A source told Sky Sports News that Ratcliffe, who owns cycling team Ineos Grenadiers, is serious about purchasing United, and ex-players would be involved along with Grenadiers general manager Sir Dave Brailsford, a former performance director at British Cycling.
The 69-year-old billionaire is the chairman and chief executive of chemical company Ineos and also owns French Ligue 1 football team Nice, which he took over in 2019, and Swiss side FC Lausanne-Sport.
The British billionaire, who has a net worth of $7.18bn (£5.96bn), according to Bloomberg, was unsuccessful in his last-minute £4.25bn bid to buy Chelsea in May, as American businessman Todd Boehly successfully acquired the club, and Ratcliffe has now turned his attention to the Red Devils.
His interest comes after a Bloomberg report said that the Glazer family, who have owned United since 2005, are considering selling a minority stake in the club.
Preliminary discussions have been held about bringing in a new investor, according to the broadcaster, which ranks Ratcliffe as the sixth-richest person in the UK.
A spokesperson for Ineos said the company would be interested in purchasing a smaller stake with a view to eventually buying the club.
"If something like this was possible, we would be interested in talking with a view to long-term ownership," an Ineos spokesperson said in The Times.
"This is not about the money that has been spent or not spent. Jim is looking at what can be done now and, knowing how important the club is to the city, it feels like the time is right for a reset."
The Glazer family is not ready to concede the controlling stake and has an expectation of valuing the club at more than double its current market cap of $2.2bn (£1.83bn), another source said.
The Glazers are unpopular with United fans, who are unhappy at the club's ownership model and declining performances on the pitch, having not won a Premier League title in nine years and not landed a trophy in five.
The side is currently bottom of the league with no points after two games, while United's net debt had grown 11% to about £496m by the end of March.
The owners have also been criticised for not improving the Old Trafford stadium, the biggest club ground in the country with a capacity of around 74,000 fans.
Supporters regularly protest against them.
Manchester United did not comment on the story. The club have declined to speak on rumours and speculation.
The news comes on the same day that Tesla founder Elon Musk clarified an earlier tweet which appeared to suggest he was buying the club.
He later wrote: "I'm not buying any sports teams. Although, if it were any team, it would be Man U. They were my fav team as a kid."