Manchester United Cleared for Europa League Despite Ownership Overlap with Nice

Manchester United Cleared for Europa League Despite Ownership Overlap with Nice

In a significant decision, UEFA has reportedly allowed Manchester United to compete in the Europa League next season, despite the European governing body’s restrictions on multi-club ownership.

Manchester United and Nice, both owned by Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s company Ineos, have qualified for the competition.

This ruling comes amidst updated UEFA integrity laws aimed at preventing conflicts of interest in European football.

The Integrity Law Challenge

As reported by Mail Sport in March, UEFA’s updated integrity laws state that if two clubs from the same ownership group qualify for the same competition, only one can enter.

Typically, this would be the team that finished higher in their respective league. In this case, Nice placed 5th in Ligue 1, while Manchester United finished 8th in the Premier League but secured their Europa League spot by winning the FA Cup.

Exception to the Rule

According to The Times, UEFA has granted Manchester United permission to participate in the Europa League alongside Nice next season, subject to specific conditions. This arrangement is expected to be a one-off.

To comply with UEFA regulations, Nice will be operated via a ‘blind trust’ managed by a panel approved by UEFA.

This model has precedent; a similar arrangement was used in a deal involving AC Milan, Toulouse, and their American investor, Red Bird Capital.

Transitional Arrangements for 2024-25

UEFA has indicated that the 2024-25 season will be viewed as a transitional period for multi-club ownership issues.

There will be less leeway in future seasons, suggesting stricter enforcement of the rules moving forward.

A document seen by The Times states that the blind trust is a ‘temporary alternative granted on an exceptional basis’ and implies potential changes to multi-club ownership rules in the future.

Impact on Other Clubs

The ruling also affects other clubs under similar ownership structures. Both Manchester City and Girona, owned by City Football Group, will be allowed to compete in the Champions League.

Girona, which finished third in LaLiga, might have been relegated to the Europa League if UEFA had strictly enforced their initial stance.

Like Nice, Girona will also need to operate via a blind trust.

Background on Ineos and Ownership Stakes

Ineos, which acquired Nice in 2019, purchased a 27.7% stake in Manchester United earlier this season. An additional £245 million investment in United is expected to increase Ineos’ stake above the 30% threshold under UEFA rules.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s ownership extends to Swiss Super League side Lausanne, though they have not qualified for European competition this season.

Ineos’ Response

In response to the ruling, Ineos issued a statement acknowledging the situation of both clubs and their direct dialogue with UEFA.

“We are aware of the position of both clubs and are in direct dialogue with UEFA. We are confident we have a route forward for next season in Europe,” the statement read.

Future Implications

This decision by UEFA sets a precedent for how multi-club ownership issues might be handled in the future. While the temporary solution of a blind trust provides a path forward for the upcoming season, it underscores the need for clear and consistent regulations.

Clubs and their investors will be watching closely to see how these rules evolve and how they will impact the competitive landscape of European football.

Conclusion

The UEFA ruling allowing Manchester United and Nice to participate in the Europa League under a special dispensation reflects the complexities of modern football ownership.

As the sport continues to globalize and ownership structures become more intricate, governing bodies like UEFA face increasing pressure to ensure fairness and integrity in competitions.

This ruling offers a temporary solution but signals potential stricter regulations in the future, shaping the strategic decisions of football clubs and their owners.