Portada » Sir Jim Ratcliffe on Manchester United, Old Trafford, Sheikh Jassim and Mason Greenwood: Full transcript

Sir Jim Ratcliffe on Manchester United, Old Trafford, Sheikh Jassim and Mason Greenwood: Full transcript

by Isabella Walker
0 comment

On Tuesday evening, Sir Jim Ratcliffe and INEOS completed their purchase of a minority stake in Manchester United, as the British billionaire acquired a 27.7 per cent stake in the Premier League club in a deal worth over $1.3bn.

On Wednesday, Ratcliffe spoke to the written media for the first time about his decision to take a minority investment, for which he has received control of the club’s sporting operation. Inside a boardroom at INEOS’ offices in Knightsbridge, London, Ratcliffe sat at the head of the table and took questions from 13 assembled journalists from the British and international media.

Along the way, Ratcliffe answered every question, including:

  • His ambitions to restore Manchester United to the summit of English and European football, knocking the “enemy” Liverpool and Manchester City “off their perch”
  • How INEOS will make a fresh decision this summer on the future of Mason Greenwood
  • Insight into the year-long battle to secure a stake in Manchester United, “odd affair” of Sheikh Jassim’s rival bid and how INEOS previously thought they had won the battle nine months ago, opening a bottle of champagne to celebrate at the Monaco Grand Prix in May
  • Why Manchester United have targeted Newcastle’s sporting director Dan Ashworth and the club’s battle to prise him away
  • His ambitions to create a ‘Wembley of the North’ as Manchester United seek to redevelop Old Trafford or build a new stadium, including his argument for the British state to support funding plans for the project

Has the last decade been quite painful? 

Sir Jim Ratcliffe: “It’s been a complete misery really in the last 11 years and it’s just frustrating if you’re a supporter during that period of time. That’s football isn’t it? It has its ups and its downs. I remember pre-(Sir Alex) Ferguson it wasn’t great for quite some time — for a more extended period of time, actually, for about 25 years.

Is that your incentive for investing: to transform Manchester United into what it used to be?

“Fundamentally, you want to see your club being where it should be. It’s one of the biggest clubs in the world. It should be playing the best football in the world and it hasn’t been doing that for 10 or 11 years. So it’s certainly related to the decision (to invest).”

Do you have a time frame for achieving success?

“It’s not a light switch. it’s not one of these things that change overnight. We have to be careful we don’t rush at it, you don’t want to run to the wrong solution rather than walk to the correct solution. We have two issues: one is the longer term, getting Manchester United to where we would like to get it but there’s also the shorter term of getting the most out of the club as it stands today.

“We would like to see the Champions League for next season if we can. The key challenge here is that, longer term, we need to do things well and properly — and thoroughly. So it’s not an overnight change. It’s going to take two or three (seasons). You have to ask the fans for some patience. I know the world these days is about instant gratification but that’s not the case with football, really. Look at Pep Guardiola at Man City; it takes time to build a squad.

“What you need are the foundations to be in a good place for Manchester United to be successful, which means you need the right organisational structure. It means not having a coach reporting to the chief executive, for instance.

“Then we need to populate all the key roles with people who are best in class, 10 out of 10s, and there’s clearly a lot of interest in these roles in Manchester United because it’s one of the biggest clubs in the world but also it’s one of the biggest challenges — because you’re taking it from a difficult place to hopefully where it should be at the top of the pyramid.

“Thirdly, you need to create this environment which is driven and competitive. It is going to be intense at times, but equally it needs to have warmth and friendliness and be a supportive structure because the two things marry together well. They probably haven’t had that environment for the last 10 years. If we get those three things right, then you have to believe the results will follow.”

“If you look at a club like Manchester City, you see they’ve got a very sensible structure. They’ve got a really driven competitive environment but there’s a bit of warmth to it. There are two clubs not very far from us who have been successful and have got some of those things right, and United don’t.”

Ratcliffe and his INEOS company have spent £1.3billion to buy a 25 per cent stake in Manchester United (Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images)

How is a minority stake going to work? What do you get to drive?

“We have a really good relationship with Joel and Avram (Glazer), who are the only two of the siblings that we’ve got to know and have met. And there’s a fair amount of trust between those two parties. And they obviously are very comfortable with us running the sports side of the club.

“This is going to be a very sports-led club, it’s all going to be about performance on the pitch. I’m still a significant shareholder even in respect of all the other things in the club.

“We’re obviously going to be on the ground, whereas the Glazer family are a fair way away. So I don’t see an issue in us being able to influence the club in all the right ways going forward, to be honest.

“I don’t think we’re going to be taking the legal agreements out of the bottom drawer. I just hope they gather dust and we never see them. Which it should be. It should be on the basis of a relationship.

“As long as we’re doing the right things, then I’m certain that relationship is going to go very well.

“One of the things I’d add is that the transaction was quite challenging, as you know. We met all sorts of obstacles on the way, a lot of them in relation to hedge funds, and SEC, American (regulations) and a few with the Qataris and all those sorts of things. It obviously it was a rocky road for quite an extended period of time.

“And the Glazers really, from the beginning, preferred ourselves to the Qatari option — which, in a way, for them was a much easier option because they could just sell the whole thing and they would have walked away and financially done quite well.

“But they stuck with us through the whole process. Our offer was a bit more complicated and that sort of adversity, that rocky road for a year, has forged a relationship between ourselves and the other shareholders.

“We’ve all got to know each other. You get to know people better in adversity than when the whole thing is going swimmingly.”


INEOS and Ratcliffe finally have the keys to Old Trafford. What does it mean for Man United?

Did you always have confidence that you would end up here? Were there moments when you thought about walking away?

“How long have you got? Time and time again. I remember at the Monaco Grand Prix, which was in May, we opened a bottle of very expensive champagne and all celebrated. That was in May — but that was a false dawn and we went through several more false dawns after that.

“We had a few surprises on the way. Not at the Glazers’ making. We just kept bumping into problems, particularly with the non-executives on the board.”

How would you rate the scale of this challenge? You are up against clubs linked to nation-states, financial fair play, it has not been a great season, etc…

“I don’t know about the biggest thing in my career. But certainly, the biggest challenge in sport that we’ve undertaken. It’s enormous — and the club is enormous. The tentacles reach around the world. Everywhere I go in the world, it’s Manchester United. It affects an awful lot of people on the planet, and getting it right is not easy.

“We’ve got to get so many aspects of that club right. And the right people doing the right thing at the right time and doing it well. It’s a very complex problem, football – which is surprising considering it’s just putting 11 players on a football field, and they run around. But it’s very complex getting there.”

Part of the INEOS mantra is a compass which says you “don’t like losing money” — but you have spent so much for a 27 per cent share…

“To be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever lose money. For me, it’s not about a financial investment. The objective was to get involved and be influential in the future of Manchester United.

“I don’t believe I’ll ever lose money in it and I’m not interested. I’ve just put that aside. It’ll sit there forever but I don’t see that the value is going to devalue. I don’t believe that. In that sense, I don’t think I’ve been financially stupid but it’s not my motivation in life at all.”

What do you think the biggest growth is financially, in terms of the ability to grow revenue?

“We’re really, really clear about that: it’s football-led. So if we’re successful on the pitch, then everything else will follow.

“Manchester United (has been) a bit, I think, in the last 10 years or so, that if you’re really good in commercial and you make lots of money, then you’ll be successful in football because you’ve got lots of money to spend.

But I think that’s flawed because it only starts for a certain while and you start to degrade the brand if you’re not careful. But we’re really clear that football will drive the club. If we’re really successful at football, then commercial will follow. And we’ll make more money.”

And how do you take on the challenge of those nation-states? It’s now almost viewed as impossible to take them on…

“I don’t agree with that. Firstly, the nation-state bit helps to a degree but FFP limits the degree by a considerable margin, doesn’t it? Ultimately, it becomes about how successful the club is because that dictates your FFP.

With FPP, you have to operate the club within its own means. So clearly that means that if you’ve got a bigger club it ought to be more successful than a smaller club, by definition, because you’ve got more means that you can spend more money and recruitment.

How much is FFP an issue for United (particularly ahead of the summer)? How patient will fans need to be with the damage that’s been done before — i.e with what’s been spent?

“Firstly, FFP has become a new aspect of running the football club, and it’s clearly a really critical part of running a football club. And you have to think about how you can manage FFP to the benefit of the club. But ultimately, FFP says you have to operate the club within its own means. Effectively, it takes into account your prior expenditure, and the club’s spent quite heavily in the last couple of seasons. So that does impact FFP going forward because they’ve used quite a large part of their allowance.

“I don’t know the full answer to that question at the moment. It’s obviously related to sales as well as purchases, and so we need to get our heads around that well before the summer window — there’s no question that history will impact this summer window.

You have been heavily linked with Newcastle’s sporting director Dan Ashworth in the media in recent weeks. Would it be fair to say that identifying player sales and purchases is an area that United can make a real improvement on?

“Recruitment in the modern game is critical. Manchester United have clearly spent a lot of money but they haven’t done as well as some other clubs. So when I was talking about being best in class in all aspects of football, recruitment is clearly top of the list.”


Dan Ashworth – the sporting director Manchester United want to lure from Newcastle

What do you make of the recruitment under the current manager? Because it seems like he’s had quite a lot of sway…

“We don’t benefit too much from thinking about that. I’m thinking about getting recruitment in a good place in the future. There’s not much I can do about what’s happened in the past. Our thinking is all about how we become first in class in recruitment going forward. Which means you need the right people.”

You talk about being best in class… is it a five-year plan or is it a 10-year plan?

“It’s not a 10-year plan. The fans would run out of patience if it was a 10-year plan. But it’s certainly a three-year plan to get there.

“To think that we’re going to be playing football as good as Manchester City played against Real Madrid last season by next year is not sensible. And if we give people false expectations, then they will get disappointed. So the key thing is our trajectory, so that people can see that we’re making progress. I think it’s the club’s 150-year anniversary in 2028… if our trajectory is leading to a very good place in that sort of timeframe then we’d be very happy with that. Because it’s not easy to turn Manchester United into the world’s best football team.”

Is it the aim to win the Premier League and then the Champions League?

“The ultimate target for Manchester United — and it’s always going to be thus, really — is that we should be challenging for the Premier League and challenging for the Champions League. It’s one of the biggest clubs in the world. There are six who are probably the six biggest clubs in Europe: three in the north west (of England), two in Spain and one in Germany. United should be in that small group. It hasn’t been for a while. And so, therefore, it must be challenging for the Premier League. And if we’re not, then in a way, we’re not doing what we saying we ought to do.

Does FFP influence your thinking about the need for a modern stadium? 

“You have to think about how you can optimise the football club in FFP terms — and a stadium is one of those. You can increase your revenues by building a new stadium, rebuilding a stadium or putting all the facilities in. You have to think practically because money doesn’t grow on trees. The two most talked-about issues at Manchester United are number one, the football, the performance on the pitch and the second one is the stadium.

“What we can see so far is a really good case to refurbish Old Trafford, probably about £1billion in cost. You finish up with a great stadium, it’s probably an 80,000-90,000-seater. But it’s not perfect because you’re modifying a stadium that is slap-bang up against a railway line and all that type of stuff, so it’s not an ideal world. But you finish up with a very good answer.

The Trafford Park area around Manchester United’s stadium is a far cry from the modern surroundings of Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium (Michael Regan/Getty Images)

“Manchester United needs a stadium befitting one of the biggest clubs in the world and, at the moment, it’s not there. Old Trafford maybe was 20 years ago but it’s certainly not today. There’s this wider conversation with the community as to whether you could use a more ambitious project on-site as a catalyst to regenerate that Old Trafford area, which is quite an interesting area in a way because it was the heart of the Industrial Revolution — it is the oldest industrial park in Europe, it was the first industrial park in Europe. And it’s still one of the biggest ones. And they obviously built the Manchester Ship Canal to service it. That’s where all the coal came in, the cotton. And that’s why they built Old Trafford there.

“People would finish their shift and then walk to the ground; there was no transport in those days. That’s the history of why the club is there. But today it’s a bit run-down and neglected in places. There’s a strong case for using a stadium to regenerate that area, like with the Olympics, as Sebastian Coe did with that part of east London quite successfully. City have done it and they’ve done quite a good job.”

But both of those had some state funding… (There have been reports suggesting United may seek state support) 

“The people in the north pay their taxes like the people in the south pay their taxes. But where’s the national stadium for football? It’s in the south. Where’s the national stadium for rugby? It’s in the south. Where’s the national stadium for tennis? It’s in the south. Where’s the national concert stadium? It’s the O2, it’s in the south. Where’s the Olympic Village? It’s in the south.

“All of this talk about levelling up and the Northern Powerhouse. Where is the stadium in the north? How many Champions Leagues has the north west won and how many Champions Leagues has London won?

“The answer to that is the north west has won 10 — Liverpool (six) have won more than us — and London (Chelsea) has won two. 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.

“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.”

Might your tax status, having relocated to Monaco, pose a challenge in the optics of requesting state support? 

“I paid my taxes for 65 years in the UK. And then when I got to retirement age, I went down to enjoy a bit of sun. I don’t have a problem with that, I’m afraid.”

Do you prefer a new ground or a refurbishment? 

“In an ideal world, I think it’s a no-brainer, a stadium of the north, which would be a world-class stadium where England could play and you could have the FA Cup final and it’s not all centred around the south of England. So in an ideal world, absolutely, that’s where I would be, but you’ve got to be practical about life.”

Is there a financial estimate of what that might be?

“In broad terms, a refurb is one (billion) and a new stadium — both of these would include the campus so, you know, the museum’s crap and the shop is too small and you’d have the Xbox thing for entertaining the fans. So in other words, the fans could come there and do some stuff. So include the campus in both cases, in very simple terms you are talking about one versus two (billion).”

And how long would it take to happen?

“I think the refurb would take longer than the new one because it’s more complicated, because obviously you’re building and you have to build over a main railway line which is quite complicated and expensive.”

And a stadium for the women’s team as well?

“If you use that as a centre of regeneration, a bit like the Olympic Village, then I think what you probably finish up doing is Old Trafford would end up being reduced in size to a smaller facility still in the same footprint but a smaller facility which can be used for all sorts of community things, be it a concert or whatever. The ladies’ teams could play there. The academy teams could play there. Some of the local teams could play there and Old Trafford could sort of become a community asset and then you’d have this world-class stadium next door to it.”

What’s your vision for broader control of Manchester United? Would you like to increase your stake?

“We spent well over a year getting to where we are. We got to where we could do. I’m really pleased we are here and we are going to be able to influence the future, to be in charge of the sports side. I haven’t had the energy to think about the future or worry about it because I’m focused on the problem today — not what I might do in three, five, 10 years.”

In the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) filing, it said that if the Glazers received an offer for a complete buyout within 18 months, then they could force you to sell…

“There’s all sorts of scenarios. We might get hit by an asteroid. There’s been lots of opportunities for someone to come in and buy United in the last 12 months.”

What are your ambitions for the women’s team?

“I know we have been around since Christmas but we only took over today. What I would say is that if it’s a team wearing a Manchester United badge on shirt then it’s Manchester United and they need to be focused on winning and being successful.”

Dan Ashworth, are you confident you will get him?

“Dan Ashworth is clearly one of the top sporting directors in the world. I have no doubt he is a very capable person. He is interested in Manchester United because it’s the biggest challenge at the biggest club in the world. It would be different at City because you’re maintaining a level. Here it’s a significant rebuilding job. He would be a very good addition. He needs to decide if he is going to make that jump.

Dan Ashworth has been placed on gardening leave by Newcastle United (Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images)

“We have had words with Newcastle, who would be disappointed. They have done really well since their new ownership. I understand why they would be disappointed, but then you can’t criticise Dan because it’s a transient industry. You can understand why Dan would be interested because it’s the ultimate challenge. We’ll have to see how it unfolds.”


Ashworth placed on gardening leave at Newcastle amid Man Utd interest

There have been reports of a £20million asking price. Does £20m seem strange for a sporting director?

“A bit silly, personally. I won’t get dragged into that. What I do think is completely absurd is suggesting a man who is really good at his job sits in his garden for one and a half years. We had a very grown-up conversation with City about Omar Berrada. When things got done, we sorted it out very amicably. They could see why he wanted to take that challenge.

“You look at Pep and when he’s done with one of his footballers: he doesn’t want them to sit in the garden for one and a half years. He doesn’t do that. That’s not the way the UK works or the law works.”

One of the main stories at Manchester United last year was what the club would do with Mason Greenwood (who is on loan at Getafe). That is now a problem on your doorstep as you control the sporting operation…

“I can talk about the principle. I am not going to talk about Mason. I am familiar with it. The principle is the important one. We will have other issues going forward. You are dealing with young people who have not always been brought up in the best circumstances, who have a lot of money and who don’t always have the guidance they should have.

“What we need to do when having issues like that is understand the real effects — not the hype. Then we need to make a fair decision in light of the club’s values. That’s what we need to do and that’s how we will deal with it.”


Man United will make fresh decision on Greenwood, says Ratcliffe

Will that be a fresh decision then? 

“Yes, absolutely. We will make a decision and we will justify it.”

So it’s feasible he could still have a future at Man Utd?

“All I can do is talk about the principle of how we will approach decisions like that.”

What are the values you are defining? 

“Is he the right type of footballer? Is he a good person or not?”

We don’t want to misquote you or take this out of context… Are you saying you are not closing the door on Mason?

“He’s a Manchester United footballer, so we are in charge of football. So the answer is ‘yeah, we have to make decisions’.

“It’s quite clear we have to make a decision. There is no decision that’s been made. He’s on loan obviously, but he’s not the only one. We’ve got one or two footballers that we have to deal with and we have to make a decision on, so we will do that. The process will be: understand the facts, not the hype, and then try and come to a fair decision on the basis of values, which is basically: is he a good guy or not, and answer could he play sincerely for Manchester United well and would we be comfortable with it and would the fans be comfortable with it?”

Is the INEOS ownership of French club OGC Nice an issue for playing in the Champions League if you both qualify under UEFA’s regulations? 

“We’ve spoken to UEFA. There are no circumstances upon which an ownership of Nice would prevent Manchester United from playing in the Champions League — I’ll be crystal clear on that.

But at the moment, the rules say you can’t…

“It says you have to change the ownership structure. So it’s all about influence and positions on the board and that sort of thing. So, a) the rules are changing, and, b) there are shades of grey, not black and white. Manchester City will probably have the problem before we have the problem because they’ve obviously got Girona who are doing well in the Spanish La Liga.


Inside Girona’s unlikely rise: Pep Guardiola’s brother, Manchester City and table football

You tried to buy Chelsea when they were for sale in 2022…

“We have a collection of quite interesting sports clubs, Formula 1, America’s Cup, cycling etc. but we’ve always recognised that the biggest sport in the world is football and the Premier League is the biggest league in the world. So we’ve always had an interest in having a Premier League club — but they don’t come up very often, and at the time we had no inkling that Manchester United might ever be sold. So that’s how we finished up in that Chelsea equation.”

Dave Brailsford is the director of sport at INEOS. Can you talk about what his role will be, how important he is and what his attributes are? Some will look at his history in cycling and query his role at United amid the criticisms…

“Well, I think he will be critically involved in the future of Manchester United. He’s interested in elite sport and performance, which is what Manchester United is and I think he’s been very, very successful in sport in cycling, but he’s generally viewed as one of the world’s best thoughtful people on the subject of sports performance.

“It’s for good reason. I’ve known Dave now for quite a few years. He is obsessive about performance in elite sports, and he is going to be very successful at Manchester United.”


What will Brailsford, Ratcliffe and Man Utd’s new faces do? And who could follow?

Rival fans will bring up the parliamentary select committee and (his role in) questions about Team Sky previously…

“I’m not interested in all that. Really, I’m not. You can keep harping on about the past, but I am not interested in the past. I’m interested in the future. My view is he is a really good man and is really good at his job.

“That, for me, was all nonsense, in the past. I’m not interested.”

Chelsea was a very busy process but there seemed to be fewer bidders for United. Why was that?

“Good question, that.”

There was this Qatari guy (Sheikh Jassim) that no one’s ever seen. It was very odd…

“Still nobody’s ever seen him, actually. The Glazers never met him… he never… I’m not sure he exists!” (laughs). I would say this but there is no comparison between Chelsea and Manchester United. The scale of Manchester United is incomparable to any of the London clubs, to be honest with you.”

The SEC filing suggested Qataris did not provide proof of funds…

“No, they didn’t. No.”

Were they really bidding against you, or were you potentially the only bidder?

“I don’t know. They were they were obviously there and there was a whole host of people on the team in their squad… I didn’t ever meet them. But it was it was a very odd affair.”

There seemed to be a lot of background briefings. Did they play clean?

“I’m not going to comment on that. I know what the answer is.”

They claimed the bid was a lot higher than it was…

“Yeah, that’s correct.”

Do Chelsea show how not to do things given their recent spending?

“I don’t want to finish up criticising Chelsea but what I would say is that, in having bought other clubs in Lausanne and Nice, we have made a lot of cock-ups. We’ve made some really stupid decisions in both those clubs. There are a lot of organisations in the world where, if you make a mistake, you get shot, so nobody ever puts their head above the parapet.

“But at INEOS, we don’t mind people making mistakes — but please don’t make it a second time. So with that, we’re much less than sympathetic when they make the same mistake twice. We have made mistakes in football, so I’m really pleased that we made those mistakes before we arrived here at Manchester United. If we hadn’t, this would be a much tougher job for us. Because it is huge and it’s very exposed.”

What sort of player do you want at the club? Youngsters or superstars?

“We’re probably still debating what precisely is the style of football we want to play. If you look at Manchester City, they know precisely what the style of football is they want to play and all 11 teams at the club play the same formula. We need to do that, but I think in terms of the nature of the players, you want Manchester United types of players: attacking football, exciting football, bringing the youth through. You want players that are committed. You want players that play 90 minutes — those are the types of players you want playing for Manchester United.

“The academy is really, really important for us. It’s probably the most successful academy in football in terms of number of players that have come through.”

“We’ll decide that style, plus the CEO, sporting director, probably the recruitment guys, what the style of football is and that will be the Manchester United style of football, and the coach will have to play that style. We’re not going to oscillate from a (Jose) Mourinho style to a Guardiola style. That’s not the way we’ll run the club. Otherwise, you’re changing everything all the time, you change your coach, you’ve got the wrong squad — we won’t do that.

“In modern football, you need to decide what’s your path and stick to your path.”

You are doing something today that has been very rare at Manchester United in recent decades: communicating. How important is it to reconnect the fans and the club? 

“Again, I have a very simple view of a football club. It’s a community asset. The club is owned by the fans, that’s what it’s there for: for the fans. We’re guardians or stewards for a temporary period of time. I’m not going to be there forever. It is important we communicate to the fanbase. We underestimate how important an aspect it is of their life and how it affects their life.

“On a wet Monday morning in Manchester, that’s the first thing you talk about when you go into the office or the factory: how did we do at the weekend? And you either start off with a good week or a bad week depending on how it went. It’s beholden upon us to… It’s not my job to do it on a frequent basis but it was quite important today that we are seen by the true owners, who are the fans really.”

You are sitting in front of a jersey in here where there is a No 7 on the back and the collar up. It looks like an Eric Cantona shirt.…

“He was a maverick, obviously. He was the catalyst for change in Ferguson’s era… and that kickstarted everything off. He was a talisman.

“There has always been a bit of glamour attached to Manchester United which has been lacking a bit in the last few years. You’ve had George Best, Bobby Charlton, Eric the King. At the end of the day, we are in the entertainment business. You don’t want to watch bland football or characterless football. And to be honest, since Christmas, with the young lads, they have played some fantastic football. There have been some great matches.

“I can’t remember many matches at the beginning of the season that I was really excited by. The three young lads sitting on the hoarding at the side; that was a good picture. So I think that’s the Eric point, really. We are cognisant of the fact you do need a bit of glamour in this.”


Garnacho, Mainoo and Hojlund – the Man Utd picture that is a marketing person’s dream

How would you assess the job Erik ten Hag has done during his time at Old Trafford?

“I’m not going to comment on Erik ten Hag because I think it would be inappropriate to do that. But if you look at the 11 years that have gone since David Gill and Sir Alex stepped down, there have been a whole series of coaches — some of which were very good. And none of them were successful or survived for very long. And you can’t blame all the coaches.

“The only conclusion you can draw is that the environment in which they were working didn’t work. And Erik’s been in that environment. I’m talking about the organisation, the people in the structure, and the atmosphere in the club. We have to do that bit. So I’m not really focused on the coach. I’m focused on getting that bit right. And it’s not for me to judge that anyway — I’m not a football professional.”

Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Sir Dave Brailsford visited Erik ten Hag and others at the club’s Carrington training base in January (Manchester United via Getty Images)

Have you spoken to Sir Alex Ferguson much? 

“I have. He was the first person I met when I went up there, which I think was the second week of January. I had a meeting from 9am to 10am at his house and I left at 1pm.

“He never stopped. He’s got a lot of experience, a lot of stories to tell and a lot of thoughts about the club.

“I don’t think he has been encouraged to get involved but he is still very thoughtful about the club and he has an immense amount of experience. He really understands the values and traditions of the club and what it’s all about. He’s still fiercely competitive, Alex Ferguson.”

You have mentioned Manchester City an awful lot in this conversation…

“Well, they are one of the best teams on the planet.”

Are they a blueprint?

“Blueprint? (laughs) We have a lot to learn from our noisy neighbour and the other neighbour. They are the enemy at the end of the day. There is nothing I would like better than to knock both of them off their perch.

“Equally, we are the three great northern clubs who are very close to one another. They have been in a good place for a while and there are things we can learn from both of them. They have sensible organisations, great people within the organisations, and a good, driven and elite environment that they work in. I am very respectful of them but they are still the enemy.”

Would it help if they were found guilty of 115 breaches they are accused of by the Premier League?

“I would not wish that upon them. I don’t understand any of that. I just want to smash them on the football field.”

When you refer to knocking them off their perch… is that a knowing nod to Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous comments about knocking Liverpool off their perch?

“It is, actually. He was the first one who came out with that expression. I am in the same place as Alex — 100 per cent. He was fiercely competitive and that is why he was successful. We have to be the same.

“Queen Victoria was present at the first America’s Cup when we (the UK) challenged America in 1851. They sent a yacht across called America. We had 11 yachts and we had a race around the Isle of Wight. It was hosted by the Royal Yacht Squadron. In the end, the American boat won the race. Queen Victoria turned to the commodore and said ‘Did we come second?’ And the commodore said: ‘There is no second’.”

(Top photo: Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images; design: Eamonn Dalton)

You may also like