Soccer-Ratcliffe's investment signals fresh start in Man Utd's recovery plan

By Lori EwingMANCHESTER, England, Dec 24 (Reuters) - Jim Ratcliffe becoming a minority shareholder in Manchester United finally ended the drawn-out ownership saga and while the deal will not give supporters their desired clean break from the unpopular Glazer family, it signals a fresh start for the club.The deal is far from the multi-billion dollar takeover initially expected but supporters will welcome his input as they look forward to their club regaining their position at the peak of English and European football.The British billionaire and owner of petrochemicals giant INEOS bought a 25% stake for $33 per share, United said on Sunday, following a bidding process that lasted more than 12 months.The 71-year-old is also investing $300 million intended to upgrade the club's ageing infrastructure that invariably has visiting fans, often soaked by water pouring through the holes in the roof, chanting "Old Trafford is falling down".Ratcliffe's investment means he has been given the responsibility of running the sporting side of the business, which is welcome news for a club that stumbled to their worst start to a season since 1962 and have not won a league title since Alex Ferguson retired as manager in 2013.The Glazers will remain in control, but how the dynamic between them and Ratcliffe will unfold is one of the great unanswered questions of the new arrangement.Ratcliffe grew up in a council house in the Manchester area, where his fascination with industry reportedly grew from the factory smoke stacks he could see from his bedroom window.RICHEST BUSINESSMENAfter studying chemical engineering at Birmingham University he did an MBA at London Business School and went on to become one of Britain's richest businessmen, founding INEOS in 1998.He is the chemical company's chairman and chief executive officer with a two-thirds stake, and Forbes pegs his net worth at about $19 billion.Ratcliffe is well versed in sports ownership as INEOS owns French Ligue 1 club Nice, Swiss Super League side FC Lausanne-Sport, and works with Racing Club Abidjan in the Ivory Coast.Story continuesHis attempt to buy Chelsea, when former owner Roman Abramovich's assets were frozen following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, failed to work out.He is also in control of the INEOS Grenadiers cycling team, who as Team Sky were one of the world's most successful teams.He is also a one-third shareholder of Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One team and competes with sailing crew INEOS Britannia in the America's Cup.United's American owners the Glazers had announced about a year ago that they would seek outside investment, to the delight of supporters. Fans have been crying out for new owners for years as they blamed the Glazers for burdening the club with debt and their chants of "Glazers out" can be regularly heard at games.Qatar's Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al Thani was also looking to buy the club but dropped out of the process, saying he would not be raising his $6 billion offer.Adding to the misery is United's decline on the pitch since Ferguson's retirement. United appeared to be turning the tide after Erik Ten Hag guided them to their first trophy in six years when they captured the League Cup last season.They went on to finish third in the Premier League, 14 points behind champions and cross-town rivals Manchester City, who have not only taken United's role as the country's most successful club, but also leap-frogged them in terms of spending power.This season they got off to an abysmal start losing five of their first 10 league games, and have already been eliminated from the League Cup and Champions League, leaving Ten Hag looking vulnerable 16 months into the job.But for a club that claims more than 650 million global fans and own a record 20 top flight English titles, Ratcliffe's arrival will at least give fans some hope that 2024 could see the start of the long-awaited turnaround. (Reporting by Lori Ewing, editing by Pritha Sarkar)