THIS time last year Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the ‘lifelong Manchester United fan’, tried to buy Chelsea.
Now, by serendipity, the INEOS petrochemicals billionaire has at least one perfect plan for NOT taking over an elite Premier League club.
Slim Jim, a 70-year-old Ironman triathlete, is poised to be crowned King Rat at Old Trafford after being named the preferred bidder to buy the club’s majority stake from the hated Glazer family.
Many successful, wealthy and seemingly sane businessmen have bought football clubs, gone insane and lost a significant portion of their fortunes.
So the fact that Ratcliffe began life in a council house Still, being the richest man in Britain in Failsworth – a small town between Manchester and Oldham – is no guarantee of success as a club owner.
When you lose Todd Boehly When he ran for Chelsea last year with his Clearlake side, Ratcliffe had no idea the club he rumored to support would soon be up for grabs.
His £4.25bn bid for Chelsea matched the amount on the table by the Boehly consortium but importantly arrived after the deadline set by kingmakers Raine – the American bank that processed bids for the Blues, and now also for United.
But Ratcliffe was so serious about wanting Chelsea that the reclusive tax evader gave a rare interview to the BBC.
He claimed he had “great intentions” and a “long-term commitment” to Stamford Bridge Club, alluding to the obvious advantage of his “Britishness”.
No one claims that Sir Jim is a die-hard Stretford ender, that he stormed the pitch when United were relegated in 1974 – or that he could be found yelling ‘Glory, Glory Man United’ at the Nou Camp in injury time in the 1999 Champions League final.
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However, in attempting to use his nationality positively, Ratcliffe claimed he had an innate understanding of the fundamentals of English football culture.
And having witnessed the car accident in Boehly’s first year at Stamford Bridge, that has to be seen as a potential plus point for United.
Boehly wormed his way into the Premier League, first appointing himself interim director of football, then squandering the better part of £600m on new recruits, leaving behind an oversized squad that lacks balance and sufficient motivation.
He sacked a manager, Thomas Tuchel, who knew what he was doing, replaced him with Graham Potter, a man seemingly out of his depth, and then appointed Frank Lampard as caretaker – a rash foray into nostalgia.
Boehly has also spoken into the TV mic, predicting a 3-0 win at the Bernabeu as his side take on Real Madrid, having already launched his proposal for a North vs South Premier League All-Stars match for had caused ridicule.
It seems inconceivable that Ratcliffe will repeat any of these mistakes – and he is certainly Erik ten Hag’s preferred bidder over his rival, Qatari King Sheikh Jassim.
United’s Netherlands manager – who dumped Cristiano Ronaldo to boost morale – would not have enjoyed life under something like the Galactico model the Qataris are employing at Paris Saint-Germain.
But this enthusiasm is not shared by many fans.
When Ratcliffe’s takeover is complete, he will keep the Glazer brothers as minority shareholders, anathema to most supporters, whose green-and-gold protests have raged intermittently for more than a decade.
Under the Qataris, however, United would have faced a similar scrutiny over alleged human rights abuses as Newcastle’s Saudi owner and Manchester City’s paymaster Abu Dhabi.
Ratcliffe is a fracker – the controversial gas and oil extraction process hated by environmentalists – and lives in income-tax-free Monaco.
But where are the ethical billionaires who made their fortunes running petting zoos? If there are any, they haven’t approached Raine and made an offer for United.
Ratcliffe, who has embarked on club ownership at French club Nice and Swiss club Lausanne with limited success, says business success depends on hiring the right people.
Given the mess in United’s player recruitment since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, it certainly means an overhaul of that department.
Hiring elite people to oversee recruitment must be Ratcliffe’s priority and not a Boehly-style waste in the transfer market.
The INEOS boss is likely to stay with Ten Hag, whose first year in office was a roaring success.
A shrewd business operator, Ratcliffe understands the importance of a long-term strategy centered on the rehabilitation of the derelict Old Trafford Stadium.
But he won’t yell himself into the mics and make idle boasts and suggestions like Boehly did.
His regime is likely to provide quiet development in contrast to Boehly’s botched and vocal revolution – and that’s exactly what United could need.