Uruguayan businessman Juan Sartori officially joined the Sunderland board of directors at the beginning of the month after his appointment was approved by the EFL.
We discussed earlier in the week about what his appointment may mean for the future of Sunderland AFC, but Sartori has now given a revealing interview with South American outlet ECOS where he discussed his plans for Sunderland and what he brings to the table.
Soccer was always one of my passions.
Sunderland AFC will demand a lot of work but we see great potential. It has a very important infrastructure, “top class” facilities, the base is, with one of the main English stadiums. But something is missing, otherwise it would not be in the situation that is.
We have the skills, and especially the desire to put the effort and dedication to reach a very good port, something that is deserving of both the staff and their fans, dedicated and loyal.
The 37-year-old says there are absolutely no excuses for Sunderland to be in the position they currently find themselves in and although football is his passion, explains that it won’t be fun unless the club is successful.
There are no excuses for a club of this magnitude not to be successful. Now we must make good decisions and have a little common sense. Because, in the end, in football the results matter, win. And that’s what we’re trying to change.
I wanted to join my passion for football with a successful project. But I am clear that you do not have fun if something is not successful, if the club is not winning and is financially sound. And towards that we go.
He revealed that although he came close to buying League One rivals Oxford United, a much better opportunity arose when that move fell through.
I recently made an offer for the Oxford, but it did not work out. It could not be closed and, as in almost all things in life, a better opportunity came with Sunderland, which is one of the clubs with more history.
It was one of the biggest clubs and has the seventh biggest stadium in England. A lot of history but in the last two or three years he had a very bad management and fell to Second and Third Division. In the midst of that chaos I started negotiating with the previous owner and ended up buying it a month and a half ago with a consortium of partners. It was the divine opportunity that we were waiting for.
Sartori was asked how his first game as a director of Sunderland went, and the Uruguayan couldn’t hide his excitement but emphasised that it’s only the beginning:
With great emotion. It is the realization of a dream that I have had since I was a child and that I share with millions of people who carry football in their blood. It was just the first game of the season but I already felt the importance and responsibility of the project with more than 30 thousand people in the stadium. Watching the match was spectacular. We won in the 96th minute with a headed goal. And came from behind because we started losing 1-0! But the dream will be fulfilled when we take this club to the top and we fulfill our idea and people feel it, in that we keep working.
Although Sartori has a connection with both Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven, he explained why exactly he wanted to buy into Sunderland and he says the size of the club - as well as the chance to improve sport in Uruguay (something he goes into much detail later) was too good to pass up:
Sunderland is one of the largest clubs with the longest history in England, with first class infrastructure and an almost Uruguayan passion, very passionate and knowledgeable. But after two years of bad decisions the club was in a very bad state. It seemed like a unique opportunity to get involved and how it has been in all the other projects in my life to try to take it back to the top. I also liked the possibility of connecting them to do something with Uruguay in a sport for which we are known in the world but where we can still improve.
Both the city and the club are very similar in their idiosyncrasy to what we are in Uruguay. The city lives for the club. There are 250,000 people and everyone talks about football. For that reason in spite of having fallen two divisions in two years they 30,000 people continue going to the stage. What I liked was the sensational story that the club has. At this moment Netflix is filming a documentary about our first season. To show how we got the club and the dreams of the people to return and also their fears of the past.
He explains that he is convinced that the Uruguayan passion at Sunderland will help the club - with effort - compete with the very best:
Football is in me since I was small, like it is in Uruguay and as it is in each one of the Uruguayans. In this new venture there is no doubt that two great motivations are mixed passion and vision but also the goal of developing a project that is successful in sports and business. I would say that they have to go together if they are thinking about achieving something important in the long term. I will spend some bad inights, we will lose some games ... but I am convinced that we can build a “Uruguayan” club in England, that with claw can compete with the best in the world.
He is the son-in-law of AS Monaco owner and Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev and was asked if he had given his vision or advice to the French club:
More than giving them I think I could learn some things, it is a club that was in a similar situation at the time of purchase (last in the second division) and three years later they were champions of the French league. It is a good example of what can be achieved by doing things well.
Why would a successful businessman get involved in the volatile world of football though? Sartori says he believes his work ethic and management technique will translate as well to football as they will to any other business:
Inject the claw of our people and the best management methods that work in any project. The desire to win and the vision have to be, but also to do things well within a long-term strategy. Whether it is a company, a football team or a country, I believe that the requirements and methods to achieve great things are the same. My interest is in the possibility of generating opportunities for all the talent we have in Uruguay and that the project grows and is recognized in the world.
Sartori hopes to take advantage of the Academy of Light being one of the best academies around by giving opportunities to Uruguayan talent and putting Sunderland at the forefront of Uruguayan football:
In almost all my projects I always try to have some connection or something with Uruguay. And in football more, given that it is what identifies us and gives us more image at an international level. For me to have a ‘Uruguayan’ club, in England it is important. Sunderland also has one of the best academies in Europe and incredible facilities. So, the first thing I am going to try to do is give opportunities to young Uruguayan players to go there to train. And have an entry into Europe at an early age.
This is a global project, it’s not just buying Sunderland. It is to enter an industry with a first investment and then expand it. Surely, the Uruguayan leg will be the first to develop, although I still do not know very well how I’m just putting it together. But the more you can do in Uruguay, the better. I’ll give it priority.
And as the club moves up from divisional, the proposal will be more and more interesting. I will try to promote and help Uruguayan talent abroad, which is what I try to do in all my companies. I almost always have Uruguayan people or some connection with the country.