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Man United set to enter a new Ratcliffe era with spotlight on January transfers and Ten Hag’s future

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Fans of Manchester United know 2024 will be anything but boring as the club tries once again to end a period of on-field decline that has lasted 10 years for the record 20-time English league champions

British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe agreed Sunday — Christmas Eve — to buy a minority stake in United. The owner of petrochemicals giant INEOS, and a number of sports teams, will also take charge of United’s soccer operations.

The announcement of the deal, worth around $1.6 billion, came more than a year after American owners the Glazers put United up for sale in November 2022. The deal requires Premier League approval.

Here’s a look at the people involved and issues likely to be raised by the deal, including the future of United manager Erik ten Hag.

JIM RATCLIFFE

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The 71-year-old Ratcliffe is one of the richest people in Britain and a boyhood United fan from Greater Manchester.

He already owns French club Nice and cycling team INEOS Grenadiers. He is a one-third shareholder of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One team and competes in the America’s Cup with sailing team INEOS Britannia.

“We all want to see Manchester United back where we belong, at the very top of English, European and world football,” Ratcliffe said.

Fans will welcome such talk, but want it to be backed up with results.

Ratcliffe has paid $1.3 billion for “up to 25%” of the club and will invest a further $300 million for “future investment into Old Trafford,” United said.

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Ratcliffe will provide $200 million upon completion of the deal and a further $100 million by the end of 2024. That additional investment will eventually take Ratcliffe’s stake up to 29%. The Glazers will have a 49% stake under the deal.

TEN HAG

The Dutch manager has endured a troubled season, with his team losing 13 games in all competitions and being eliminated from the Champions League at the earliest possible stage.

He has faced reports of locker room unrest and speculation about his job, but there has been no suggestion from United that his position is under threat and he said this month that he believes he has the backing of the club’s hierarchy.

Still, his relief was evident as United came back from 2-0 down against Aston Villa to win 3-2 in the Premier League on Tuesday.

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Afterward, Ten Hag was positive about the arrival of Ratcliffe.

“They have a lot of experience in sport at the highest level — F1, a cycling team, football clubs,” he said. “They can only help us and support us to get our targets. We are looking forward. They want to work with us and we want to work with them.”

SOCCER OPERATIONS

Ratcliffe will take charge of United’s failing soccer department. How that will work in practice is one of the biggest questions.

After more than 20 years of success under former manager Alex Ferguson, United hasn’t won the title since he retired in 2013. Ten Hag is the fifth permanent manager United has had in repeated attempts to turn its fortunes around.

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INEOS’s director of sport Dave Brailsford — who was at the Villa game — and CEO Jean-Claude Blanc will join the board of the soccer club. Brailsford was credited for his role in the success of British cycling in recent years. Blanc has held prominent positions at Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

INEOS CFO John Reece and chairman of INEOS Sport Rob Nevin will join the board of United’s PLC, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

JANUARY TRANSFERS

As the deal is expected to take up to 10 weeks to go through, Ratcliffe will not be in place in time for the January transfer window. He will, however, be consulted on any major soccer decisions such as transfers and the future of Ten Hag.

Members of Ratcliffe’s team have already visited United’s training ground and discussed operations. It is likely they will have already been consulted on plans for January and possible signings.

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It is not yet known how football director John Murtough’s position will be affected by Ratcliffe’s investment, but the club’s recruitment operations will be part of the INEOS owner’s remit under the new structure.

DIVIDENDS

It has been agreed that no dividends will be taken for a period of three years, with investment in the team and infrastructure said to be the immediate priority.

Old Trafford is in need of modernization, while Ten Hag’s squad still looks well short of rivals like Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool after suffering early elimination from the Champions League.

FULL SALE

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There is no obligation for the Glazers to sell any further shares to Ratcliffe. But Ratcliffe does have right of first refusal if any further shares are sold within a year of the deal being completed.

If the Glazers choose to sell the entire club to a third party after 18 months of the deal being completed, Ratcliffe would be forced to sell his shares subject to them being priced at a minimum of $33 per share.

-AP

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Nigerian-born Man United’s new striker promises  creativity and unpredictability to fans

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Manchester United newcomer Joshua Zirkzee said fans can expect to see a creative, unpredictable player who developed his skills in cage football, and idolised Ronaldinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

He is a Dutch, but has Nigerian mother.

The 23-year-old striker signed for the Red Devils on July 14 after an excellent season with Italian Serie A club Bologna, where he scored 11 goals and made five assists and helped them secure a place in the Champions League.

“Yeah, it’s been a roller-coaster the past few weeks, but some very good experiences. I’m very happy to be here,” Zirkzee said in an interview for United’s website on July 17.

“Obviously, (I’m arriving) at a good point, making a transfer to Manchester United is something very positive. So yeah, I just can’t wait to get started and continue what I basically did last season.”

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The 1.93m-tall Dutchman is technically gifted for a player his size, which he attributes to his childhood in Spijkenisse, in the south of the Netherlands where he developed his skills in Johan Cruyff cages – enclosed football pitches named after the Dutch football great.

“As a young boy growing up, playing mostly with tougher, bigger guys who are older than you makes you adapt, so I think that’s something that you learn at a young age in Holland, especially where I grew up,” Zirkzee added.

“(I’m a) creative player, good with the ball, I’m just a bit unpredictable at times.”

He laughingly recounted the countless times he got in trouble with his mother for coming home late.

“I hope she forgives me now for all the times I came home late, or if I broke something in the backyard,” he said.

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“Eventually, it all worked out pretty well… that was just life back when I was younger, playing football, forgetting about the time and getting back home late.”

Zirkzee also said that having a Dutch manager in Erik ten Hag is a “privilege” and the added presence of Ruud van Nistelrooy – the former Netherlands and United striker who joined ten Hag’s coaching staff earlier this week – will help him adjust to his new team.

But they are not the only reasons he made the move to United.

“Manchester United is a great, huge club so it’s just an extra privilege,” he said.

“Having some Dutch people around obviously makes it a bit easier, (but) to be fair I’m not too difficult adapting.

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“When I was younger, watching the Dutch national team, Manchester United, watching (van Nistelrooy) play, he was one of the guys who you pretend to be when you were playing with friends. So, having him out here is a bit special.

Zirkzee was a late addition to the Netherlands squad for the European Championship, making his senior debut in the quarter-final victory against Turkey.

On the heels of Euro 2024, he will be given some time off and is not expected to link up with his new teammates until early August.

Following his arrival at Old Trafford for a fee of about £36.5 million (S$63.6 million), United are set to sign Lille’s promising teenage defender Leny Yoro in a £52 million swoop, according to reports on July 17.

The 18-year-old had been linked with a move to European champions Real Madrid, but he has since travelled to England and has undergone a medical test with the Red Devils, before putting pen to paper.

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United will reportedly pay £52.7 million as an initial fee, with add-ons worth a further £6.7 million.

Yoro, who made his Lille debut at the age of 16, has been ranked as one of the best young players in Europe.

Ten Hag has been keen to land a new centre-back after Raphael Varane left at the end of last season.

Varane and Lisandro Martinez were United’s starting centre-backs in their FA Cup final victory over Manchester City in May, with Harry Maguire missing the showpiece due to an injury that also ruled him out of Euro 2024.

United have also been chasing Bayern Munich’s Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt and is understood to have had two offers rejected for Everton’s Jarrad Branthwaite.

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Reuters/AFP

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Sancho back in training with Man United after positive meeting with Ten Hag

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Jadon Sancho was back training with Manchester United for the first time in 10 months, with a club source confirming the winger and manager Erik ten Hag have resolved their differences following their public fallout last year.

Sancho and Ten Hag had a positive meeting at Carrington Training Centre and the two have decided to draw a line under last season’s drawn-out argument, the club source said.

The 24-year-old Sancho made just three appearances for United last season, spending the second half of the campaign on loan to Borussia Dortmund after his relationship with Ten Hag soured in September.

Ten Hag had left the winger out of his squad for United’s 3-1 loss to Arsenal, saying Sancho’s performances in training had not warranted a place in his team. Sancho immediately lashed out on social media, accusing Ten Hag of making him a “scapegoat.”

He was banished from the first team and trained with United’s youth squad before returning to his former club Dortmund in January, where he shone during their Champions League semi-final victory against Paris St Germain, earning praise from Ten Hag. Dortmund were beaten by Real Madrid in the final.

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“(Sancho) is a very good player… he showed why Manchester United bought him and he showed he represents a high value for Manchester United, which is good,” Ten Hag told reporters following Dortmund’s 1-0 win over PSG in the first leg.

“I’m happy for Jadon, for the performance, and we’ll see what is going to happen in the future.”

Sancho will not travel with the team to Norway for their pre-season opener against Rosenborg since he began training later than the other players but the club source said he would be available for selection after that.

-Reuters

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Another Nigerian blood replaces Ndidi at Leicester

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Wilfred Ndidi who has just left Leicester City will have another Nigerian blood replacing him.

Leicester has never been without a Nigerian since Ahmed Musa joined in 2016. Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho joined in 2017.

Another Nigerian blood, Caleb Okoli, a centre back, has just been signed from Italian  Serie A side Atalanta on a five-year contract. Born in Itali, Caleb Okoli is Igbo and Yoruba by descent.

The 22-year-old, who spent the last season on loan at Frosinone Calcio, represented Italy at the European Under-21 Championship last year.

“I think now is the right moment (for me) to make a step forward and a very big one. I’m very happy with the choice I made, so I’m very excited to start in the Premier League,” Okoli said in a statement. The clubs did not disclose financial details of the deal.

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