Following The Guardian’s report of a proposed takeover at Sunderland last Friday, everyone on Wearside is asking the same question: who is Kyril Louis-Dreyfus?
The alleged move would see the 22-year-old obtain a 60% majority stake, with Juan Sartori retaining his 20% and Charlie Methven retaining his 5%, while current majority owner Stewart Donald would drop to 15%.
In light of this, Roker Report spoke to Marseille fan Mohammed Ali to find out more information about Kyril, the Louis-Dreyfus family’s involvement with Marseille, as well as what Sunderland fans can expect from our new potential owner.
MC: First and foremost, how involved was Kyril Louis-Dreyfus at Marseille following the death of his father Robert in 2009?
MA: He wasn’t involved in the day-to-day but was an avid match goer for much of his teens.
Being a twin, he was regarded as definitely the more ‘football mad’ of the two, but kept well away from much of the boardroom disputes at Marseille.
MC: His father owned Marseille for over 20 years. Would you say his tenure was successful, and what was he known for?
MA: His father Robert was seen as a huge success at OM, though not for actual tangible success on the field.
He once was asked by his wife I believe why he spent so much money on OM (€200m during his tenure) without success, but he was intimately tied with the club.
His predecessor Bernard Tapie was also both CEO of Adidas and owner of OM and he oversaw far greater success, but you got the sense Robert did it out of love.
Despite two Europa league final defeats, two cup final defeats and no league titles Robert never saw OM lift a trophy - that is, until the season after his untimely passing where Marseille won the Ligue 1 title and a further two domestic trophies.
MC: How did fans view a man in his early 20s holding a high role at the club, and was he a popular figure among the fanbase?
MA: It’s a bit strange to see a 22-year-old lead a football club so we’ll have to wait for further details to see whether he’ll take a back seat as part of the consortium.
There was once a profile a few years ago where Margarita ensured her sons got a global education and were exposed to real life, tough, global business situations, but running a football club in a football mad city steeped in history is a different matter altogether.
MC: What sort of approach do you think he would take to ownership? Does he seem someone willing to focus on an academy, improving infrastructure, or simply someone who is looking to buy his way up the leagues?
MA: There’s so little information available on his football ownership (or ownership in general) credentials that it’s difficult to answer this.
That said, Margarita Louis-Dreyfus did call on a number of close confidants to steer Marseille following Robert’s passing – installing her own president, chief lawyer and other boardroom staff, one of which infamously butted heads with Marcelo Bielsa leading to his shock departure on the first game of the season in 2015-16.
MC: His mother, Margarita, is worth over $5billion. Do you think he will look to involve her in any capacity, for example creating a partnership between Sunderland and Marseille?
MA: Margarita is worth a lot, though that worth comes from the inherited family business of which Robert was the head.
Her personal wealth I believe – but don’t quote me – is tied into the family trusts of her children etc. I do not think she will be involved in Kyril’s proposed Sunderland takeover.
MC: In 2013 Marseille was valued at €280m, however when Margarita Louis-Dreyfus sold 95% of shares in 2016 it was for an estimated €45m - does that €240m depreciation over those three years reflect their running of the club, or are there other factors that forced such a cheap sale?
MA: Margarita sold Marseille in 2016 when the team was in dire straits and fans called for her departure.
It’s not that the club was badly run, she refused to put additional funds in and unlike Robert who was a massive fan of OM, she did not take to football as passionately.
Therefore, for her it made sense to hand Marseille over to an owner who could put funds in, with football becoming increasingly expensive.
That she sold for €45m is a testament to her finding the right owner for Marseille who was not encumbered by legacy debts and issues.
She kept 5% for Kyril who remains minority shareholder to this day, as a continued link to the Louis-Dreyfus era.
MC: Kyril was recommended to Sunderland by minority shareholder Juan Sartori, whose father-in-law is Monaco owner Dimitry Rybolovlev. Is there any history between the Louis-Dreyfus and Rybolovlev families?
MA: None that I know of, other than their acquaintance during the period when Louis-Dreyfus and Rybolovlev both owned Ligue 1 clubs.
MC: Overall, why do you think Kyril is interested in buying Sunderland, and do you think this is a positive or negative takeover for the club?
MA: The news is a surprising one, everyone imagined Kyril would one day become the majority shareholder of Marseille, where he remains a big supporter.
His interest in Sunderland makes me wonder whether he is ready for the rough and tumble of football administration and joining a consortium is the first step to doing so.
Who knows, there could very well be a future link between the two clubs and it may be the first discernible step for Kyril to complete his father’s dream as a Marseille owner.
Sunderland will be a huge challenge, but if he succeeds there with a once-proud club and helps them back in to the top flight, there’s no reason why he cannot succeed at Marseille, who like Sunderland, is the beating heart of the city.