What Ratcliffe must do to avoid Man Utd ban as loophole scuppers £92m transfers

Will Ford
Man Utd co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe
Sir Jim Ratcliffe completed a deal to buy 27.7 per cent of the club in February.

The 2023/24 season came up roses in the end for Sir Jim Ratcliffe. His Manchester United side beat Manchester City to win the FA Cup, claiming a Europa League place in the process, while his other football team, Nice, also qualified for the second tier of European football having finished fifth in Ligue 1. Not bad at all.

The problem is, unless Sir Jim and his INEOS cronies jump through a few hoops to placate UEFA, Manchester United will be banned from competing despite their qualification.

That’s because UEFA rules state that teams in a multi-club group like United and Nice can’t meet each other in the same competition. So if one had qualified for the Champions League and the other the Europa Conference League there wouldn’t have been a problem, but as things stand a situation in which Ratcliffe is cheering on two teams in the same game is a distinct possibility.

If an agreement with UEFA can’t be reached then United, as the lowest ranked side in their respective league out of them and Nice, would be banned.

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Thankfully for Ratcliffe and United – who on top of wanting to compete in Europe could really use the revenue to increase the pot of money available for transfers this summer, for Erik ten Hag or whoever else has the pleasure of the significant rebuild required – there is a loophole that would grant them entry.

Ratcliffe essentially has to prove to UEFA before a deadline of June 3 that there is enough detachment between United and Nice; that they are very separate clubs.

An INEOS statement on Monday read: ‘We are aware of the position of the two clubs and we are in direct dialogue with UEFA. We are convinced that we have a solution for next season in Europe.’

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They’ve been aware of the potential issue for a while, with INEOS people in talks with UEFA over this eventuality for some time, and there is precedence for two teams under the same ownership competing in the same European competition.

Aston Villa and Vitoria, both owned by Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris’ V Sports, competed in the Europa Conference League last season, though the latter didn’t make it through the qualifiers, while Brighton owner Tony Bloom reduced his ownership share in Union Saint Gilloise to allow them both to compete in the Europa League.

UEFA said in a statement having heard the arguments of the owners: ‘The clubs will not enter into any kind of cooperation, joint technical or commercial agreements. The clubs will not use any joint scouting or player database.’

A stipulation which may scupper United’s transfer plans this summer is that in both instances the partner clubs were banned from transfers – sales or loans – in the summer leading up to the competition.

Widespread reports ever since Ratcliffe bought his 27.7 per cent stake in United have claimed that he may look to use Nice as a feeder club for United despite their superior league finish this season.

Centre-back Jean-Clair Todibo and central midfielder Kephren Thuram – valued at £52m and £40m respectively – have been heavily linked with a move to Old Trafford, with United in desperate need of strengthening in those two key areas. But in order to meet UEFA’s demands they can’t sign either this summer.

A small price to pay perhaps, but Ratcliffe will be frustrated at being denied a sure way to avoid the Manchester United tax – which has seen selling clubs raise their prices for Red Devil targets over the last decade or so – in his first summer at the helm.