I know very little about football, but I know that there is no sport in the world that you can’t analyse to the benefit of the player, says Dr Hutch

Dave Brailsford is poised to enter the world of Premier League Football, and the Doc believes he will fit right in

Dave Brailsford analysing a game of twister
(Image credit: Alamy/Future Edits)

When I was a student, I was forced to be a Derby County FC supporter. It happened like this: I ran out of clean t-shirts, and my roommate, a perpetually disappointed Derby supporter, lent me a team shirt to wear while my washing was on. I watched a match with him in the common room. And Derby won, for the first time in several weeks.  

Dr Hutch profile
Michael Hutchinson

Michael Hutchinson is a writer, journalist and former professional cyclist. His Dr Hutch columns appears in every issue of Cycling Weekly magazine. 

Thereafter he forced me to put on the shirt whenever there was a Derby match. I had to watch on TV, listen on the radio or sit through live Ceefax updates. I was required to display enthusiasm and interest, have a favourite player, and know the name of the manager and all the many and ever-changing reasons he was a moron.

Dave Brailsford steps back from Ineos Grenadiers team principal role

Last month it was announced that Sir Dave Brailsford had stepped back from being directly involved in Ineos Grenadiers.

Brailsford will still have some say in the running of the cycling team in his role as Ineos' director of sport, but has stepped back from the Grenadiers while he his set to take on more responsibility at Manchester United.

Read more about the story here

I tend to imagine Sir Dave Brailsford has had a similar stunt pulled on him by Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Manchester United. Whether Sir Dave will have as glorious an effect on Man U as I did on Derby – who went four months undefeated in the league under my watch and were promoted at the end of the season – is hard to say. But a three-nil thrashing away to Sunderland might come as just a great a relief to him as it did to me.

I have no idea how good Sir Dave will be at football. He’s been involved in a previous football team in France without any especially astonishing success. But there are some common factors between cycling and football, for sure.

There is a need to produce a slick looking kit that you can sell to the fans for top dollar. I’d imagine the length of the team shorts is equivalently important. There will be near-identical arguments about personal endorsement deals and who therefore gets to wear what football shoes. And, perhaps most similar of all, it’s vital in both sports to get the team bus right.

That doesn’t mean he’ll be getting a warm welcome. Dean Saunders (an ex-Derby player – how I wish I didn’t know that) last week criticised the idea of a cycling coach in football, and said, “You can have as many laptops as you like – football comes from within.”

This interests me greatly. Because it’s almost exactly what bike racers said about Brailsford twenty years ago. It seems absurd now, but the idea you could analyse cycling performance, calculate what it takes to win an event, and match the two up in a cold spreadsheety kind of a way was dismissed as failing to appreciate that what made a bike racer was, “just a willingness to suffer.”

I know very little about football, but I know that there is no sport in the world that you can’t analyse to the benefit of the player. You could run a birthday party game of Twister through a performance analysis package to the advantage of your four-year-old. Which is why football clearly is already well-laden with laptops, trackers, heatmaps and technical analysis. It’s just that a lot of the pundits and the fans are desperate to pretend it’s not.

And maybe this is how Sir Dave changes football. Perhaps after they hear about some of his half-time talks (“We need to utilise a more impactful boot-to-ball interface, while also prioritising more precise opposition tibia-fracture vectoring”) they’ll start to see their sport our way.

It’s ironic that arguably Sir Dave’s best hire in his time at Team Sky / Ineos was coach Tim Kerrison, who came into cycling from swimming knowing next to nothing about it, before masterminding the programmes behind six Tour de France wins.

But even if Sir Dave turns out not to be as adaptable, Manchester United can take comfort from something. Back in 2010, he absolutely bossed buying the Team Sky bus.

Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1