Man Utd takeover: Next steps in Sir Jim Ratcliffe deal as CEO change hints at long-term plans
Manchester United's next CEO could indicate the club's direction of travel.
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Richard Arnold, an accountant with a background in telecommunications, was very much a Glazer appointment, but that won’t wash under Ratcliffe’s new regime. The British billionaire’s takeover of United is set to be agreed next week - there’s even a small chance it could go through on Friday - although the news will be followed by a gap of at least a month as the Premier League complete their due diligence, and to ensure all parties comply with public company regulations.
Once Ratcliffe’s 25 percent investment is ratified, the Ineos lead shareholder will part with around £1.3bn to secure his stake in the club, with a further £245m set aside to improve United’s deteriorating infrastructure. Ratcliffe is also set to oversee the football operations at Old Trafford, with the 71-year-old keen to make wholesale alterations after 18 years of stagnation under the Glazers.
It’s why Arnold’s departure feels like the first domino falling, even if the decision was not made by Ratcliffe. But the writing was on the wall for a CEO who oversaw the disastrous Mason Greenwood saga, the long-running takeover drama and Erik ten Hag’s appointment as manager. But, perhaps somewhat unfairly, Arnold’s lack of football insight meant he was tarred with the same brush as his unpopular predecessor, Ed Woodward.
As for Ratcliffe’s fresh plans, they very much centre around a football-first mantra, even if he will have to work alongside the Glazers. The 71-year-old has established a good working relationship with the incumbent owners during the months of negotiations, one of the key reasons he ultimately won the takeover battle ahead of Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani.
But Ratcliffe’s football-oriented approach is likely to see a new director of football appointed, with Paul Mitchell the first choice, which means John Murtough could be the next casualty of the changing Old Trafford administrations. Ex-cycling chief Sir Dave Brailsford is likely to play a role in United’s restructuring, while reports have suggested that Jean-Claude Blanc is likely to be Arnold’s replacement.
The former Juventus CEO and ex-marketing executive of Paris Saint-Germain feels more applicable to a top-tier football club, than an accountant. Regardless of who ultimately takes over from Arnold, the decision will be made by Ratcliffe, and interim CEO Patrick Steward is unlikely to be the permanent choice.
As one source told ManchesterWorld, Ineos plan to conduct a period of ‘looking and learning’ once the deal is ratified and Ratcliffe is in control. From there, a diagnosis will be made and further plans will be drawn together. Yet Ratcliffe has already expressed his shock at how United’s football operations have been run in recent years, particularly in relation to transfers, and the petrochemicals entrepreneur wants to oversee an organisation aligned from top to bottom.
Overspending on household names and ageing stars is one area Ratcliffe has been especially unimpressed by, and his focus is more likely to centre around a transfer policy that attracts the game’s up-and-coming stars. Significant January additions are not foreseen this season, although adding a new centre-back in the window is something the club could explore.
While there is external excitement around Ratcliffe’s imminent arrival, internally there are concerns. Reports of staff cuts have already caused some anxiety and Arnold’s departure before an agreement has even been reached won’t alleviate those concerns. Ratcliffe’s looming investment has already caused certain in-house decisions to be held up, and the feeling around Old Trafford’s offices has been described as ‘toxic’.
Ratcliffe’s partial takeover will relieve some of the uncertainty that has arisen since the Glazers announced they were considering selling the club. Next Tuesday will mark a year since United’s owners announced they were ‘exploring strategic alternatives’, but what the club will look like in 12 months remains anyone’s guess.