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Man Utd need complete overhaul rather than sports-science tweaks – Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s prospects already look bleak

PLENTY of very shrewd and wealthy businessmen strode confidently into the ownership of Premier League clubs.

Then blundered out again looking considerably less clever and less minted.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe completed his 25 per cent investment in Manchester United on Christmas Eve

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Sir Jim Ratcliffe completed his 25 per cent investment in Manchester United on Christmas EveCredit: PA

There’s something about football, and the English top flight in particular, which preys on the egos of these men and makes them do stupid things.

Farhad Moshiri did well in business before he invested in Everton. Likewise Tom Hicks and George Gillett before Liverpool. And the Venky’s family prior to arriving at Blackburn.

Even The Right Honourable The Lord Sugar of Clapton (I called him Sir Alan once and didn’t get away with it) struggled in charge of Tottenham.

Which brings us to Sir Jim Ratcliffe, who grew up in a council house in Failsworth, Greater Manchester and is now Britain’s second richest man.

When Ian Dury sang There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever B*****ds, he was thinking of blokes like Ratcliffe.

But, already, the desire to own a Premier League club — and despite being a ‘lifelong Manchester United fan’, Ratcliffe did try to buy Chelsea in 2022 — seems to be blurring his judgment.

Ratcliffe hasn’t officially taken charge of United’s ‘football department’ yet and he may end up being a roaring success.
But the prospects are not good.

It is difficult to imagine Ratcliffe buying a 25 per cent stake in any other business where the largest stakeholders were deeply unpopular failures, presiding over a toxic culture.

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Yet, while hoping for a complete takeover in the future, that is the deal the Ineos chief  has agreed with the Glazers at United.

And the very fact that we are talking about United having a ‘football department’ rather than being, you know, a ‘football club’ is a serious problem in itself.

Even Ratcliffe’s introductory open letter to fans played into this Glazer mindset of United as a business with a football team attached to it.

Ratcliffe wrote: “I believe we can bring sporting success on the pitch to complement the undoubted  commercial success that the club has enjoyed.”

This single sentence underlines everything that has gone wrong with United over the past decade — the idea that footballing success is some relatively trivial adjunct to the club’s sponsorship deals, merchandising sales and social-media numbers.

Challenging for the game’s biggest honours is of secondary importance and they’re not even pretending otherwise.

Then there’s Ratcliffe’s appointment of former British cycling chief Sir Dave Brailsford as his main man at United.

I know it can become tedious when ‘proper football men’ say you need ‘proper football men’ running football clubs but a strong knowledge of the inner workings of this most unconventional business is a definite plus point.

Brailsford has been involved at Ineos-owned French club Nice but his footballing experience is limited.

And despite enjoying great success in cycling, he is not well regarded by many of his most decorated lycra lads and lasses.

Sir Dave Brailsford watched Man Utd take on Nottingham Forest alongside Sir Alex Ferguson on Saturday

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Sir Dave Brailsford watched Man Utd take on Nottingham Forest alongside Sir Alex Ferguson on SaturdayCredit: Getty

Some pretty questionable things happened under Brailsford’s watch at British Cycling and Team Sky — an alleged culture of bullying, a mysterious jiffy bag, a ‘win-at-all- costs’ mentality which had negative effects on those working under him.

Brailsford has always denied any wrongdoing and claims his successes were built on ‘marginal gains’ — the quite reasonable idea that an extra one per cent here and there  can make all the difference.

But do United need minimal sports-science tweaks?  Or do they need a complete overhaul of an expensive, bloated and imbalanced squad?
And a new manager? And a complete refurb of the stadium?

Nine points adrift of the Champions League places and out of Europe, United will spend the second half of this season in a holding pattern, trying to learn  lessons for next season.

Just as they did two seasons ago under Ralf Rangnick.

Ratcliffe and Brailsford say they will ‘look, listen and learn’ during these early days.

When Brailsford looked at United against Nottingham Forest on Saturday, he will have seen a tactically inept side who couldn’t even hold out for a point after a late Marcus Rashford equaliser — a team which lacks intelligence and leadership as well as talent.

He will have seen Antony, an £85.5million monument to a shambolic recruitment process — and a player Erik ten Hag managed at Ajax, and recommended to United, despite his vast transfer fee.

The Dutchman’s fingerprints are all over so much that has gone wrong this season — Bruno  Fernandes as captain, Jadon Sancho frozen out, Rashford a shadow of his former self, Antony a disaster, Andre Onana a liability.

And when Brailsford listened at the City Ground, he’ll have heard ‘We want Glazers out!’ from the United faithful.

So why have two successful knights of the realm signed up for this half-baked scheme?

It’s because successful men often think themselves infallible and invincible.

But Premier League football frequently finds them out.

Pressure continues to mount on Erik ten Hag

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Pressure continues to mount on Erik ten HagCredit: Getty

ROY STILL SHARP

THE image of Roy Hodgson as a benign old gent, devoid of ego or spleen, still persists.

But after Crystal Palace defeated Brentford 3-1 to end an eight-game winless streak, Hodgson was asked whether rumours of his potential sacking had affected him. And his reply was instructive.

Hodgson seethed: “I tell you what I really think . . . I’m 76 years of age. I’ve been in management for 47 years. I’ve got a CBE for services to football.

“My answer to you is that it makes no difference to me at all.

“To suggest that it should is disrespectful.”

You don’t work in elite-level football for as long as Hodgson without vast self-belief and a sharp tongue.

It's hard not to be impressed by Roy Hodgson's level of experience

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It’s hard not to be impressed by Roy Hodgson’s level of experienceCredit: Getty

EUR KIDDING?

THERE’S a myth, spread by killjoys, that qualifying for the Europa League or Conference League is bad news for a club’s domestic form.

The mongers of doom say: “Ooh you don’t want to be playing Thursday-Sunday.”

Try telling that to table-topping Liverpool, second-placed Aston Villa, sixth-placed West Ham or Brighton, who would go sixth if they beat the Irons tonight.

ELITE NEED BREAK

PLAYERS’ unions are up in arms that elite footballers will soon be asked to play up to 86 matches a year — thanks to the expansion of the Champions League, Europa League and Club World Cup.

The fixture list has reached breaking point, with no proper gaps for leading players.

And it won’t be long before they are allocated four or five weeks’ holiday to take like most other employees.

Team news updates may soon read as follows: Manchester City are without Kevin De Bruyne (hamstring), John Stones (ankle), Rodri (suspended) and Jack Grealish (annual leave).

SAUD AND CLEAR

JUST before Christmas, I noticed all three reports on the back page of this newspaper were filed from either Riyadh or Jeddah, due to the Club World Cup and the Anthony Joshua fight.

It’s a sign of things to come as the Saudis buy up the rights to everything.

But at least the staging of these major events in a nation which strictly prohibits alcohol is decent news for the battered livers of Fleet Street’s finest.

LITTLE BY LITTLER

OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN was 29 when she played Sandy in Grease, and Henry Winkler 28 when he was first The Fonz in Happy Days, despite both ­of their characters being high-school students.

But that’s nothing compared to those who run the darts at Ally Pally. They cast 38-year-old Luke Littler as a boy of 16.

Luke Littler has shocked the world of Darts by earning a spot in the World Championship semi-finals at just 16-years-old

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Luke Littler has shocked the world of Darts by earning a spot in the World Championship semi-finals at just 16-years-oldCredit: Rex

COLE AS A CUCUMBER

IN the intense heat of a knockout tie at this summer’s Euros – especially if it comes to extra-time or a penalty shootout – Gareth Southgate will need cool heads.

And I can’t remember ever seeing a more composed young English footballer than Cole Palmer.

The Chelsea man must go to Germany.

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