Who is Sir David Brailsford and what will he bring to Man Utd?

Upon Premier League regulatory approval, Sir Jim Ratcliffe and INEOS’ 25% purchase of Manchester United will be complete.

This comes over 13 months on from the Glazer family’s initial announcement they would be ‘exploring strategic alternatives’ for the club via a full sale or partial investment.

Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013 and the departure of chief executive David Gill as well, United as a club has regressed on the pitch beyond anyone’s expectations and off the pitch to an even greater extent.

A club’s structure can often be overlooked when attempting to understand the problems a football club are having on the pitch, as the initial blame goes directly on the manager and the players.

However, at United, in the last decade, the club has created a philosophy of failure through poor appointments ranging from the manager, to the sporting directors.

This failure has stemmed from the Glazer’s unwillingness to incorporate an efficient footballing structure, rather focusing on the commercial value of the club and determining success by how much revenue and dividends the club is producing.

Crucially, with the expected completion of this 25% deal, INEOS will have complete control of the footballing operations at the club.

With boyhood United fan Ratcliffe at the helm of this huge rebuild, it’s expected that INEOS will install an elite footballing department back into the club for the first time since 2013.

A huge part of these new changes will be the introduction of Sir David Brailsford.

Who is Sir David Brailsford

Brailsford is renowned for being the man who revolutionised British Cycling.

In 2003, Brailsford became performance director at British Cycling.

At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Team GB (Great Britain) won two cycling gold medals, their best result since 1908.

In 2008 and 2012, team GB won eight gold medals at both Olympics.

Such quick and huge improvements are a testament to the work Brailsford put into British Cycling.

In 2010, Brailsford became the manager of the new cycling team, Team Sky.

He left British Cycling to focus on Team Sky in 2014.

Since then, Team Sky won the 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 Tour De France overall yellow jerseys.

He turned the most competitive cycling competition into a landslide domination for the British team.

After INEOS’s purchase of Team Sky in 2019, Brailsford continued as manager until 2021 when he was appointed as a director of sport at INEOS.

In this role Brailsford has worked on the various sporting teams INEOS own including French football side Nice.

The integral element to Brailsford success at British cycling and Team Sky was his indoctrination of the ‘marginal gains’ concept.

What is the marginal gains concept

This is based around the idea of improving everything by 1% at a time to ultimately create huge improvements.

When speaking to the BBC, Brailsford said: “The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.”

This detailed approach goes as far as bringing the same pillow with you when going away and washing your hands differently to really get rid of the bits between your fingers.

All this can sound quite unusual, but this concept is built on gradual progress and has worked exceptionally where it’s been used.

How this will affect Manchester United

With United’s ‘toxic’ atmosphere and unstructured hierarchy in the previous decade, Brailsford’s marginal gains system could be hugely transformative.

Moving away from United’s outdated and inefficient football department, his regime would be rigorous and ensure performance is at the highest level when running the club.

Brailsford is aiming to bring in a technical director and likely a sporting director with Paul Mitchell and Dan Ashworth being linked to these jobs.

Mitchell and Ashworth have an abundance of experience and knowledge which completely contrasts the previous directors at the club.

However, luring Ashworth away from Newcastle could be a difficult task, but INEOS are committed to putting the best people in the right positions and thus if Ashworth is seen to be this, INEOS will likely commit the finance to ensure his transfer.

How have INEOS and Brailsford done at Nice

Despite Brailsford’s success in cycling, a major element of concern for United fans will be his footballing knowledge and his current struggles with French football club Nice.

Since purchasing the club in 2019, Nice have failed to finish any higher than fifth in Ligue I and have had major behind the scenes issues with directors.

Brailsford completed an inspection of the club which resulted in the departure of the CEO Bob Ratcliffe and highly regarded transfer specialist Julien Fournier.

Reports then came out about Christophe Galtier, the manager of Nice at the time, losing faith in INEOS’ leadership before leaving for PSG soon after.

Since then, former Crystal Palace and Cardiff City director Ian Moody has been hired to replace Fournier’s expertise.

However, Moody went for a Premier League approach signing Aaron Ramsey, Nicolas Pepe, Kasper Schmeichel and others.

Such a strategy strays away from the previously successful model of signing cheap young talent.

These Premier League signings haven’t excelled the way Moody or INEOS would have wanted.

However, in the 2023/24 campaign, after 17 games, Nice sit second in Ligue I, five points behind leaders PSG.

If the French side could continue such form, this would be a huge progression in INEOS’ ownership of Nice and potentially a suggestion of a brighter future under Ratcliffe.

Another element of concern regarding Brailsford is his footballing knowledge.

Cycling is his specialist area but there could be doubts as to whether Brailsford has the knowledge about football to be an effective influence on the club.

Fans don’t want a repeat of Ed Woodward’s influence as a banker rather than a footballing man.

However, with Brailsford’s experience and clear pedigree, his sporting knowledge as a whole could give United a different perspective from the typical footballing ideologies previously installed at the club and provide an added element of quality that you couldn’t get anywhere else.

Only time will tell whether Brailsford has a positive impact, but if the 59-year-old can influence United and create the relentless winning culture he installed in British Cycling and Team Sky, then United fans have a lot to look forward to.