers, who are still the majority owners, give up that sort of control? And, at what point do decisions cease to be sporting decisions – can they spend whatever on whomever regardless of thing like marketability? These are all questions that will be answered in the coming months.

INEOS’s track record

INEOS is one of those mega companies that is involved in anything and everything from textiles and fuel to pharmaceuticals – and, of course, sports. The company is relatively new in sports having made their first investment in 2017 by buying the Swiss club FC Lausanne-Sport.

Since then they’ve steadily added to their sporting efforts and are now active as owners, sponsors and sports scientists. Other than Lausanne, they own OGC Nice and outside of football they own a sailing team competing in the America’s cup, part of the Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 team as well as a cycling team.

The sailing team have only participated in one America’s Cup since their investment so it might be premature to say how that’s doing. The cycling team on the other hand is one of the best in the world and has been doing very well since INEOS took over, significantly improving the results of the riders in the team.

How about football then? Lausanne was already a team that were back and forth between the first and second tier of the Swiss league and results have continued to be mixed since INEOS took over. It’s worth mentioning that the Swiss league is bonkers, seven out of twelve teams go into the relegation playoffs at the end of the season.

OGC Nice is their latest investment in football. Since INEOS took over, results wise, the club has remained a mid to upper half table team, finishing fifth, ninth and fifth in the seasons they’ve had ownership. However, they’ve done something that is badly needed in Manchester United, they’ve given Nice an identity. 

Nice play a lot of very young players, combined with a few older players to bring some experience into the team. The biggest testament to their investment in youth is their coach, the 34 year old Italian Francesco Farioli, second youngest coach in Ligue 1. 

They’ve had a long term strategy with Nice, starting with setting their identity and building up a squad that fits together and a coach that plays in a way that’ll get the best out of those players. It’s lead up to this season. Nice are currently second behind PSG and have been looking very good so far.

Sir Jim and INEOS’s Plan

Despite the deal not being ratified by the FA yet (all owners must submit to a ratification process by the FA), INEOS have already started implementing their sporting agenda as INEOS Sporting Director Sir David Brailsford and CEO Jean-Claude Blanc are set to join the Manchester United board. It’s been rumoured that Blanc is the man who’ll take over as CEO when Patrick Stewart (no, it’s another Patrick Stewart) steps down.

But while they’re not wasting any time getting their people in place, after the announcement was made, Sir Jim Ratcliffe said:

It will require time and patience alongside rigour and the highest level of professional management.

This is of course experience from their Lausanne and Nice projects. Implementing and identity into a team takes several transfer windows and for everyone around the club to buy into the idea.

INEOS will also apply all of their resources to get the performance up. Outside of ownership in sports, they’ve been the performance partner to the most successful rugby team ever, the All Blacks as well as the first man to run a marathon in less than two hours, Eliud Kipchoge. So they know how to work with performance.

Summing up

The INEOS deal is not exactly what Manchester United fans were hoping for. However, in INEOS they are getting an experienced and well structured sporting team. In Sir Jim Ratcliffe they are getting someone on the board who’s a local boy and a true fan of the club. Not to mention, their club does not become yet another sports washing project for an oil nation, there’s a win in that.

Let’s hope that the Glazers really are taking a step back from the sporting side of the club and that Manchester United can make it back to the very top of European football.

Football Stories Like This, Twice a Week

Join thousands of subscribers getting The Touchline - a free, twice weekly newsletter with analysis, stories and interviews from the world of football.