Soccer

Jim Ratcliffe echoes Alex Ferguson vow to knock rivals ‘off their perch’

Ratcliffe, 71, has echoed Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous sentiment after completing the purchase of his 27.7 per cent stake.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe has set his sights on beating ‘enemies’ Manchester City and Liverpool
Sir Jim Ratcliffe has set his sights on beating 'enemies' Manchester City and Liverpool Sir Jim Ratcliffe has set his sights on beating ‘enemies’ Manchester City and Liverpool (Peter Byrne/PA)

Sir Jim Ratcliffe has echoed two of Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous lines by vowing to knock “noisy neighbours” Manchester City and Liverpool “off their perch” within three years as he set out his vision to rebuild the Red Devils.

Ratcliffe, 71, is now co-owner of the club he has supported since the age of six after completing the purchase of a 27.7 per cent stake which delegates control of football operations to his company Ineos.

He set out his ambition to challenge City and Liverpool for domestic and European silverware, using the famous sentiment of United’s great former manager, but called on fans to be patient, insisting it will take two or three seasons at least for Ineos to get the club to where he wants them to be.

Ferguson said in 2002 his “greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their f*****g perch”, going on to surpass their rivals’ league title tally, while he branded City as the “noisy neighbours”.

In a wide-ranging first interview with the UK media, Ratcliffe also:

– Outlined his hope to either redevelop Old Trafford at a cost of around £1billion, or build a new £2bn stadium with state support that could host England matches, FA Cup finals and Champions League finals.

– Admitted Dan Ashworth would be “a very good addition” to the Manchester United leadership as sporting director and said it would be “absurd” if he remained on gardening leave after his departure from Newcastle.

– Pledged that a fresh decision would be taken on Mason Greenwood’s future.

– Joked about whether Sheikh Jassim, his long-time rival for full control of United, even existed.

In the longer term, he is looking to work with the public sector on either building a new £2bn stadium to regenerate the area around the Old Trafford, which he envisages hosting England games and FA Cup finals, or redevelop the existing site at a cost of £1bn.

“We have a lot to learn from our noisy neighbour and the other neighbour (Liverpool). They are the enemy at the end of the day,” Ratcliffe said.

“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.

Ratcliffe has plans to redevelop Old Trafford or build a new stadium
Ratcliffe has plans to redevelop Old Trafford or build a new stadium Ratcliffe has plans to redevelop Old Trafford or build a new stadium (Peter Byrne/PA)

“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, a good, driven and elite environment that they work in.

“I am very respectful of them but they are still the enemy.”

Asked about the timeframe to make United truly competitive, Ratcliffe added: “It’s not a light switch. 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 likes instant gratification but that’s not the case with football really.

“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.”

Ratcliffe, whose stake in United will rise to 28.9 per cent by the end of the year by virtue of his investment in club infrastructure, acknowledges that having a modern fit-for-purpose stadium is vital.

Old Trafford could be redeveloped
Old Trafford could be redeveloped Old Trafford could be redeveloped (Mike Egerton/PA)

He said the focus will be on either a stadium in the north to rival Wembley as the go-to venue in England for major matches, or to redevelop Old Trafford.

“There is a really good case to refurbish Old Trafford, probably about £1billion in cost, or something like that,” he said.

“You finish up with a great stadium, it’s probably an 80 or 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.

“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. There’s a strong case for using a stadium to regenerate that area, like with the Olympics, like Seb Coe did with that part of East London quite successfully. City have done it and they’ve done quite a good job (of regenerating Eastlands).”

Both of those projects had state support, and Ratcliffe saw no issue with the same happening at United to achieve that.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe has spoken about the possibility of building a Wembley in the north
Sir Jim Ratcliffe has spoken about building a Wembley in the north Sir Jim Ratcliffe has spoken about the possibility of building a Wembley in the north (Steve Parsons/PA)

“The people in the north pay their taxes like the people in the south pay their taxes,” he said.

“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 have won more than us – and London 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? People in the north pay their taxes and there is an argument that 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 act as a catalyst to regenerate southern Manchester, which has got quite significant history in the UK.”

Ratcliffe said a task force would look at the new stadium and regeneration project. Asked whether that would involve former Manchester United defender Gary Neville, Ratcliffe replied: “He has been talked about, which would be an obvious one.”