Sir Jim Ratcliffe is thus far the only prospective buyer to say he intends to submit a bid for the most valuable franchise of the English Premier League. He won’t be the first.
The chairman of the multinational chemical company Ineos, a lifelong Manchester United fan, publicly put himself into the process this month after the team’s owners, the Glazer family, announced in November that they are considering selling a stake or the club outright. A person familiar with the bidding process said others have already submitted bids, declining to be specific.
Manchester United is currently the most valuable team in the English Premier League, coming in at $5.95 billion in Sportico’s calculations. The Glazers expect £6 billion ($8 billion) for the team, a record sum for a soccer franchise. The deadline to receive offers is in February. Raine, the investment bank retained by the club to oversee the sale process, declined to comment.
One of Britain’s wealthiest men, with a net worth of $10 billion, Ratcliffe is a chemical engineer by trade who pivoted to private equity after a short stint working for the oil giant Esso. He made his fortune acquiring chemical companies around the world.
Today, his London-based conglomerate is comprised of 36 companies in 29 countries worldwide and has revenue of $65 billion. In 2017, he launched Ineos Automotive, a car company that develops and produces an off-road SUV called Ineos Grenadier.
But chemicals and cars are not Ratcliffe’s only interests. An avid sailor and cycling fan, Ratcliffe’s company has sponsored the British sailing team Ineos Britannia, cycling teams Ineos Grenadiers and Team SKY, New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby team and the INEOS 1:59 Challenge, a marathon. Ineos has also the principal partner of the Mercedes AMG Formula One team since 2020.
Investing in sports significantly impacted Ineos’ image, bringing eyeballs to the firm Radcliffe once described as “the biggest company in the world you have never heard of.”
Should he acquire them, the Red Devils would not be the only soccer investment of Ratcliffe’s portfolio. Ineos bought Swiss first-division soccer club FC Lausanne-Sport in 2017 and OGC Nice, of France’s Ligue 1, in 2019. Ratcliffe also made a bid to buy Chelsea FC last year.
Upon acquiring Nice, Ratcliffe brought in David Brailsford, the director of sports at Ineos (who also was the team captain of Ineos Grenadiers) as the sporting director of the soccer team. Last month he hired Jean-Claude Blanc, a seasoned French sports executive who resigned from his position as the director of Paris Saint Germain in December, to run Ineos Sports, including OGC Nice.
“Ratcliffe is quite an interesting character. He has this very holistic approach to sport,” Luke Entwistle, a British journalist who covers OGC Nice, said in an interview. “He really believes this telescopic approach to sports, bringing together loads of different methods from different sports and integrating them into his teams.” Sportico was unable to interview Brailsford at this time.
Until now neither Lausanne nor Nice has succeeded on the pitch. Lausanne finished last in Switzerland’s Super League. Nice finished last year in the fifth position of Ligue 1 but qualified to play in the UEFA’s third-tier tournament, the Europa Conference League this year. “The fans are underwhelmed by how Ratcliffe’s regime is going. He brought in talent, but his investments haven’t been as momentous as expected,” Entwistle said.
ManU has also left fans unhappy in recent years. Since the retirement of manager Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013, the team has slumped, winning no EPL or Champions League titles, and falling out of the Champions League entirely this season. When the Glazers joined in the ultimately unsuccessful effort to form a Super League in 2022, United fans rioted.
The team’s on-field outlook has brightened a bit this season. The Red Devils’ latest win against rival Manchester City placed them fourth on the table, in position to claim a spot in next year’s Champions League.
In November a spokesperson for the Glazers said the family was open to partial and full takeovers. A week before the said deadline to receive official bids, Ratcliffe is still the only interested party, though a few other investors, including Qatar Sports Investments, are rumored to be interested.
(This story has been updated to clarify that Ratcliffe has yet to submit a formal bid and that others have, to include Raine’s no comment, to correct the spelling of Luke Entwistle’s name and to reflect ManU’s recent Champions League participation.)