What can Manchester United learn about INEOS from the rest of their sports empire?

Matt Slater, Luke Smith and more

With investments in Formula 1, sailing, cycling, rugby union, football and “challenges”, INEOS has come a long way in 30 years, when owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe took out a mortgage on his home to buy a BP chemicals company.

It already counts Nice in France Ligue 1, Lausanne in Switzerland and Ivory Coast side Racing Club Abidjan in its broad stable of sporting interests, and is set to add a 25 per cent stake in Premier League club Manchester United.

So what clues do INEOS’ record in other sports give us about what we might expect from Sir Jim Ratcliffe and co at Old Trafford?

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Cycling

How is INEOS involved?

Unlike many of the other businesses Sir Jim Ratcliffe has bought over the last 30 years, Team Sky were not failing, unfashionable or under-resourced when he purchased them in 2019.

The previous year had seen Geraint Thomas win their sixth Tour de France in seven years, with plenty of other victories in big races, too, and their riders and staff were the envy of the sport. They had a big budget and were popular (with the British public, at least). But Sky, the team’s owner and lead sponsor since its launch in 2010, wanted out, which led team boss Sir Dave Brailsford to Ratcliffe’s door.

Having spent most of his career carefully avoiding media scrutiny, Ratcliffe had just started to pop his head above the mainstream parapet.

Why? Well, it depends on who/what you want to believe. Some will suggest that a company built on fossil fuels might want us to focus on bikes instead. Others will note that Ratcliffe and his partners at INEOS are all sports nuts and ageing billionaires need something to spend their money on.

Why Sky had decided its race was run was never made clear but the fact its cycling division had been riding under several doping-related clouds for a while may have played a part, and it certainly crossed Ratcliffe’s mind, too.

But Brailsford and his lieutenants have always denied every claim of wrongdoing, and, in truth, none of the most serious stuff has ever really stuck. That was good enough for Ratcliffe, whose agreement to take over from Sky was sealed during a friendly ride with his sons, Brailsford and Thomas in the mountains above Monaco.


Sir Dave Brailsford had success with Team Sky but has found it harder recently (Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

What has INEOS done?

For the first year as the rebranded Team INEOS, the good times continued to roll. They won a seventh Tour de France title in eight years, as Colombia’s Egan Bernal became the first South American to win cycling’s biggest race, with Thomas second in the general classification.

The next two seasons were OK, too, but back-to-back victories in cycling’s second-biggest race, the Giro d’Italia, felt a bit like consolation prizes, although the Covid-19 pandemic meant the drop-off went slightly under the radar.

Looking back now, the evidence that cycling was in transition was abundant. First, a month after INEOS bought the team, Chris Froome crashed in a training ride and was ruled out for the season. He returned in 2020 but left the team at the end of that season and, at 38, has not challenged since.

Tadej Pogacar, of UAE Team Emirates, duly broke the British team’s grip on the yellow jersey with back-to-back wins at the Tour in 2020 and 2021. A year and a half younger than Bernal, the Slovenian looked hungrier, faster and stronger, too. For the first time in a long time, INEOS did not have the best rider in the peloton.

It then became obvious they did not have the second, third or fourth best, either, as Primoz Roglic, Jonas Vingegaard and Remco Evenepoel arrived on the scene. Missing one or two of these generational talents was excusable. But all of them?

How has it gone?

There are three Grand Tours on the cycling calendar, the Giro, the Tour and Spain’s Vuelta, and there have been eight of those races since INEOS Grenadiers, as the team have been known since 2020, won their last — Bernal at the 2021 Giro.

Crashes have played a significant part in the team’s decline. Froome’s was the first but Bernal endured a career-changing collision when he hit a bus on a training ride in Colombia in January 2022. He is riding again but was miles off the pace last season.

Thomas is still holding his own at 37 years old but an early crash ruined his chances at the Tour in July. Tao Geoghegan Hart once looked like he might be the team’s next British Tour de France winner but illness and crashes stymied the 28-year-old’s progress. In August, he signed a three-year contract to join U.S. outfit Lidl-Trek.


Geraint Thomas has been one of the faces of the INEOS cycling team (Philippe Lopez/AFP via Getty Images)

He is not alone. Geoghegan Hart is one of half a dozen Grenadiers who will be in new jerseys next season, as the team goes through its biggest rebuild for a decade. Half the coaching staff is moving on, too, with the most significant departure being Brailsford’s long-serving deputy Rod Ellingworth.

Did Ellingworth jump or was he pushed? Nobody really knows and the team still has not officially acknowledged that he has left. This is a team, by the way, that Ellingworth has effectively run for two years while Brailsford has taken a crash course in football at Nice. Thomas described the news as “surprising” and “gutting”.

The team still has several talents whose best years should be ahead of them — including Britain’s Tom Pidcock, 24, and Spain’s Carlos Rodriguez, 22 — and a few more ‘next big things’ will join next season. But few are predicting a serious challenge at the Tour next summer, which is not a great return for a team with a budget of more than £45million ($57m). 5/10

Matt Slater

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Formula One

How is INEOS involved?

INEOS joined Mercedes as one of its biggest sponsors before the 2020 season, signing a five-year agreement. At the end of that year, INEOS purchased a 33 per cent stake in the F1 team, making it equal partners alongside Mercedes-Benz AG and Toto Wolff, the CEO and team principal. INEOS is represented on the board of the Mercedes team by Jonny Ginns, its general counsel, and Andrew Currie, one of its co-owners.

What has INEOS done?

Ratcliffe has been a regular attendee at F1 races since becoming a shareholder in Mercedes, serving as a “good sounding board and sparring partner” as part of the senior management group, according to Wolff.

The Austrian said in October that INEOS was a “no bull**** organisation” that reflected his own approach and that of Mercedes CEO Ola Kallenius.

“Decisions are being made quickly, three bullet points on a page and here we go,” Wolff said. “With Jim, all the bull**** is cut out, so wherever he gets his power and his resource and character behind it, that’s going to be an add-on for any team.”

Alongside its F1 team, Mercedes operates an ‘Applied Science’ division that has been working on projects with INEOS since the summer of 2019. It has led to Mercedes’ F1 know-how and tools being used to support INEOS projects such as the America’s Cup team, which benefited from input from around 30 Mercedes engineers, as well as using the manufacturing and simulation tools from the F1 team.

How has it gone?

In the first full year of INEOS having a share in the team, in 2021, Mercedes won its eighth consecutive F1 constructors’ championship, while Lewis Hamilton narrowly missed out on the drivers’ title to Max Verstappen.


Jim Ratcliffe’s first season with INEOS being a shareholder in Mercedes included a win in the Spain GP (Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Seasons two and three were more difficult. Mercedes struggled under F1’s new technical regulations introduced for 2022, limiting it to a single victory last year and none through 2023 as Verstappen and Red Bull reached new levels of dominance. But the team has still finished in the top three of the championship in each year that INEOS has been involved.

But the investment has already proven very lucrative for INEOS. Since the relationship started with Mercedes, F1 has enjoyed a commercial boom and is reaching record levels of revenue as a sport, causing team valuations to rocket. Recent investments in the Alpine and Aston Martin teams, neither as large nor as competitive as Mercedes, have valued them at more than £700million ($888.4m).

In Mercedes’ accounts for 2022, the team reported a 24 per cent rise in revenue to £475m and profits of £113m, with £75m paid out in dividends between the three main stakeholders. 8/10

Luke Smith

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‘Challenger’ events

How is INEOS involved?

“We make six or seven billion dollars a year in profit so what’s wrong with investing a bit of that in sport?” said Ratcliffe when INEOS launched The 1:59 Challenge, Eliud Kipchoge’s attempt to break the two-hour barrier in the marathon, in 2019. “On some good challenges, good people, try to inspire people? It’s good fun.”

It’s an interesting definition of ‘fun’, equipping the world’s fastest long-distance runner with everything he needs — the perfect course, preparation, nutrition, pacing, conditions and co-runners (and some very springy running shoes) — to try to cover 26.2miles in less than two hours. But that’s what INEOS did, setting up and financing a team led by Brailsford to push Kipchoge where no man had gone before.

​​What has INEOS done?

On October 12, 2019, in Vienna, Austria, Kipchoge became the first person to run a sub-two-hour marathon, finishing in 1hr 59mins 40.2secs. The Kenyan had missed out by 26 seconds with his ‘Breaking Two’ bid — backed by Nike — at Italy’s Monza racetrack in 2017, but then came INEOS to turn the “challenge” into a science experiment.


Eliud Kipchoge with cyclist Chris Froome after his record-breaking marathon (Herbert Neubauer/APA/AFP via Getty Images)

Alongside what Ratcliffe called Kipchoge’s “superhuman” talent, the formation of his 41 pacemakers — led by an electric car fitted with lasers to help the runners hold their shape — was key in the successful attempt. Brailsford’s team worked with a UK company that specialises in aerodynamic research, ran hundreds of tests, and spoke to experts in track and field and cycling before deciding upon the inverse-V formation used to protect Kipchoge. After that, the practising began.

How has it gone?

Well, INEOS did what it set out to achieve, put its name in front of a whole new audience, and even made a film – Kipchoge: The Last Milestone, produced by the Ridley Scott Commercial Group, no less — out of it.

Running a marathon in less than two hours is barely comprehensible but, according to the record books, Kipchoge’s run never happened — 1.59 is not an official world best because it did not happen in an official race and pacemakers rotated in and out.

Given the (unspecified) millions of pounds that made the 1.59 happen, whether it is inspirational, impressive or just “good fun” is up for debate. 9/10

Laura Williamson


Sailing

How is INEOS involved?

By most estimates, the America’s Cup is the oldest international sports competition still running and British sport’s longest-running embarrassment, given they have been trying to reclaim the ‘Auld Mug’ since 1851. And that is, clearly, the type of challenge that appeals to Sir Jim Ratcliffe.

A keen sailor and owner of expensive yachts, he was introduced to Sir Ben Ainslie at a club in Mayfair in 2017. Ainslie had grown bored of winning gold medals at Olympic sailing regattas in 2012 and had spent the previous five years trying to solve British sailing’s America’s Cup problem with the help of a group of wealthy Brits and F1 engineer Adrian Newey.

Despite some encouraging early results, those efforts ended in disappointment in the semi-final stage of the qualifying tournament for the 35th America’s Cup in 2017. The following April, at a pub in east London, it was announced INEOS had effectively bought Ainslie’s team, replacing all of its various backers, and committing £110million to winning the America’s Cup in 2021.

What has INEOS done?

Lots. The most obvious change was the easiest: the name. Land Rover BAR (for Ben Ainslie Racing) became Team INEOS UK and they launched their first boat in October 2019, named “Britannia” and designed and built at the team’s base in Portsmouth.

Team INEOS UK’s best-laid plans were disrupted by Covid-19 and since then, there has been the launch of a second boat, Britannia II, plus significant tweaks, rebuilds, testing and practice.

And, by this point, the team were also receiving support from another part of the INEOS empire, the speed freaks at the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team.


Ben Ainslie and INEOS Team UK lost the 2021 Prada Cup for the right to challenge for the America’s Cup (Gilles Martin-Raget/AFP via Getty Images)

How has it gone?

Not bad… but not great, either.

In December 2020, the team moved to Auckland, the venue for the 36th America’s Cup, to prepare for the challenger series that would decide who would got the chance to take on Emirates Team New Zealand.

There, they were best by structural problems but — and this should not be underestimated — they managed to fix these issues by the time the challenger series started in February 2021.

The opening round went phenomenally well, with INEOS Team UK winning six out of six races. This qualified the team for a head-to-head final with the Italian team, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, but they were soundly beaten over eight races in four days. Ainslie and Ratcliffe were sent back to the drawing board.

Since then, they have kept the band together, got even closer to Mercedes’s F1 team and taken a different approach to the two preliminary regattas that have taken place this autumn, the most recent finishing on Sunday in Jeddah, with INEOS Britannia, as the team is now known, finishing fourth out of six.

The teams are racing in 40ft versions of the 75ft monohulls they will be using when the real thing starts in Barcelona in October. Unlike most of their rivals, the British team has built a new boat from scratch that is more of a moving experiment/data-collector than genuine challenger. This has meant they have barely practised on the 40ft yachts they had to use in these preliminary races.

The theory is they are learning how to race a shorter version of the boat they will actually use in the main event, identifying issues in real-time conditions.

Will it work? Well, when you have been failing to achieve something for 163 years, it is probably worth trying something different. 6/10

Matt Slater


Rugby union

How is INEOS involved?

New Zealand had been looking for private equity investment in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and, beginning in 2021, INEOS signed a six-year contract to become performance partners with New Zealand’s international teams, including the All Blacks and Women’s Rugby World Cup-winning Black Ferns.

They both sponsor and work with the All Blacks, Black Ferns, All Blacks Sevens, Black Ferns Sevens, Maori All Blacks, All Blacks XV and All Blacks Under-20.

What has INEOS done?

INEOS is not directly involved in the running of New Zealand’s rugby teams — that is still the domain of New Zealand Rugby (NZRU), which is responsible for tasks such as appointing coaches.

Instead, this relationship is predominantly about commercial sponsorship, though sharing expertise on elite performance with other INEOS investments does take place.

How has it gone?

On the pitch, the All Blacks entered this autumn’s Rugby World Cup as one of four favourites (alongside France, Ireland, and eventual winners South Africa), and lost the final by a single point despite being reduced to 14 men in the first half.

That said, New Zealand had struggled for form over the previous year, leading to head coach Ian Foster announcing he would stand down before the tournament began.

In the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup (held in autumn 2022), the Black Ferns beat England to win the tournament, despite being heavy underdogs.

INEOS’ role was ancillary to those teams’ sporting success — but in 2022, New Zealand Rugby announced record income despite its struggles during the pandemic. 7/10

Jacob Whitehead


Football

How is INEOS involved?

INEOS is involved in three football clubs. It first added Lausanne-Sport, a Swiss top-flight side based near Lake Geneva, to its portfolio in 2017. It then developed a multi-club framework by taking over Ligue 1 side Nice in 2019, while also taking on a partnership with Racing Club Abidjan, in the Ivory Coast, with the aim of sharing knowledge and providing a pathway for players into Europe.

What has INEOS done?

INEOS formed a multi-club network, with Nice at the top. Initially, its portfolio was overseen by Jim Ratcliffe’s younger brother Bob, but he departed and new chief executives were appointed at Nice and Lausanne following an audit by Brailsford in 2022.

This followed problems at all their clubs, with Lausanne suffering two relegations and Nice achieving league finishes of either ninth or fifth. At Lausanne, an attempt to change the badge and kit sparked a fan backlash before it was reversed.


Nice president Jean-Pierre Rivere with Jim Ratcliffe and his brother, Bob Ratcliffe, former CEO of INEOS Football (Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)

INEOS has invested heavily in its clubs. At Lausanne, it completed a pre-planned project to construct a new 12,000 seater stadium, which opened in 2020, while also investing a further 50million Swiss francs (£44.9m; $54.3m) over the past five years.

Nice have seen similar infrastructure investment, improving the club’s training ground, as well as pouring large sums into the first-team setup. Last season alone, the club committed to spend more than €100million (£88m; $110m) on players.

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How has it gone?

Not according to plan. When INEOS took over Lausanne and Nice, they spoke of European qualification for the former and the Champions League for the latter. Instead, Lausanne have dropped into the second tier twice while Nice have gone through more permanent head coaches than top-five finishes.

But Brailsford’s audit has been followed by reputable appointments. Florent Ghisolfi, who helped elevate Lens from the second tier to the Champions League through smart recruitment, arrived as sporting director last October, joined by ex-Lens staffer Laurent Bessiere, now Nice’s performance director. They also appointed CEO Fabrice Bocquet, the 39-year-old former Lorient chief executive, and appear to have struck gold with 34-year-old coach Francesco Farioli, who has guided Nice into the Champions League places this season.

Lausanne were promoted back to the top flight last season and are mid-table in the Swiss Super League under manager Ludovic Magnin. RC Abidjan, meanwhile, have sent talent to Europe without catching the eye. They won the title in 2020, but finished sixth last year and ninth the year before. 6/10

Peter Rutzler

(Top photos: Ineos’ cycling and sailing teams, and Mercedes F1’s Lewis Hamilton; all Getty Images)





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