Sir Jim Ratcliffe is the pre-woke holier-than-thou headteacher creating division at Man Utd

Will Ford
Ratcliffe Man Utd
Sir Jim Ratcliffe has created division at Manchester United.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe called the IT department a ‘disgrace’ and the museum a load of ‘crap’ after his Manchester United audit. He sounds like the worst headteacher I ever worked with.

In a previous life as a teacher, in preparation for an Oftsted inspection, I was told to prepare for a ‘Mocksted’ along with the rest of the Science faculty. It involved a deep dive into every aspect of your teaching: book marking, lesson planning, seating plans, behaviour management, class interaction, lesson outcomes. An audit, if you like.

Why did they do this? The senior leadership team – who descended from the top floor to slum it for an afternoon to critique the foot soldiers – claimed it was ‘good practice for the real thing’, despite being absolutely aware that bona fide Ofsted inspections were among the biggest contributors to mental health problems for their teachers. They cared about the grade, not the people, and it cost them.

Because by the time ‘the real thing’ rolled around the school was a mess, with the staff depleted on the back of increased pressure and scrutiny to the extent where the Ofsted inspectors barely had enough lessons to cast aspersions over, with substitute teachers by that point covering nearly a third of the classes as 18 contracted members of the team were absent due to work-related stress.

The stories emerging about Sir Jim Ratcliffe, and his reported like-it-or-lump it style of management at the Manchester United training ground remind me of the headteacher of that ill-fated school, who left very quickly after the Ofsted results came in.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the guy was a d*ck.

The Manchester United fans appear to be reasonably happy with Ratcliffe. Many of them would have preferred to reap the rewards of Sheikh Jassim’s ownership, but the Ineos billionaire is doing many things that are difficult to find fault with.

He wants to improve the training facilities, is in the process of creating a proper structure above the manager and is revamping the recruitment team in a bid to build a transfer strategy with sustainability and long-term goals in mind. They’re not mind-blowing or revolutionary ideas, but changes necessary for United to close the gap to their so-called Premier League rivals, who have had these things in place for years while the Red Devils hark back to a bygone era most of their teenage fans will have no memory of.

It’s not Ratcliffe’s goals for the club, but his methods of achieving them, and the way he’s dealing with his staff along the way, that’s uncomfortable. And reports suggesting it’s seemingly the lowest-paid members of the Carrington team he’s taken particular issue with doesn’t sit right.

Like the headteacher strolling around the classroom flicking through books and criticising marking he himself hadn’t done for nigh-on a decade, Ratcliffe telling fresh-faced IT employees – earning an annual salary that he probably wouldn’t bother to bend down to pick up from the floor if it fell from his pocket – that their department is a ‘disgrace’ in a memo sent to all staff is a holier than thou power move akin to a city banker treating the waiting staff poorly.

He labelled the Manchester United museum – quite possibly the pride and joy of several members of staff  – a load of ‘crap’, told academy coaches that the dressing rooms were a mess, and in a bid to end the work-from-home culture told employees to head back to the offices, despite there not being enough desks for them all to work at. “If you don’t like it, please seek alternative employment,” he told them.

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Again, there’s no real problem with his intentions. He wants to improve the work ethic of everyone at United – have them all pulling together in the hope that dynamism and the development of culture off the pitch will aid them on it. We also have to take these reports with a pinch of salt, but assuming his methods of improving the culture thus far have indeed included denigrating the achievements of young professionals at the bottom of the club’s pay grade and picking out specific departments for criticism in mass emails, we would suggest he employs slightly more wokery and sightly fewer strategies from the Rupert Murdoch guide to management, to avoid further ‘toxicity’ at Manchester United.

He may be trying to force out the work-shy, which makes sense, but what he may see as mere home truths that need to be heard by everyone are at risk of being perceived as callous and unnecessary jibes at talented people who want the same thing as he does – for Manchester United to back at the top again – but don’t want that to be at the cost of their work-life balance or the enjoyment of their job. He may well find out that not enough of those people exist.

We can add his treatment of his employees to the five red flags that emerged in his interview in February, which included him not knowing whether Mason Greenwood was “a good guy” or not and his call for taxpayers to chip in for Manchester United’s new stadium.

I assume you can all imagine the water cooler discussions at Carrington after Sir Jim had roamed through the offices, testing work surfaces for dust and whispering to Sir Dave Brailsford as the cycling guy nodded and scribbled in his notebook.

As was the case after the school ‘Mocksted’, my guess is that the employees were split, with a select few putting on airs and deifying Ratcliffe, the White Knight of Carrington, while the vast majority, quite simply, thought he was being a bit of a d*ck.