By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Amidst the euphoria of Manchester United’s stunning 3-2 comeback victory over Aston Villa on Tuesday, one figure sat calmly in the Old Trafford stands processing what had just occurred.
A sizeable majority of supporters in the stadium might not even have recognised Dave Brailsford. But over the coming months he is likely to become a familiar figure.
While INEOS founder Jim Ratcliffe’s 25% acquisition of the 20-times English champions will not be officially signed off until early 2024 — former kingpin of British cycling Brailsford will be scheming about what needs to change at a club that has been in steady decline since Alex Ferguson retired.
Fans might well ask why Brailsford, the brains behind Britain becoming a cycling powerhouse and who made INEOS Grenadiers (formerly Team Sky) multiple Grand Tour champions, would be entrusted with one of the biggest challenges in soccer.
After all, the 59-year-old, who Ratcliffe made INEOS’s Director of Sport, has no obvious background in the sport.
Brailsford’s “marginal gains” manta turned British cyclists into winning machines and while he took on a technical role with INEOS-owned French Ligue 1 club Nice in a bid to take on the Paris St Germain, the jury is still out on his impact.
United fan Ratcliffe, whose 25% purchase plus investment of $300 million will give him control of football operations, has been tight-lipped about who will do what in the new regime.
But he has huge trust in Brailsford’s attention to detail and scientific approach and will no doubt allow him the freedom he needs to re-establish a winning culture at the club.
Newcastle United’s highly-regarded sporting director Dan Ashworth is in no doubt about Brailsford’s credentials.
“I’ve known Sir Dave for a number of years, working across various different sports and he is without doubt the best in world sport at creating high-performance culture and turning that into winning,” Ashworth said after inviting him to speak to his Newcastle squad last season.
Brailsford joined British Cycling in 1998 and became Performance Director in 2003. A year later, at the Athens Olympics, two gold medals were delivered.
But that was just a taste of things to come.
In 2008 and 2012, Britain topped the Olympic cycling medals tables with eight golds and Brailsford was instrumental in providing the environment for the likes of Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins and Victoria Pendleton to dominate on the track.
When Brailsford headed up the newly-formed Team Sky professional road cycling tam in 2009 and vowed a Briton would win the Tour de France for the first time, many scoffed.
But Wiggins won the sport’s most prestigious race in 2012 before Chris Froome followed with four triumphs in the next five years as Team Sky became almost unbeatable.
In all, Brailsford masterminded 12 Grand Tour wins for the team, although their domination has waned in recent years.
The question now is whether Brailsford can have a similar impact at United whose last Premier League title was in 2013.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)