After months of rumour, speculation, doubt and debate, it was announced today - on Christmas Eve - that Stewart Donald has finally sold the vast majority of his shares in Sunderland AFC to a new consortium involving existing shareholder Juan Sartori and the billionaire heir Kyril Louis-Dreyfus.
The deal is pending EFL approval.
The announcement on the club’s website this afternoon stated:
Sunderland AFC can announce that an agreement has been reached for Kyril Louis-Dreyfus to acquire Stewart Donald’s controlling interest in the club. If approved by the EFL, the deal will see Louis-Dreyfus become chairman at the Wearside club early in the New Year.
Donald said: “It’s been no secret that I have been looking for some time to find the right person to take Sunderland forward and during the course of the last year there have been a lot of different people wanting to take over. However, even though it is a matter of public record that some of those bidders offered me more money, I felt that they offered less to the club and to the community. Whereas from the early meetings with Kyril, his family and advisers, I have been greatly impressed with their knowledge and understanding, learned over a long period as owners of major football clubs in Belgium and France. I believe that experience, combined with a good plan, will provide a platform for the club to progress and I look forward to watching that progress from afar.”
Louis-Dreyfus said: “First, I would like to thank Stewart Donald for his integrity and reasonableness over the last three months, which has led to me having the opportunity to take a controlling stake in Sunderland AFC. I am fully aware of the efforts undertaken by the current ownership and Board to protect the viability of the Club and respect the difficulty of this task, given Sunderland’s recent past and the current economic climate.
“We respectfully await the EFL’s approval for this transaction. Nonetheless it would be remiss of me at this stage not to emphasise what an enormous honour it would be for me to become involved with such a historic club, in a city renowned for its rich football culture going back to 1879. Many will be aware of my family connections to the industry and, in acquiring Sunderland AFC, I understand the responsibility that’s placed upon me as the custodian of the club’s future.
“Moving forward, we have a long-term strategy which integrates Sunderland’s proud traditions with a modern structure and approach. We will seek to be at the frontier of research and innovation in all performance domains and place great emphasis on player development and the team’s style of play. We want to create a team that is entertaining to watch and that embodies the spirit and the culture of those who attend, thereby reconnecting the team with its fanbase, whose support will be so vital to our success.“In the midst of a global pandemic, we should all be aware of the difficult situation the club is currently in and the challenges we face in the months to come. However, through hard work, a diligent plan and togetherness from the Board of Directors, staff, players and supporters we can between us create a brighter future at the Stadium of Light. If we all play our parts, I firmly believe we can restore Sunderland AFC to the top tier of English football and I can’t wait to get started.”
Documentation relating to the deal has been lodged today with the EFL for their scrutiny, and the Club recognises that the EFL need to approve all aspects of the transaction and business plan going forward before any change of control. Given the time of year, that process is not expected to conclude until mid-January, until which point there will be no further public comment from Sunderland AFC or Kyril Louis-Dreyfus.
The promise of long-term investment in youth development and the wider infrastructure at the club, as well as a clear plan to get us promotion this season, will come as a welcome early Christmas present for supporters who have become increasingly angry and frustrated at both our lack of progress in League One and our loss of the best academy prospects to other clubs.
Roker Report understands that a new focus on instituting a progressive football philosophy throughout the club, from the Academy age groups to the senior mens and women's sides, will be underpinned by the use of data and analytics, both internally and in identifying the best young and emerging playing talent.
It is expected there will be a radical transformation of the club, both in terms of management, and in terms of a technology infrastructure. The latter will be put in place to facilitate an environment in which there is a dependable conveyor belt of talent from the Academy to the first team, with at least three players for each position, provided exclusively from within.
The expected addition of a team of analysts - that will include performance analysts, data analysts, data scientists, and mathematicians - will see Sunderland, in a short space of time, being taken from being one of the most backward, to being among the most advanced technology and data-driven clubs in the country.
Kyril Louis-Dreyfus will become the youngest owner in the history of Sunderland football club, but his lifetime in and around the running of one of the great European giants- Olympic Marseille - and his extensive education in and passion for the game, as outlined in The Athletic’s profile (subscription required) in November, mean that he has more experience than many who leave the corporate boardroom to have a go at running a football club.
However, fans will no doubt be feeling a mixture of emotions upon learning the details of the deal, which see the 23-year-old Louis-Dreyfus take overall control of the club in a decisive break from the past, but both Donald and Charlie Methven keep a stake.
The appointment earlier this month of both Kristjaan Speakman as Sporting Director and Lee Johnson as Head Coach can be seen in the context of the Louis-Dreyfus deal, with Speakman being given overall responsibility in the new structure for the transformation of the football side of the club. Johnson spoke on the club’s Unfiltered podcast this week about the work going on behind the scenes between the two to plan January’s recruitment drive, and with Louis-Dreyfus’ determination to see us promoted at the earliest opportunity, supporters will be looking forward to an injection of talent in the New Year to push the side up towards the top two.
Reports over the past week or so have suggested that some of the delay in getting the deal over the line has been down to Louis-Dreyfus’ desire to ensure he had sufficient shares in the club to control it in his own right. The extent to which the trade deal between the UK and European Union has had a bearing on the timetable for the takeover at Sunderland is still an open question, though the coincidence of a major foreign investment into the club being finalised on the same day as the final details of the post-Brexit relationship emerged is notable.
With the certainty and stability afforded by today’s news, Sunderland fans can now, hopefully, look forward to a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in 2021.