After flirting with the acquisition of Chelsea when Roman Abramovich was forced to give up his ownership of the club, Sir Jim Ratcliffe has now got his beloved Manchester United in his crosshairs instead.
The 69-year-old billionaire, who was once crowned Britain’s richest man thanks to his successful work in chemical engineering and still has an estimated net worth of £10 billion, has confessed to being a United fan after growing up in the town of Failsworth, a small town not far from Manchester.
A late bloomer, Ratcliffe didn’t establish his huge company, Ineos, until he had turned 45, but the firm would go on to become the fourth largest petrochemical operator on the planet – regularly netting £45 billion in revenue each year.
His success in business has given him the spare cash to invest in his passion projects, and one of those was rumoured to be Chelsea FC – despite being a United fan, Ratcliffe has a season ticket at Stamford Bridge as he has a property nearby. Ultimately, his £4.25 billion bid fell short and the Todd Boehly-led consortium got the keys to the capital club instead.
If he is successful in his acquisition of Manchester United – the Glazers will need to be convinced, of course, it would be the third football club in his ownership portfolio, amid a variety of other sporting interests.
But has he brought success to those teams?
OGC Nice (France)
Ratcliffe decided to leave the UK behind and set up home in Monaco a few years ago – a beautiful place, no doubt, and one that comes with tax exile privileges that the rich enjoy so much.
Less than an hour by car from Monaco is the city of Nice, and the Brit was so enamoured with the sumptuous seaside atmosphere there he decided to buy the local football club back in 2019 for around £85 million.
When Ratcliffe took over, Nice were heading into the 2019/20 campaign – they would go on to finish in sixth place, with Patrick Vieira in charge as head coach.
Manchester United fans will be intrigued to note that Ratcliffe is not afraid of making touch calls – he sacked Vieira in 2020 after a downturn in their form. The Arsenal legend’s number two, Adrian Ursea, was promoted to the top job for the rest of the 2020/21 campaign, before Ratcliffe moved heaven and earth to capture Christoph Galtier as head coach, who had just guided Lille to the Ligue 1 title.
That was a major coup for Nice, and Galtier did a decent job in his sole year in charge – guiding the club to fifth place and the Coupe de France final. So valued is he in French football, Galtier was persuaded by PSG to become manager there for the 2022/23 season.
Ratcliffe has appointed a sporting director at Nice, but he and Julien Fournier reportedly clashed heads on transfer policy a number of times – at one point, Galtier said about the signing of Billal Brahimi:
“We’re trying to qualify for the Champions League, but we strengthen with an Angers substitute.”
It would not be long before the owner gave Fournier his P45.
At the helm for three full seasons, it’s interesting to see how Nice have progressed – or not – in Ratcliffe’s time in charge. In the table below, the years in italics are pre-Ratcliffe, and those in bold since he became owner:
|Season||Ligue 1||Coupe de France||Europe||Transfer Spend|
|2016/17||3rd||Last 64||Europa League 1st Round||£13.7m|
|2017/18||8th||Last 64||Champions League Qualifiers||£23.6m|
|2020/21||9th||Last 32||Europa League 1st Round||£26.3m|
When we look at Nice’s results before and after Ratcliffe took over, what do we see?
Well, it’s evident that the billionaire isn’t afraid to spend big, relatively speaking, and that will please United fans no end. They have also performed better in the domestic cup, and have perhaps been more consistent – albeit without a top-three finish – on the Brit’s watch.
FC Lausanne-Sport (Switzerland)
Ratcliffe’s other ownership interest in football comes in Switzerland, where he moved the headquarters of his company Ineos back in 2010.
He acquired FC Lausanne-Sport, a club with seven Swiss Super League titles to their name but the last coming as far back as 1965, in 2017.
If we categorise Ratcliffe’s time at Nice as a relative success, the same cannot be said for Lausanne. They were relegated from the Swiss top-flight in his first season at the helm, then finished third in the second-tier (missing out on promotion) before finally returning to the Super League as champions in 2019/20.
They finished a creditable sixth in their first season back, before disaster struck in 2021/22 as they finished rock bottom with just four wins in 36 games….sending them back down to the second tier.
It would be fair to say that Ratcliffe has been less frivolous with his cash at Lausanne, and in 2021/22 he spent just £2.25 million on players – intriguingly, four of those were transferred permanently or on loan from Nice, so it looks as though the French club could become a breeding ground for the next generation of Manchester United talent, and then Lausanne will feed players into Nice as well.
In less than five years, Ratcliffe is already onto his fourth head coach at Lausanne – confirming again that he will not suffer perceived failure gladly.
Other Sporting Interests: Sailing & Cycling
In addition to football, Ratcliffe is known to be a lover of a wide range of sports.
He spent an estimated £110 million setting up the Ineos Britannia sailing team after a meeting with Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie. Their mission is to win the America’s Cup competition, and while they fell short in 2021 Ratcliffe has promised they will be back to contest the 2024 edition.
In 2019, Ratcliffe formalised his love of cycling. He acquired Team Sky, rebranded them as Team Ineos, and set about turning them into the most dominant force in the sport.
The billionaire signed powerhouses like Filippo Ganna, Richard Carapaz and Rohan Dennis to sit alongside Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and co, and for the 2020 season Ratcliffe employed five of the top-ten highest paid riders in cycling.
His reward? A Tour de France win and two Giro d’Italia victories. In cycling, Ratcliffe’s heavy investment has clearly paid dividends.