Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s Man Utd unveiling almost went perfectly - but he got one major thing wrong

Manchester United's new co-owner spoke to the press as his purchase of a partial stake in the club was confirmed.
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Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s Manchester United unveiling couldn’t have gone much better.

After 15 months of toing and froing, the Ineos lead shareholder finally set out his manifesto of what the future will look like now he owns a minority stake in his boyhood club. Ratcliffe is keen to portray himself as the Failsworth lad turned United saviour, and it’s an image that will endear him to the club’s supporters.

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So will his suggestion that fans are the real owners, the assertive claims of knocking Manchester City and Liverpool ‘off their perch’ and ensuring United can once again become a side capable of competing for football’s major honours. Ratcliffe was also keen to emphasise that on-field success is the priority, acknowledging the recent failures under the Glazers, spoke glowingly of Sir Alex Ferguson, and dismissed suggestions that his ownership of Nice will impact United’s Champions League participation.

Then there’s the subject of the stadium. Ratcliffe again appeased fans by referring to it as ‘the most talked-about issue’ after the performances on the pitch. The 71-year-old confirmed he wants United to have a ‘world-class stadium’ to rival the likes of Wembley, which would ideally come in the form of a new stadium rather than redeveloping Old Trafford.

It all sounds great, until Ratcliffe revealed that he hopes the government will provide taxpayers’ money to fund the project as part of their disastrous Levelling Up and Northern Powerhouse schemes. United’s new co-owner added that the project could act as ‘catalyst to regenerate’ the area around Old Trafford, while Trafford council have already announced their draft Trafford Wharfside masterplan, which will see the regeneration of five areas, including United’s stadium.

“People in the north pay their taxes and there is an argument you could think about a more ambitious project in the north which would be fitting for England, for the Champions League final or the FA Cup final and acted as a catalyst to regenerate southern Manchester, which has got quite significant history in the UK,” said Ratcliffe.

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“All of this talk about levelling up and the Northern Powerhouse. Where is the stadium in the north? Where do you have to go if you get to the semi-final of the FA Cup and you’re a northern club? You have to schlep down to London, don’t you?

“So what happened to HS2, which was going to be a substantial amount of investment in the north, what happened to that? They cancelled that. And where are they going to spend that? They’re going to spend it on the rail network in London.”

Ratcliffe's flawed rationale

In many ways, Ratcliffe’s pitch to a government eager to wrap its oily tentacles around football is a logical one, but it may not stand up to the majority of UK taxpayers.

The suggestion that the UK’s second richest man, the money-leeching, multi-billionaire Glazer family, and the club who last year posted record revenue need public funds just doesn’t stack up. Throw in the fact that Ratcliffe has relocated to Monaco in order to pay less UK tax, and this absolutely stinks. Even United fans may feel a sense of reluctance that taxpayer funds could finance a new stadium, essentially rewarding years of the Glazers’ lack of investment.

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Then there’s the question of who really gains from a new stadium. Ratcliffe claimed the north of England would benefit, but what does someone from Newcastle or Sheffield really get, other than a shorter commute on a rare trip to Wembley? And how do the people of Liverpool and Leeds feel about the ‘stadium of the north’ - and the national team's northern stadium- being located at Old Trafford?

Even inhabitants of Manchester won’t be united behind this project - imagine telling a Blue from the east of the city that he should fund Ratcliffe’s revolution. It’s a bonkers prospect. That’s before considering the long-term benefits United would gain from a new ground and even Ratcliffe referenced how it would increase the club’s long-term revenue.

Critics would claim tribalism shouldn't halt much needed regeneration of the Manchester Ship Canal area, and they’re right, but that doesn’t mean Old Trafford should be included in those plans.

It’s a flaw in an otherwise excellent gambit from Ratcliffe - although the non-committal Mason Greenwood response left room for improvement. But United fans should feel encouraged that their club are on the path to being a formidable force once again, while rivals may be casting anxious glances towards Old Trafford. But none of them should be paying for any part of Ratcliffe’s mission.

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