Man Utd news: The inside story of how genius Sir Dave Brailsford builds winners

Cameron Smith
Sir Dave Brailsford, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Man Utd
© ProShots

Manchester United are heading into a new era after the acquisition of a 25% stake in the club by Sir Jim Ratcliffe and INEOS, but more importantly Ratcliffe’s team – led by the genius that is Sir Dave Brailsford – will head up all football operations.

Brailsford has already enjoyed significant success in other sports – notably cycling – and we spoke to a former Team Sky insider to get a feel for how he operates, and his likely plan of action at Old Trafford. It’s a story which long-suffering United fans should love…

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A new era of Man Utd is upon us, with Sir Jim Ratcliffe acquiring a 25% minority stake in the club and becoming the head of all football operations.

The Ineos CEO will be in charge of all footballing activity at Old Trafford, including transfer dealings, and he is hoping to bring Paul Mitchell and Dan Ashworth to the club, as exclusively reported by FootballTransfers.

Another figure who will play a prominent role in the new iteration of the Red Devils is Sir Dave Brailsford. The Ineos Director of Sport should play a key part in the revolution, and United fans should only be buoyed by his arrival at the club.

He was knighted back in 2013 for his work as British Cycling’s Performance Director and was arguably the most influential man in the sport throughout the 2010s. Furthermore, it could be argued that his appointment in 2003 was the best decision ever made in British sports history.

Genius Brailsford has the golden touch

Great Britain had just one Olympic cycling gold medal to their name before Brailsford was appointed, and their fate changed following his arrival.

Across the 2008 Beijing Games, the 2012 London Games and the 2016 Rio Games, Great Britain claimed 21 of the 30 Velodrome cycling gold medals on offer.

In addition, no British rider had ever won the Tour de France in the race’s history when Brailsford was tasked with further changing the country’s cycling landscape upon the formation of British outfit Team Sky.

When Team Sky was formed, its stated aim was to have a rider win the Tour de France within five years. It was a goal which was mocked by rivals and pundits alike – but not for long.

Sir Dave Brailsford (left) with Team Sky's Chris Froome (middle) and Richie Porte (right)
© ProShots – Sir Dave Brailsford (left) with Team Sky’s Chris Froome (middle) and Richie Porte (right)

Sir Bradley Wiggins won the 2012 Tour while Chris Froome went on to win the event in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017. It was an era of utter dominance – both Wiggins and Froome rode for Team Sky, and Brailsford was Team Principal.

Geraint Thomas also won the 2018 Tour de France and Colombian rider Egan Bernal became the first non-British Team Sky rider to win the event when he claimed victory in 2019.

Team Sky was bought by Ratcliffe’s Ineos in 2019, and the name changed to Team Ineos and subsequently Ineos Grenadiers.

When Ratcliffe purchased the cycling outfit, Brailsford took a slight step back and his role shifted to become Director of Sport across all Ineos sports operations (including Ligue 1 club OGC Nice).

That decision coincided with the end of Team Sky’s dominance on the World Tour. Bernal’s win at the 2021 Giro d’Italia is the last Grand Tour victory that Ineos have achieved, while their best rider (Carlos Rodriguez) placed fifth at the 2023 Tour de France.

The Brailsford way: How he builds winners

Although the team has taken a step backwards since the name change to Ineos, Team Sky were the best cycling outfit in the 2010s by a country mile.

Team Jumbo-Visma achieved the unthinkable in 2023 by winning all three Grand Tours in a single year, a feat never managed before, but Team Sky’s dominance between 2012 and 2019 was equally impressive, if not more so.

Wiggins got the Tour de France ball rolling with his Yellow Jersey win in 2012, while his Team Sky team-mate Froome finished second.

Every Grand Tour won by Team Sky/Ineos under Sir Dave Brailsford’s management

Year Rider Grand Tour
2011* Chris Froome* Vuelta a Espana*
2012 Sir Bradley Wiggins Tour de France
2013 Chris Froome Tour de France
2015 Chris Froome Tour de France
2016 Chris Froome Tour de France
2017 Chris Froome Tour de France
2017 Chris Froome Vuelta a Espana
2018 Chris Froome Giro d’Italia
2018 Geraint Thomas Tour de France
2019 Egan Bernal Tour de France
2020 Tao Geoghehan Hart Giro d’Italia
2021 Egan Bernal Giro d’Italia

*Froome was handed the 2011 Vuelta a Espana crown in 2020 after original winner Juan José Cobo tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and was stripped of his title.

Froome was seen as the next in line and he did indeed become the best General Classification rider in the sport. The British rider won seven Grand Tours during his time at Team Sky, with Brailsford the Team Principal for all seven.

Like Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona or Real Madrid’s three-peat side under Zinedine Zidane, Team Sky were inevitable and their presence at the front of the Tour de France, cycling’s most famous race, was incredible.

A final group of 10 riders climbing up the hardest mountains in France would often feature five or six Team Sky members and they would drop every other rider one by one before unleashing Froome for one final, killer blow.

Everyone knew it was going to happen, but nobody could stop it.

They were the best in the business and their success stemmed from Brailsford’s attention to detail, revolutionary ideas and determination to succeed.

FootballTransfers spoke to a former Team Sky insider to get a detailed take on how Brailsford operates, and what we received was a picture of a man who builds a strong foundation for success.

“He’s loyal – but ruthless when necessary if individuals don’t buy into the overarching team structure,” the insider told us.

“There was a huge amount of staff movement in the first 12 months at Team Sky, including some significant departures within a few months.

“He thrives in high-pressure or even crisis situations, where many others may crumble.”

Innovation, and the bigger picture

“He’s always looked outside the sport in question for new ideas or improved ways to do things. He brought in a renowned Australian swimming coach to observe Team Sky for a whole year and then started implementing new ideas – such as cool-down protocols after a race or stage. That hadn’t really been done before in cycling but is now standard practice.

“And while he’s famed for the ‘marginal gains’ approach, it’s as much about the bigger picture to benefit performance. Anything from having a chef travel with the team through to taking bedding and pillows for each athlete from hotel to hotel to aid recovery on Grand Tours.”

Sir Dave Brailsford will help oversee football operations at Man Utd
© ProShots – Sir Dave Brailsford will help oversee football operations at Man Utd

In recent years, Man Utd have been criticised heavily for being a club which is apparently rudderless, without real structure and organisation – particularly on the football side. According to our insider, this is where Brailsford really excels.

“He made sure he knew every single member of staff and all the key aspects of their job – whether that was marketing, coaching or whatever,” FootballTransfers was told.

“But there was a clear structure so that his time was divided up as efficiently as possible between the various management groups. And he never wanted people bringing problems to him – instead he’d ask for potential solutions to any issues and would then step in and help if needed.”

The ‘marginal gains’ approach mentioned was something that Brailsford became famous for. Changes such as finding the optimal massage gels for blood circulation, painting the inside of the team bus white to identify dust particles and hiring a specialist to teach riders how to properly wash their hands in order to avoid catching an illness were all implemented.

Brailsford changed British Cycling forever and his work with Team Sky ensured they were the best cycling team in the world during the 2010s.

Cycling, of course, is not the only niche where Brailsford has showcased his attention to detail and organisational brilliance – we also saw some spectacular ‘marginal gains’ when Eliud Kipchoge smashed through that mythical 2-hour mark for the marathon. That lauded ‘INEOS 1:59 Challenge’ was effectively masterminded by the former Team Sky man.

Man Utd, and Ratcliffe, will be hoping that Brailsford’s impact at Old Trafford will be just as revolutionary as they enter a new era which will see the Glazers take a footballing back seat.

For now, Brailsford’s job will be to evaluate areas for improvement and report these to Ratcliffe but in the future, his role will likely be far more important. Fans should absolutely hope it is.

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