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Sir Jim Ratcliffe: Inside the INEOS chief's takeover at Manchester United, including Erik ten Hag

Sir Jim Ratcliffe's deal to buy a minority stake in Manchester United is close to completion; the INEOS chief will lead United's football operations, including player and manager recruitment; Sky Sports News' Melissa Reddy tackles the big questions ahead of the Ratcliffe era...

Jim Ratcliffe, Erik Ten Hag, Dave Brailsford
Image: Sir Jim Ratcliffe (left) is set to complete the purchase of his minority stake in Manchester United

It's been a whole year since Manchester United were put up for sale by the Glazer family - but the saga looks close to completion.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe's deal to purchase 25 per cent of the Premier League club for £1.3bn is close to completion, heralding a new era at Old Trafford, albeit with the Glazer family still in majority control.

Ratcliffe's involvement will see him and his INEOS group - including Sir Dave Brailsford - take control of United's football operations, which will include recruitment of players and coaching staff.

So with the English businessman on the verge of walking through the front door, Sky Sports News senior reporter Melissa Reddy takes a deep dive into the major questions regarding Ratcliffe's stake at United - taking a look at matters involving the club, the manager and the squad...

THE CLUB: Why do INEOS want control of the football operations?

Sir Jim Ratcliffe's proposed three-person committee
Image: Sir Jim Ratcliffe's proposed three-person committee in charge of football operations

In 2019, when INEOS completed the deal to acquire Nice, Sir Jim Ratcliffe highlighted the importance of operational structure. "Clubs need to be successful off the pitch, as well as on it," he said, placing what happens on a matchday secondary to how well an institution is run.

Ratcliffe believes having a clear idea, the right people with the right tools to consistently deliver it, a thirst for marginal gains and progressive thinking plus streamlined decision-making will ultimately result in winning.

When Ratcliffe and Sir Dave Brailsford - INEOS' director of sport and the man responsible for British cycling's success at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics - sat through presentations of United's working practices and long-term plans during the bidding process, they knew football operations would need to be overhauled.

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The pair did not feel the club were effectively making use of analytics, had the scale of expertise needed in some departments, and were "nimble enough" to take action when needed. A sporting director familiar with Brailsford has told Sky Sports News INEOS "think some of the positive changes over the past 12-18 months are years too late and are still nowhere near enough. Things have been unnecessarily overcomplicated, and Jim's way is to simplify so better decisions can be taken quickly."

It is understood Ratcliffe agrees with Ralf Rangnick's assessment that "minor amendments - cosmetic things" will not restore United as a force. A mooted new CEO and sporting director - Jean-Claude Blanc and Paul Mitchell are leading candidates respectively - will be the start of restructuring processes behind the scenes that will sweep through recruitment, medical, performance and analytics.

There will also be a focus on "culture reversal" as it is believed the spate of off-field United issues have indicated there are problems in customs that need to be rooted out.

Can a division of responsibility between commercial and football operations work in practice?

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Gary Neville discusses the problems Manchester United currently face and joked that the club need something magical to turn things around.

It will be interesting to see how it materialises, especially as some elements - like training facilities and upgrading Old Trafford - fall into both categories. Joel Glazer will remain the majority shareholder, and as such, the ultimate decision maker.

Sources insist INEOS and Ratcliffe would not be willing to invest an estimated £1.3bn for their 25 per cent stake without guarantees of being able to implement their own organisational vision.

If United are successful on the pitch, that will financially benefit the Glazers so there is confidence of striking the right balance. Only time and watching how the structure is actually implemented will answer the question. The end goal for INEOS is full control of the club.

Did staff at United see such an arrangement coming?

From the moment a strategic review was announced last November, employees knew all options were on the table. As the bidding process moved through higher stages, staff admitted that while there was a "business as usual" approach, it was difficult not to allow the future to colour the present.

Senior figures were also in the dark over the course of the year, with only the Glazers - even INEOS and Sheikh Jassim were frustrated by a lack of communication - knowing what route they would take.

Decision-making was naturally slower and uncertain in the circumstances. Some staff have felt hamstrung by what they could actually do over the past 12 months, while some have been put in the horrible position of working while knowing their jobs could be at threat.

Is recruitment the biggest problem?

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Sam Blitz is joined by Sky Sports' transfers co-ordinator Lyall Thomas to discuss how Jim Ratcliffe's minority takeover could affect Manchester United's transfer business in the January transfer window.

The sub-optimal purchases by United aligned with their inability to offload well is one of the major reasons Ratcliffe's investment hinged on assuming control of football operations.

It is no secret that selling clubs spike their prices when the Old Trafford side wants to do business. United insist they have been firmer in walking away from deals when the asking price supersedes their valuation, but fees for Antony (£86m) and Rasmus Hojlund (£72m) when they were the only bidders involved suggests otherwise.

Trading is undoubtedly an area the club can vastly improve in, by leaning more into analytics and moving away from a manager-led process. The majority of players recruited under Erik ten Hag have an Eredivisie background and a pre-existing relationship with the Dutchman.

INEOS are aware that a key part of improving transfer business is the overall bettering of the football operations. They do not think it is a coincidence that Old Trafford has been viewed as a 'graveyard' for some of the most pedigreed and promising players over the past decade. Even the right player can't thrive in the wrong environment.

Why have there been so many injuries?

United played 62 matches last season - the busiest calendar of any team across Europe's top five leagues. The club aren't in isolation when it comes to a full treatment room, with Premier Injuries reporting a 15 per cent increase across the division compared to the past four campaigns.

Qatar 2022 is certainly a contributing factor and Ten Hag has rightly flagged the players are overloaded. "We had a World Cup in the middle of the season; we had a longer season and a shorter break," he said.

"Every time the schedule is expanding, the load on the players is too much. It's such a great overload. Many colleagues of mine have pointed to that and I have pointed to that as well. But it keeps going. We keep expanding the schedule.

"Players can't deal any more with this overload and that's what you see in this squad at the moment."

THE MANAGER: Why does Erik ten Hag still retain the faith of the club?

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Sky Sports News' chief reporter Kaveh Solhekol explains how Sir Jim Ratcliffe's takeover of Manchester United could affect Erik ten Hag's future and how the club act in the transfer market.

Ten Hag inherited a dispirited, ill-disciplined mess and had to solve the Cristiano Ronaldo conundrum in his debut season yet still ended a seven-year trophy drought, returned United to the Champions League, and posted their highest points total in five campaigns. He has not become a bad coach, with his attention to detail cutting out bad habits and driving positive changes at Carrington and on matchdays (nutrition, rest, cut down on travel)...

While the manager should not have such an overwhelming influence on transfers, the club would not have been able to get their deals over the line - with the exception of Casemiro - if he wasn't in the dugout. It is on United that they have afforded Ten Hag so much sway, when true support would come via intelligent trading like Txiki Begiristain does for Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, the way Edu works to serve Mikel Arteta at Arsenal and how Michael Edwards empowered Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp.

As explained in answers above, there are structural and cultural issues at United that need to be solved - Ten Hag is currently a symptom rather than the problem.

Why has he been unable to play the progressive football that got him the job?

Ten Hag has to accept criticism for United not having a discernible identity or automations that would be evident from work on the training pitches. They are oceans away from his vision of being "the best transition team in the world".

Injuries - especially to Lisandro Martinez and Luke Shaw - have hampered the balance of the side, gravely affected build-up play, impeded other selections like that of Raphael Varane, and not extracted the best out of new signings like Andre Onana and Hojlund. Mason Mount is lost in the midst of it all. Ten Hag had the third-best defence in the league last season, but that department has been ravaged by setbacks leading to inconsistency. However, United are not the only team with a deep sidelined list and even their victories have come amid poor performances. Man-marking certainly hasn't been the solution.

There hasn't been midfield harmony yet, with Mount and Bruno Fernandes caught ahead of the ball leaving an off-form Casemiro isolated. The pressing from the front has malfunctioned and the forwards are either starved of service or confidence. United as a whole have scored as many goals in the league as Erling Haaland. Another problem is the team's petulance; too often they get sucked into frustration and frothing rather than properly fighting their way back into a game.

It is unequivocal that there has to be stark improvements spreading from the coaching team through the squad. While Ten Hag was correct in asserting his United group are made up of more direct players than he had at Ajax and their demands are different, he was recruited for his proactive, dominant, possession-based philosophy.

Being comfortable with the ball can be meshed with a more aggressive, direct approach - he did exactly that at the Dutch giants.

Given the power Ten Hag has had to design the squad to his liking, it is fully reasonable to expect much more from performances and the playing style. The Dutchman has definitely created a greater level of discipline at United and the squad initially responded very well to his stern methods and authority. The rest of the facets of his management are now being tested.

Could the Jadon Sancho situation have been handled better?

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Speaking earlier in November, Melissa Reddy reports that exit routes are opening up for Jadon Sancho from Manchester United as there appears to be no sight of a resolution to his standoff situation with Erik ten Hag.

There can be no other answer but a resounding yes. A 23-year-old player, bought to the tune of £72m, has been frozen out of the first team since September for defending himself in a social media post which he then deleted, and safeguarding rules are activated when he's in the academy building. This is not a healthy state of affairs.

United and Ten Hag read the situation as Sancho effectively calling the manager a liar and showing open defiance to his authority. They have said previous disciplinary issues were being dealt with leading into the stand-off, but a simple apology from Sancho could have resolved the situation.

United's hierarchy and the winger's closest friends in the squad pleaded with him to say sorry publicly and to the manager, but there are staff who sympathise with Sancho's feelings about being made "a scapegoat" and believe all the onus shouldn't be on the player for a resolution.

There is no doubt that Ten Hag is in control at United and one social media post from Sancho was not going to tank his authority.

Some employees and some in the dressing room believe the Dutchman could have shaken disciplinarian mode and been a father figure - the kind of caring touch Sancho has responded well to throughout his career.

A youth coach who worked with the former Borussia Dortmund star told Sky Sports News: "Jadon is someone who has had to fight for himself, for what he has, fight for his family, be the breadwinner. I am not surprised he wanted to defend himself from what he feels is unfair treatment, it's a protection mechanism. Sometimes what managers may think is weak is actually the strong thing to do - be gentle.

"No players are the same and you have to tailor your approach to them. They can react very positively when a manager puts his arm around someone instead of severely punishing him. When a team sees their leader putting aside his ego for the greater good, it can be powerful."

The truth is the strength always lies with clubs in these kind of scenarios; they can control the situation and the narrative. They should also take responsibility for solving whatever ills there are, rather than waiting for Sancho to do so.

Is Ten Hag receiving some grace because of the wider situation at United?

Yes, understandably so. Bar the uncertainty of the club's ownership looming large for a year, he has also had to deal with disciplinary issues involving Ronaldo and Sancho, along with off-the-field matters involving Mason Greenwood and Antony.

There have been question marks over the handling of the final three situations on that list, but again, that is on United rather than solely on the manager.

THE SQUAD: Why has Raphael Varane not been starting?

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Manchester United head coach Erik ten Hag denied suggestions of a falling out with Raphael Varane explaining that Harry Maguire deserves the starts due to his improved form.

From his initial media briefings at the helm, Ten Hag spelled out his desire to have a left-footer at left centre-back.

This helps the orientation of the team, allows the defender to receive the ball more comfortably and open up better passing angles. It is why he did not want to play Harry Maguire there last season, and why Varane is finding it difficult to start now.

"The build-up is not that fluid when one of them is playing from the left centre-back position," Ten Hag said. "Jonny Evans and Victor Lindelof, they are right-footed, but they can play really comfortably with their left and make the right angles, then you can construct a better formation where you can start to play."

Maguire and Varane are competing for the RCB slot at present and the former has been offering more in the current set-up without Martinez and Shaw's progressive distribution. When one or both of them return, the Frenchman is likely to be a starting centre-back again.

What is Marcus Rashford's lack of form down to?

Partly the collective malaise of the team, the absence of Shaw which gives him plenty more defensive work to do on the left flank and no foil there for the opposition to worry about.

But Rashford has himself said: "Football is probably 95 per cent your mentality. That gives you the baseline to perform. There are a lot of players that have ability - that's why they play at the top level. But what sets them apart is the mentality. I've been on both sides of it.

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"I understand the strength of it and the value. I'm concentrating a lot more on keeping myself in that headspace and it's needed in order to win games and trophies." Rashford has to get back into that zone.

What will United do if Onana decides to represent Cameroon at AFCON?

The goalkeeper has yet to confirm his decision to play in the month-long tournament. Should he go to Ivory Coast, United believe Turkey international Altay Bayindir - yet to make his debut for the club but who has trained well - will be an able deputy.

Will Manchester United bring in another striker in January, or do they still have faith in Rasmus Hojlund?

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Before Manchester United's match against Luton Town, Rasmus Hojlund discussed his start at the club following an injury, his transition into the Premier League and his ambitions to score his first goal for the team.

United did not expect Hojlund to be the finished article from the off and Ten Hag has acknowledged the striker has not had the easiest environment to adapt to.

"First of all we have to work on our routines - he missed pre-season, missed the first four games [through a back injury], but from the moment he came in he gives the team a lot," the manager said.

"When the routines and the combinations get better then that split moment will give him the time to make better decisions to score more goals."

Hojlund has the right tools to develop into a menace in front of goal but he has not been catered to properly yet. There are no doubts over his determination to do well - in fact, sometimes he is too desperate to make a positive impact and snatches at chances.

United are not expected to spend big in January as they have been very conscious of FFP considerations. INEOS are engaged in an audit of their football structure, specifically their recruitment operations so there is no clarity of what the club will look like next month, let alone how they will navigate the winter window.

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