The imminent purchase by Sir Jim Ratcliffe of a 25% stake in Manchester United, valued at £1.25 billion, is eagerly anticipated by fans eager for a shift in power from the Glazer family. However, this acquisition might inadvertently jeopardise Manchester United’s European ambitions.
Ratcliffe, already the owner of French club Nice, could see his dual ownership become a stumbling block for Manchester United in their European pursuits.
Under UEFA’s ‘multi-club ownership’ regulations, a single entity is prohibited from having control or influence over more than one club in a UEFA competition.
As it stands, Nice is performing strongly in Ligue 1, currently positioned second, just a point behind PSG. If they maintain a top-four finish, Manchester United would need to equal or surpass their league position to secure a spot in the Champions League. Should Nice end up fourth, Manchester United would be barred from entering the Europa League as well.
For Manchester United, the path to European football narrows considerably. They would have to aim for a sixth-place finish in the Premier League and count on either Liverpool or Newcastle winning the Carabao Cup, thereby securing direct entry to the Europa Conference League.
This scenario hinges on Nice qualifying for the final play-off round for the Champions League and possibly dropping into the Europa League.
UEFA’s rules are explicit in defining ‘control’ as the capacity to decisively influence a club’s decision-making.
A UEFA source told The Sun: “As the rules stand, it’s a clear situation. Ineos own Nice and are set to have a significant role in running United. “Unless the regulations are changed, or Ineos sell one of their stakes, they cannot both play in European competitions, unless one is in the Champions league and the other in the Conference League.”
As chairman and CEO of Ineos, Ratcliffe has expressed his intention to oversee the sporting structure at Manchester United, a clear indication of influence.
In a situation where two clubs under the same ownership qualify for European competitions, only one is permitted to participate, unless one qualifies directly for the Champions League and the other for the Conference League. The priority is given to the club with the higher domestic ranking.
Manchester United, currently sixth in the Premier League after a mix of early season struggles and recent victories, could face a complex challenge to their European aspirations.
This issue is not unique to Manchester United. Manchester City’s sister club, Girona, led by Pep Guardiola’s brother Pere, is currently topping LaLiga.
If Girona clinches the title, City would need to either win the Premier League or the Champions League to ensure their European participation next season.