© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Ineos chairman Jim Ratcliffe is pictured at Old Trafford in Manchester, Britain, March 17, 2023 REUTERS/Phil Noble/File Photo
(Reuters) -British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe struck a long awaited deal on Sunday to buy a 25% stake in Manchester United (NYSE:) and pledged to invest $300 million in the English Premier League soccer club to try to revive its fortunes.
The deal, which will also see Ratcliffe’s INEOS group take over management of the club’s soccer operations, ends more than a year of uncertainty after majority owners, the Glazer family, said in November 2022 they were looking at strategic options.
The Glazers have come under heavy criticism from fans for presiding over a decline in the club’s performance since former manager Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 following a period of unprecedented success.
“As a local boy and a lifelong supporter of the club, I am very pleased that we have been able to agree a deal with the Manchester United Board that delegates us management responsibility of the football operations of the club,” Ratcliffe, 71, said in a statement.
“Whilst the commercial success of the club has ensured there have always been available funds to win trophies at the highest level, this potential has not been fully unlocked in recent times.
“We will bring the global knowledge, expertise and talent from the wider INEOS Sport group to help drive further improvement at the Club, while also providing funds intended to enable future investment into Old Trafford.”
Ratcliffe’s stake purchase at $33 per share values the 20 times English champions at $6.3 billion including debt, a source familiar with the matter said.
The club said $200 million of Ratcliffe’s planned investment would be paid on closing of the deal, and a further $100 million by the end of 2024.
Qatar’s Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al Thani had also looking at buying the club, but dropped out of the process, saying he would not raise his $6 billion offer.
Ratcliffe’s INEOS also owns French Ligue 1 club Nice, Swiss Super League side FC Lausanne-Sport, and works with Racing Club Abidjan of Ivory Coast Ligue One. It is also behind the Grenadiers, one of the world’s most successful cycling teams.
‘WEALTH OF EXPERIENCE’
“Sir Jim and INEOS bring a wealth of commercial experience as well as significant financial commitment into the club,” United’s executive chairs Avram Glazer and Joel Glazer said.
“And, through INEOS Sport, Manchester United will have access to seasoned high-performance professionals, experienced in creating and leading elite teams from both inside and outside the game.”
Since Ferguson stepped down, United have cycled through five permanent managers and three caretakers but failed to recapture the glory days, winning one FA Cup, two League Cup trophies and a Europa League title in 11 years.
The Glazers’ adamant stance on not selling the club over the years has become a source of frustration for the fans who clamoured for change and held protests as the club’s net debt soared to over $600 million.
The Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) welcomed the investment from Ratcliffe but questioned the new structure that will be put in place and demanded a meeting with the INEOS team to understand its plans.
“We note the statements that he and his team will control sporting activities, yet puzzle how any organisation can put its very core business in the hands of a minority shareholder, and how that meaningfully works in practice,” MUST said in a statement.
“It is now incumbent on the club’s owners and management to properly explain how this new structure will work, where the new investment will be directed and how it will benefit the team on the field.”
Under Dutch coach Erik ten Hag, United are eighth in the Premier League table – 12 points off the top – despite a transfer outlay of nearly 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) in the last six years.
They were also knocked out of European competitions after finishing last in their Champions League group.
“We are here for the long term and recognise that a lot of challenges and hard work lie ahead,” Ratcliffe added.
“Our shared ambition is clear: we all want to see Manchester United back where we belong, at the very top of English, European and world football.”
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