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Sir Jim Ratcliffe's task laid bare by £1.2 billion Manchester United squad – the most expensive ever

Sir Jim Ratcliffe of INEOS watches from the directors box ahead of the Premier League match between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford on January 14, 2024 in Manchester, England

Manchester United’s squad by the end of last season was football’s most expensive ever, according to new data illustrating the task facing Sir Jim Ratcliffe.

Uefa records show £1.21 billion was spent on transfer fees for players still at Old Trafford in May, eclipsing the £1.14 billion recorded in 2020 for Real Madrid.

Eye-watering numbers lay bare recent under-achievement which Ratcliffe must tackle after being granted final approval from authorities on Wednesday to complete his 25 per cent purchase.

The Football Association provided final ratification to ensure Ratcliffe can be handed the keys in the days after the deadline of his tender offer expires on Friday.

Improving player recruitment strategies will be a major priority, with Telegraph Sport detailing on Tuesday how United are readying an approach for Newcastle’s Dan Ashworth as director of sport. United’s squad at the end of 2022-23 included £82 million Antony, £80 million Harry Maguire, £73 million Jadon Sancho and the £60 million Brazil midfielder Casemiro. Summer recruits such as Mason Mount, Andre Onana and Rasmus Hojlund are not counted within the Uefa figures.

The Uefa report shows England’s top tier now towers over European rivals on every financial metric.  Alongside United, three other clubs’ squads – Manchester City, Chelsea and Real Madrid – cost more than one billion euros in transfer fees in their most recently disclosed financial year-end figures. Chelsea’s most recent figures go up to the year end June 30, 2022, and therefore do not include their heavy spending in the summer of that year or the January 2023 window.

“The current Manchester teams are two of the three most expensive squads of all time,” the Uefa report says. “Manchester United FC’s squad at the end of the club’s 2023 financial year (i.e. before the summer 2023 transfer window) is officially the most expensive ever assembled, with a combined transfer cost of €1,422 million.”

Details in Uefa’s European Club Finance and Investment Landscape also explore the growing trend of multi-club ownership, a model which United will join as of next week.

By the summer, a total of 105 top-division European clubs (13 per cent of the total number) had a cross-investment relationship with one or more other clubs, the report shows. United will become one of 15 English top-flight clubs recognised as being part of a multi-club investment group. Ineos also holds majority stakes in French side Nice and Swiss club Lausanne. There were also 31 purchases of majority stakes and seven purchases of minority stakes in 2023 by groups holding a stake in at least one other European club, according to the report.

Last week the Premier League recently won a vote to toughen its “associated-party” financial rules to ensure fair market value on sponsors and transfers.

Reflecting on the report, Andrea Traverso, Uefa’s director of financial sustainability and research, said: “More than 300 clubs are part of multi-club investment groups, leading to an increased risk of seeing two clubs with the same owner or investor facing each other in the same competition, creating potential integrity risks at the European level.

“The current context demands strict enforcement of cost control regulations and more harmonisation of financial rules between leagues. This is paramount to limit overspending, ‘creative finance’, and rules circumvention.

“As long as differences on key regulatory matters continue between leagues, inflationary tensions will persist, contributing to imbalances and instability.”

Elsewhere, the report found spending on player wages dropped by 1.1 per cent among the clubs with the 20 largest player wage bills, with United spending €88 million euros (£75 million) less on player wages in 2023 compared to the year before. Barcelona and City had large increases in player wages spending – €158 million and €68 million (£134.8 million and £58 million) respectively.

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