The last time the cycling world spotted Dave Brailsford was all the way back in the spring when Dylan van Baarle won Paris-Roubaix for Ineos Grenadiers.
Since then we've not seen Brailsford. He wasn't even at the Tour de France.
His absence and silence on all things cycling, however, can be easily explained.
He’s currently living in a caravan at the training ground of the French football team OGC Nice, where he has been director of sport since December 2021, as part of his wider role with the Ineos group. It was initially a temporary role but there’s talk of it becoming permanent.
And, yes, we did say caravan. Or, as L’Equipe describe his temporary home, a “luxury camper” parked at an “administrative personnel car park”.
Brailsford's football experiment, however, is not going very well. In fact, it's going pretty terribly, not helped by the club languishing in the bottom half of Ligue 1.
“I think Brailsford is making a lot of mistakes at Nice that is very much counterproductive to what the project is and what it should be,” explained French football journalist Julien Laurens on BBC Radio 5 Live's Football Daily podcast. “He reminds me a little bit of Sir Clive Woodward when England won the Rugby World Cup. He thought he could go into any sport, including football, and be successful and it just doesn’t happen like that.”
The problems are numerous, many of them run deep, and most Brailsford inherited. But he’s exacerbated or created new ones, including what many describe as a poor summer transfer window in which the club opted for an English-centric buying spree that has so far not bore fruit.
“That was silly recruitment,” Laurens went on. “You have to explain to me what the logic behind it was, what the idea was and where they are going because it doesn’t really make much sense. Maybe you can make sense of it when you know Dave Brailsford is there. He clearly thinks he can do a good job in football.”
All the issues help to explain why since the summer Brailsford has been keeping away from bike races and has been instead sleeping at Nice's training ground. Luke Entwistle, a journalist specialising in French football and living in Nice, explains that Brailsford has opted for the living situation because “football is not his background, not his sport, as much as he might be a fan, so he wants to get across that he’s there, front and centre, every day.”
Brailsford remains team principal of Ineos Grenadiers and despite his no-show at the Tour he was in constant contact with the team. He's also not taken his eye off cycling, most recently trying to figure out a way to bring Vuelta a España winner and world champion Remco Evenepoel to the team. But the day-to-day management of the British outfit is now overseen by his deputy Rod Ellingworth, while Brailsford concentrates more on the footballing project that began as a sideline role but has morphed into his priority.
What Brailsford’s exact role entails at Nice is unknown, but it is believed that he was brought in by Ineos’ founder Jim Ratcliffe principally to restructure the club, something Brailsford has accelerated in the past few months.
But financial investment from Ineos has not been as beneficial as Ratcliffe promised when he bought the club three years ago, and the club’s fanbase is growing angry.
“The issues and perceptions of Brailsford are potentially not because of the role he has, but rather because he is the face of the Ineos regime,” Entwistle tells Cycling Weekly, “and therefore any shortcomings are being directed towards Brailsford.
“I don’t get the impression he’s very disliked, but he’s basically front of house at a massive football club in the region and for that reason he absorbs the criticism.
“Brailsford is someone who Ratcliffe considers as his right hand man, a big piece of the Ineos project that he wants in safe hands. But the fans are disappointed in how Ratcliffe’s regime is going and investment hasn’t been as momentous as expected.”
Since being appointed to the role, Brailsford has embarked on a root-and-branch review of the club, determined to fix its ailments and to develop every department.
The football equivalent of his marginal gains approach that revolutionised cycling, then? “That’s a fair comparison,” Entwistle says. “There’s a massive drive in France towards physical and general fitness and creating more cohesive sporting projects.
“The idea of the project is to bring about elite athleticism and that’s what Brailsford is doing. There’s stuff on the club’s social media channels welcoming different sports to the club, as well as psychologists and fitness experts. That’s all down to Brailsford.
“There’s a lot of focus paid to technical and sporting directors in football now and that’s also what Brailsford has been trying to address. Some things may seem questionable, and some of his more recent decisions won’t be paying off for months or years to come.”
Brailsford’s fluency in French has “dissolved him of maybe some criticism”, Entwistle thinks, but the Welshman hasn’t been a familiar figure in the football press, despite effectively running one of France’s biggest clubs.
Just like his shyness in front of the cycling media ever since the jiffy bag scandal broke in 2016, Brailsford’s done very few interviews since being at Nice, annoying sections of the local press who believe he should front up to the perceived errors the club are making.
“He’s playing a backseat role [in front of the media],” Entwistle says. “He does the occasional club media but it’s whenever Ineos want to get something good out there about their multisport project or some sporting innovation at the club.”
The main bone of contention amongst Nice fans is reserved for Ratcliffe, though, as opposed to Brailsford. Britain’s wealthiest man said that he wanted the club to become a seasoned European outfit within five years of his 2019 takeover, but questions have been raised about his long-term commitment to the club.
In the spring he launched an 11th hour bid to buy Chelsea and he has also speculated that he would be interested in buying Manchester United. Should he own another football club playing in one of the three European football competitions, Nice would not be eligible in the same tournaments, although Ratcliffe sought to calm tensions by suggesting that Nice would find a way around the rules. He didn’t, however, specify how.
“People are asking what Ratcliffe’s real ambition is,” Entwistle says. “They thought Nice were the jewel in the crown of the multisport project, but how devoted is he really to Nice? Does he really have grand plans?
Brailsford’s immediate worries revolve around the club’s first-team manager, Lucien Favre, who is under pressure to be sacked. Ratcliffe, meanwhile, is worrying the fans - with his appointment of Brailsford and his public flirtation with other football clubs.
The cycling arm of the Ineos project isn’t the winningest right now, and neither is the footballing arm. “Only Ratcliffe knows what his long term plan is with Ineos and Nice,” Entwistle says. “There are a lot of well-founded and fair doubts from fans.”
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