Manchester United could be blocked from a spot in the Champions League next season even if they finish in the top four. Here’s why.
On Christmas Eve, United confirmed that INEOS petrochemicals tycoon Sir Jim Ratcliffe has purchased 25 per cent of the club and will take control of footballing affairs once Premier League approval is granted.
The announcement has come some 13 months after a potential takeover at United was first floated.
Ratcliffe told the United website: “Upon completing his purchase Ratcliffe told the United website: "As a local boy and a lifelong supporter of the Club, I am very pleased that we have been able to agree a deal with the Manchester United Board that delegates us management responsibility of the football operations of the Club.
"Whilst the commercial success of the Club has ensured there have always been available funds to win trophies at the highest level, this potential has not been fully unlocked in recent times.”
Ratcliffe will inject $300million (£236million) into the club for investment in its infrastructure.
But the six-to-eight-week period it takes for the Premier League to sign off on Ratcliffe’s purchase means he will likely not have influence at United until the close of next month's transfer window.
United are currently enduring a dismal season, having finished bottom of their Champions League group and won just one of their last five Premier League games. In turn, Erik ten Hag’s side are languishing eighth in the Premier League, some eight points adrift of the top four.
In the unlikely event that United were to enjoy a drastic revival and make a top four finish, however, there is a chance they would be blocked from playing in the competition.
This is because of Ratcliffe’s ownership of French side Nice.
Ahead of next season’s expanded Champions League, French top-flight teams are set to be awarded three automatic spots and one play-off place with Premier League sides getting four direct berths.
However, UEFA’s “multi-club ownership” rules dictate that the only way United and Nice can both play in Europe in the next campaign is if one seals an automatic Champions League spot and the other qualifies directly for the Conference League.
If both finish in the Champions League spots in their respective leagues, the team that finishes higher of the two gets the place with the other banned from European competition.
Nice are currently five points behind Paris Saint-Germain in second place in Ligue 1 and well on course to qualify for next season’s competition.
This may not always be a problem for United, with the Athletic reporting that Ratcliffe will be looking to sell the Ligue 1 side eventually, with a figure in the region of £80million mooted. However, that is said to depend on whether INEOS increases its share in United.