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The North Walian With The Biggest Task In Football . . . Making Manchester United Great Again


By Martyn Herman

Amidst all the euphoria of Manchester United’s stunning 3-2 comeback victory over Aston Villa on Tuesday, one Welshman 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 grew up in Deiniolen, near Caernarfon – and who Ratcliffe made INEOS’s Director of Sport, has no obvious background in the sport.

Brailsford’s “marginal gains” manta turned British cyclists – including Welsh superstar Geraint Thomas – into winning machines and while Brailsford took on a technical role with INEOS-owned French Ligue 1 club Nice in a bid to take on Paris St Germain, the jury is still out on his impact.

United fan Ratcliffe, whose 25% purchase plus investment of £236 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 team 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 – with Thomas as one of their key riders – 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.

Until that question starts to find an answer, all Manchester United fans have to guide them is the statement from Ratcliffe in a letter sent to he Manchester United Supporters’ Trust, the Fans’ Advisory Board (FAB) and the Fans’ Forum, received from the Mancunian on Boxing Day.

It said: “I wanted to write to you at this time given the critical role of the fans to the future of Manchester United as we recognise our responsibility as custodians of the Club on your behalf.

“I believe we can bring sporting success on the pitch to complement the undoubted commercial success that the club has enjoyed. It will require time and patience alongside rigour and the highest level of professional management.

“You are ambitious for Manchester United and so are we. There are no guarantees in sport, and change can inevitably take time but we are in it for the long term and together we want to help take Manchester United back to where the club belongs, at the very top of English, European and World Football. I take that responsibility very seriously.

“Please note that, as with any deal, it is subject to the usual regulatory sign-off process and therefore we do not expect to speak publicly about Club matters until after the deal has completed.”


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