The idea of a perfect billionaire and his connection to Manchester United, as portrayed by Jim Ratcliffe, is challenged by Aaron Timms.
When Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani of Qatar decided not to pursue buying Manchester United last month, there was a sense of relief from the press department at Sir Matt Busby Way.
The possibility of a takeover by Qatar, despite the straightforwardness and appeal of Sheikh Jassim’s all-cash offer, would undoubtedly be met with strong criticism. This is not only due to Qatar’s ongoing human rights issues, but also as evidence of the increasing influence of oil money in the most revered realms of global soccer. However, with this moral dilemma now resolved, the path is clear for a much smoother public relations campaign: Manchester United appears to be heading towards the ownership of a football-loving philanthropist who possesses the unique advantage of being both extremely wealthy and unquestionably English. Finally, the self-proclaimed biggest club in the world will be taken from the hands of troublesome Americans and snatched away from the Gulf, landing securely at the top of Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s business empire – pending the final purchase of the Glazers’ remaining 75% share. It is a long-awaited triumph for honest, respectable, and English wealth.
Disregard the fact that Ratcliffe, also known as “Sir Jim” according to every commentator discussing the takeover, is a wealthy and unscrupulous businessman who has a history of evading taxes, breaking up unions, and prioritizing his own profits. He is considered one of us, and that is what is important. Currently, Ratcliffe is expected to pay around $1.5 billion for a 25% share of Manchester United, giving him direct authority over soccer operations and a potential path to complete ownership of the club in the future.
The public discussion surrounding the takeover has focused solely on three specific details to the exclusion of all others: Ratcliffe, the founder and majority owner of Ineos, a privately held chemicals company, is wealthy, British, and a devoted Manchester United supporter. In a segment on Sky Sports earlier this year, Manchester United fan TV personality Flex stated, “He’s Britain’s richest man, Ineos generates massive revenue. It’s reassuring to know that he’s a Manchester United fan. This suggests that he will prioritize the desires of the fans and address the issues that have been neglected by the Glazer family.” While these points are noteworthy, what about the other aspects of the takeover?
Ratcliffe’s bid has received minimal criticism for not immediately removing the despised Glazer family from the club. The Glazers’ lack of administrative competence over the past 20 years has turned the Premier League’s most efficient team into a footballing scrapyard. There have been some murmurs of discontent regarding Ineos’ ownership of other sports franchises, specifically Nice football club. However, the bid seems to be moving forward without much scrutiny.
Billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, with an estimated fortune of $18.1 billion, is the 105th richest person in the world. He has stated that he will only use his own money to purchase Manchester United, easing concerns of Ineos investors who fear a decrease in their dividend payments. While Ratcliffe does have a genuine fondness for the club, it was not enough to prevent him from also attempting to buy Chelsea last year. Despite growing up on a council estate and having childhood visits to Old Trafford, Ratcliffe’s desire for a position in the executive suite at Stamford Bridge was stronger. His attempts to acquire 50% of Barcelona were unsuccessful, leading him to shift his focus to Old Trafford.
Although Ratcliffe may not physically consist of plastic, in a metaphorical sense he can be considered one due to his occupation of producing plastics. It may be amusing to think of Ratcliffe as the first football club owner who is both involved in the plastic industry and not made of plastic himself. However, we should not overlook the fact that he is still the same person and his company represents the same industry. Ratcliffe’s professional background started at Exxon Mobil and he established Ineos in 1998 with the goal of acquiring a chemical plant in Belgium for £84m. Over the past 25 years, Ineos has expanded into a large and diverse corporation with a total revenue of approximately $65bn. The primary focus of the company is still petrochemicals, which are used to create plastics, resins, and composites that are essential to many everyday objects and products. These compounds are largely derived from fossil fuels.
The Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania has found that the plastic waste crisis is the second most pressing environmental disaster, following closely behind climate change. In a recent report, they stated that the petrochemical industry will continue to contribute to emissions and pollution, even after global energy systems have been decarbonized.
While the world is starting to move towards renewable energy sources, Ratcliffe’s company, Ineos, is still heavily reliant on the use of dirty energy. They have been involved in various controversial extraction methods, such as shale gas and fracking, and have profited greatly from the increase in global energy prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Currently, Ineos possesses 16 ships specifically dedicated to transporting ethane from the United States to Europe. While the owner, Ratcliffe, may not govern with cruel and oppressive tactics like stoning adulterers or outlawing homosexuality, it would be naive to ignore the fact that his wealth is just as morally questionable and destructive to the environment as the vast sums of money coming from the sovereign funds of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.
Ineos, originally a petrochemical company, has expanded its reach to include a surprisingly diverse range of consumer brands. The company, led by Ratcliffe, now has a presence in various industries such as automotive, fashion, and hygiene products. Recently, when John Corbett reprised his role as Aidan on the Sex and the City reboot And Just Like That, he was seen wearing a $595 belted jacket from one of Ineos’ owned apparel lines, which received widespread mockery. Ratcliffe’s personality and political views align with the image projected by his company’s products – a rugged English masculinity that can be seen in the souped-up Jeep he endorses as a replacement for the iconic Range Rover, his support for Brexit, and the modern twist on traditional British dishes served at his pub in west London.
Both Ratcliffe’s pub and the Jeep he’s designed bear the name “Grenadier”, a choice that suggests a nostalgia for the time when Britannia lobbed the bombs and ruled the waves. In keeping with this patriotic theme, Ratcliffe’s career has been built on a classically English mixture of self-interest and hypocrisy. He’s consistently styled himself as a champion of British business and jobs, but he’s been merciless in the face of workplace demands – most notoriously when he humiliated union organizers at the Grangemouth oil refinery in 2013.
Ratcliffe pushed hard to get fracking projects off the ground in the UK, then shifted his focus to the US – in February Ineos closed a $1.4 billion deal to begin shale gas production in south Texas – once the political winds moved against him. He received a knighthood in 2018 – for services to business and investment – after he made a big splash of relocating Ineos’s headquarters to London from Geneva, then left for Monaco two years later to avoid having to make a full contribution to the UK’s tax base.
Wherever he goes, Ratcliffe coughs away the critics, scoops up the spoils, and socializes the costs. Not only is this a modus operandi that sounds disturbingly similar to the one followed by the Glazers during their tenure at Manchester United; in many ways it’s also a microcosm of the way in which the wealthy dictate our reality, a kind of blind psychosis under which all benefits are absorbed and all consequences ignored.
Instead of the backlash that has been seen regarding the acquisition of major European clubs by the Gulf states, Ratcliffe’s upcoming purchase of Carrington has been met with praise from the media. This showcases a bias in moral standards, as attacking unions may be violent, but it is seen as a “British” issue. Ultimately, we are forced to rely on the most suitable wealthy individual available at present.
For Manchester United supporters enduring yet another lackluster team performance with a defense that continues to struggle, Mason Mount enters the game after 63 minutes with no impact, Antony loses possession while attempting to cut in from the right, and Erik ten Hag watches the disastrous events unfold from the sidelines in silence, like a discarded turtleneck sweater. While some may question the effectiveness of criticizing the club’s potential savior with concerns about its carbon footprint, any change in ownership that could potentially rescue us from the underwhelming Fernandes-McTominay-Eriksen midfield is surely a positive development.
It is well-known that the influx of large sums of money in the world of soccer has drastically changed the sport. The rise of hundred-million-pound transfers and inflated ticket prices has made big European clubs a plaything for the ultra-wealthy. However, it is important to recognize that those who amass such vast fortunes often do so at the expense of the less fortunate. While there may be discussions about the ethical implications of billionaire owners of football clubs, these debates can sometimes become overly technical. For instance, if one is vocal about a Middle Eastern country’s poor record on LGBTQ rights, why not also speak out against hedge funds using GP-led secondaries to artificially boost profits?
However, every owner should be subject to scrutiny, particularly ones like the potential new owner of Manchester United who is a petrochemical tycoon with a fondness for fracking, disdain for unions, and a cavalier attitude towards contributing to the destruction of our planet.
It is a clear indication of the corrupt state of international soccer that the potential acquisition of Manchester United by Ratcliffe has been met with little opposition. As supporters of the sport, we are resigned to the idea of being under the control of a single ruler. We are all yearning for a wealthy owner like Abramovich, Boehly, or Ratcliffe to take charge of our team.