How INEOS investment will affect Man Utd in January transfer window

Sitting in one of the few sections of Old Trafford below a patched-up roof, Sir Dave Brailsford was in attendance for Manchester United’s final home game of 2023.

Two days after it was announced that INEOS had finally acquired a 25% stake in Manchester United, Brailsford – the company’s director of sport and right-hand man to owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe – took cover in the crumbling home ground for a thrilling 3-2 victory over Aston Villa.

Aside from one less available seat in Old Trafford’s executive suite, what impact will INEOS’s investment have on Manchester United in the short term? As the January transfer window creaks open, here’s how the boardroom reshuffle could impinge on Erik ten Hag’s attempts to refresh his squad this winter.

As early as mid-October, Sheikh Jassim dropped out of the race to buy Manchester United, leaving a clear path for INEOS and Ratcliffe to complete a minority investment. However, it wasn’t until Christmas Eve that the club confirmed the acquisition of a 25% share.

The Premier League’s much-maligned owners’ and directors’ test has to be carried out on any investor that owns at least a quarter of the club’s shares. Ratcliffe falls into this category and it will take a minimum of six weeks from the confirmation of his investment for England’s top flight to deliver their seal of approval.

While it is highly unlikely that United will lose any personnel – for instance, the manager – before INEOS can officially get their feet under the table, the time restrictions of the January transfer window ensure that the club cannot delay any incomings.

From left to right: Jean-Claude Blanc, Dave Brailsford and Jim RatcliffeFrom left to right: Jean-Claude Blanc, Dave Brailsford and Jim Ratcliffe

From left to right: Jean-Claude Blanc, Dave Brailsford and Jim Ratcliffe / Jean Catuffe/GettyImages

Manchester United have been desperately reluctant to follow the modern footballing model of delegating transfers to a specialised sporting director. Sir Alex Ferguson was an all-encompassing figure in the dugout and at negotiating tables but since the Scot – together with influential executive David Gill – left a decade ago, the lack of cohesion behind the scenes has been reflected by the club’s confused transfer strategy.

Commercial specialist Ed Woodward time and again exposed his lack of footballing expertise before John Murtough was made the club’s first ‘football director’ in March 2021. Since Ten Hag arrived from Ajax as manager in the summer of 2022, the Dutchman has been afforded considerable sway.

Ten Hag outlined United’s hierarchy when it comes to transfers in September. “For player decisions, transfers, it’s always 50-50,” he explained, “we both have a veto: the club, represented by John Murtough, and me.”

This arrangement hasn’t entirely impressed United’s new investors. Upon his visit to Old Trafford in March 2023, Ratcliffe flagged the £60m purchase of Casemiro as an example of the club’s flawed approach in the market (per The Guardian).

By so grossly overpaying for his minority share in the club, Ratcliffe has secured sporting control of United. The Manchester-born billionaire will appoint Brailsford and Jean-Claude Blanc to the club’s board but only once Premier League approval is granted.

Rather than total control, INEOS will effectively be consultants during the January window. According to documentation filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), United must secure the sign-off from INEOS before sealing any transfer this winter.

This leaves Murtough in the unenviable position of navigating perhaps his last transfer window at United while the club’s prospective investors loom over his shoulder.

Jim RatcliffeJim Ratcliffe

Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s face has been plastered on posters outside Old Trafford / Stu Forster/GettyImages

A week before the deal was confirmed, Murtough told a Fans’ Forum: “Looking ahead to the January transfer window, we are not expecting it to be particularly busy.”

Ten Hag teased “five or six new signings” after Christmas but was merely employing the hackneyed cliche managers lean upon when players return from injury. Ten Hag has previously echoed Murtough’s reticence, highlighting the perils of breaking financial regulations.

Ratcliffe pledged $300m (£235m) of his own money as part of the deal. While this has long been pencilled in as funds going towards a stadium renovation, the club can put this figure to use in the “ordinary course of business”.

However, before any nine-digit transfer war chests are mocked up, the first $200m instalment of Ratcliffe’s funds is not available until the investment is finalised, which could be as late as 24 February 2024. The second injection of $100m will be deployed before 31 December 2024, just in time for the 2025 January window.

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