Manchester United

Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s 36 second answer highlights major Manchester United problem

Ratcliffe’s most recent remarks regarding Manchester United Women are quite concerning.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe's 36 second answer highlights major Manchester United problem

Sir Jim Ratcliffe has spoken about Manchester United Women (Image: Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)

With the breathtaking French Riviera as his backdrop, Sir Jim Ratcliffe provided a less-than-ideal look at the current situation at Manchester United Women.

From his stronghold in Monaco, the CEO of Ineos, who took over United’s sporting operations in February, was having a sit-down interview with American source Bloomberg Television. He discussed his intentions for the team, a possible new stadium, and even Brexit for more than 37 minutes.

However, only 36 seconds of the conversation were devoted to topics concerning Marc Skinner’s position. And, maybe not surprisingly, there was reason for concern in what little Ratcliffe said.

Francine Lacqua of Bloomberg remarked, “I haven’t asked you what you’re doing with the women at Manchester United,” as the interview was about to reach its 26th minute.

Ratcliffe answered, “Well, they just won the FA Cup,” as if the 6.3 kg of sterling silver that had just moved into the team’s trophy cabinet negated the need for more conversation.

In an attempt to probe her interviewee further, Lacqua asked if the group had been considering outside funding in order to hasten United Women’s expansion.

Ratcliffe stated, “With the women’s team, we haven’t gone into that level of detail.” For the first six months, “we’ve been pretty much full-time focused on how we resolve the (men’s) first team and that environment.”

Sensing that this specific line of inquiry had reached its limit, Lacqua inquired as to whether the women’s team’s plans were “TBC” (to be confirmed). “You’re right,” Ratcliffe answered simply.

It was certainly not the enlightening study that Skinner’s admirers had hoped for. Naturally, those who are sceptical of women’s football will think that the online commotion caused by the interview is unwarranted.

Perhaps Ratcliffe would be better served by being forthright about his lack of knowledge of his plans for the women’s squad rather than trying to hide it behind puffery. There is also the argument that he has every right to be unwaveringly focused on the men’s team.

It would be foolish to think that, despite the women’s game’s continued explosion in popularity, Erik ten Hag’s squad will always come first and that their success will always come before that of the women’s team.

Since Ratcliffe is a businessman first and foremost, he will be inclined to focus his energies on enhancing the condition of the team’s main source of revenue.

Nevertheless, it’s difficult to shake the impression that his most recent remarks constitute a serious insult to Skinner and his players. It’s important to remember that United Women are accustomed to being seen as an afterthought—a tiny, unnecessary cog buried deep within one of the largest organisations in sport.

The Glazer administration abolished the team in 2005 because it was not lucrative and wasn’t related to the club’s “core business.” The decision was highly contentious, and the senior women’s side wasn’t reintroduced until 2018.

Supporters of United were forced to watch while teams like Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester City racked up all of the major titles in the ensuing years.

Ratcliffe’s arrival was therefore expected to herald a new era in which United Women would be able to emerge from the shadow of her more experienced Premier League sibling and take centre stage.

Ratcliffe and Ineos head of sport Sir Dave Brailsford chose to attend United men’s match against Arsenal rather than the Women’s FA Cup Final back in May, which somewhat shattered those aspirations.

Leandro Trossard’s goal at Old Trafford condemned United to their 14th top division loss of the year, while Ratcliffe and Brailsford were at Wembley watching Skinner’s team thrash Tottenham Hotspur en route to their first major triumph.

At Wembley, Ineos was represented by Roger Bell, chief financial officer, and Tom Crotty, director of corporate relations and communications, who were seated in the Directors’ Box alongside Avram Glazer, executive co-chairman of United.

Before the game, Ratcliffe also wished the players luck, and when questioned about the 71-year-old’s absence after the game, manager Skinner was eager to downplay its importance. To be honest, it simply seems like a pretty happy place to be. The excitement that (Ineos) is generating internally has truly thrilled me,” he remarked.

“It won’t be long before the top winning teams mention us. It’s an exciting time to be a Manchester United supporter, and I know what’s coming. I would think that communications have always been sent through. Both assistance and communication are continuous. Our club was well-represented here, more than enough.

Skinner didn’t seem to be bothered by Ratcliffe’s noticeable absence, but the Ineos CEO’s most recent interview will. After a poor Women’s Super League (WSL) season that saw his team finish in fifth place, the 41-year-old was controversially given a one-year contract extension at the end of the previous season. He will know that the burden is on him to perform well in the upcoming season, at least from the fan base.

The squad has already been greatly impacted by the departure of assistant manager Martin Ho, which has caused major instability behind the scenes at the club for Skinner. Last July, Ho signed a two-year contract with Norwegian team SK Brann. Over the previous two seasons, a number of other important players, such as Luke Wright, a performance analyst, and Ibrahim Kerem, a physiotherapist, have also joined Ten Hag’s team.

Polly Bancroft, the head of women’s football, also departed last summer to assume a new position as chief executive of Grimsby Town, so it’s not surprising that the Reds have looked so unstable on the pitch lately. Despite winning the FA Cup, Ratcliffe is unable or unwilling to provide the thoughtful guidance that this football operation needs at this time.

Given that several first-team players, such as club captain Katie Zelem and custodian Mary Earps, have contracts expiring in less than a week, the petrochemicals billionaire’s apparent lack of interest in the women’s team’s business is shocking.

To be honest, Ratcliffe’s performance in women’s sports is not particularly encouraging. Despite being one of the wealthiest and most successful teams in the history of professional cycling, the Ineos Grenadiers do not currently field a women’s road squad.

Although Ratcliffe bought OCG Nice in 2019, the squad’s women’s team placed fourth in the French second division the previous year. The CEO of Ineos hasn’t done much to date to imply that his goals for United Women are significantly higher.

Not even the language he used in his most recent interview, where he called the men’s team the “first team,” gives me much hope for Skinner’s group.

The meagre 36 seconds that Ratcliffe spent talking about United Women may be the best clue yet as to what his priorities are. Furthermore, it is difficult to see the Reds ever genuinely securing a spot among the top teams in European football if his perspective does not change.

 

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