Sir Jim Ratcliffe's in-tray: Ten Hag's future, upgrade Old Trafford, January signings

British billionaire has agreed a deal to buy a 25 per cent stake in Manchester United for around £1.25 billion

A poster showing Ineos Group chairman Sir Jim Ratcliffe is seen outside of Old Trafford before the December 9, 2023 Premier League match against Bournemouth. AFP
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British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe has agreed a deal to buy a 25 per cent stake in Manchester United for around £1.25 billion, it was announced on Sunday.

As far as timing goes the announcement, made on a Sunday – Christmas Eve – seemed a little strange, although when taken in the wider context of how the club have handled the saga since the Glazer family announced they were considering "strategic alternatives" 13 months ago, it was pretty much par for the course.

For some United fans, Christmas came early with the news of Ineos' imminent investment. Others feel like they've woken up on the big day to find a lump of coal in their stocking at the thought of the Glazers still owning a majority of the club.

We take a look at five jobs in Ratcliffe's in-tray.

Upgrade Old Trafford

As part of the deal, Ineos will take over all football operations at the club, providing $300 million intended to enable future investment into Old Trafford.

One of the largest (74,310 capacity) and most famous stadiums in the world has fallen behind its competitors with the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham upgrading their existing grounds and Everton set to move to a new home at the start of the 2025/26 season.

The cost to redevelop Tottenham's old White Hart Lane ground into the behemoth it is now cost in excess of £1 billion.

The investment has paid off and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is widely regarded as one of the best anywhere in world football.

The Glazers bought United for £790 million ($1.47 billion at the time) in 2005, loading the 20-time English champions with debt.

Which begs the question as to whether the $300 million budgeted to upgrade Old Trafford, though a princely sum, will be anywhere near enough.

For a club already saddled with massive debt – despite United predicting record revenue of £640 million for the 2022/23 season – the thought of taking on more of it, especially with the Glazers still in situ, will not sit well with supporters.

Sort out Ten Hag's future

The National's Andy Mitten described United's performance during Saturday's 2-0 Premier League defeat to West Ham as "awful" and that United had become a team "boring to watch".

It was United's 13th defeat of the season, half of all their matches. It is the club's worst start to a season since 1930 and they are already out of Europe and the Carabao Cup. They are eighth in the Premier League table, six points off fourth-placed Tottenham and 12 behind leaders Arsenal

And while there is credit in the bank after delivering a first trophy to Old Trafford in almost six years last season, there is now a nagging sense that manager Erik ten Hag is losing the support of the Old Trafford faithful.

The Dutchman has spent almost £400 million in three transfer windows since joining from Ajax in the summer of 2022 but there is no real sense of identity in this United team.

Injuries have been an issue, but Ten Hag's tactics have often looked confused and, in some cases, negative, not something likely to please the Ineos brain trust tasked with restoring the club to its former glories.

Ten Hag has a contract to June 2025, but unless results and performances improve Ineos will be inclined to find a replacement.

January transfer window

United say the deal with Ineos will take until February to complete, meaning any players signed in next month's winter transfer window will have to come from the club's existing budget.

The 20-time English champions have never been shy about spending money on transfers, all funded by revenue generated by the business rather than investment from the Glazers. Almost £2 billion has been spent on players since the American family took control of the club in 2005, the third most in Europe.

Ten Hag's record in the transfer market has been mixed at best, and January is a notoriously tricky window to bring in new players.

His best signing, Argentine defender Lisandro Martinez, is still working his way back from a long-term injury and Danish striker Rasmus Hojlund, his most expensive summer recruit, has yet to score in the Premier League.

Both represent areas of the squad in need of bolstering, though a chronic lack of creativity in midfield has hardly helped. Injuries and lack of form has seen Ten Hag deploy 18 different defensive combinations while United have scored only 33 goals in 26 games in total this season and none in their past five. Andre Onana, the Cameroon goalkeeper brought in as a supposed upgrade on David de Gea because of his superior ability in passing the ball, has had a nightmare start to life in England.

United have already said they don't expect to do significant business in January. Whether Ratcliffe has any sway – direct or indirect – on the club's transfer policy before his deal is signed off remains to be seen.

West Ham 2 Man United 0 - player ratings

Updated: January 03, 2024, 4:13 AM