It’s the news we’ve all been waiting for - today the EFL has approved Kyril Louis-Dreyfus’ move to buy a controlling stake in Sunderland AFC from Stewart Donald, becoming the club’s Chairman with immediate effect.
The statement posted on the club’s website said:
Sunderland AFC today received approval from the English Football League for Kyril Louis-Dreyfus to acquire a controlling interest in the club, signalling the start of a new era on Wearside.
Louis-Dreyfus also becomes the club’s new Chairman with immediate effect, with Stewart Donald, Juan Sartori and Charlie Methven each retaining a minority shareholding.
Stewart Donald said: “I am delighted to welcome Kyril Louis-Dreyfus to the club as our new chairman and controlling shareholder. Kyril’s commitment, acumen and integrity convinced us to accept his proposal. His vision and desire to bring success back to Sunderland was obvious from the outset and his bid is the one that we feel gives the club the best chance of long-term success and sustainability.
“When we entered into negotiations with Ellis Short three years ago, Sunderland was nearly £200 million in debt, was losing £35 million per annum, and had all but been relegated to League One. Our plan was to work hard to turn around the finances of the club, put it on a stable footing and to get promoted back into the Championship. I am proud to say that we have achieved what we set out to in terms of SAFC’s finances – the club is debt-free, was breaking even prior to the pandemic and has retained its Category One Academy status. However, it is no secret that – despite spending the highest transfer fees and playing wages in League One history – progress on the pitch has not followed suit. That has been a bitter disappointment for us as owners, and we can only apologise for falling short in this regard.
“Whilst we certainly made mistakes, everything was done with the best of intentions with the view to deliver this aim, but we just fell short and in football, unfortunately, a miss is as good as a mile. However, with the club just having booked its third Wembley final in three seasons and still being in the hunt for promotion, the foundations are set for better times. We hope and believe that the new management team, with Kyril at its head, can finally complete the turnaround and get the club climbing the divisions once again.”
Louis-Dreyfus commented: “I would like to thank Stewart, the Board of Directors and the EFL for their diligence and support throughout the recent process. I am proud to become a custodian of this esteemed institution, but I also recognise the significant responsibility that comes with it. Today marks the start of an exciting new chapter in Sunderland AFC’s history and although the current landscape facing football dictates that there are challenges to overcome, I am confident that together we can weather the present storm and put solid foundations in place to bring sustainable and long-term success to the club.”
The new share structure will reportedly see Louis-Dreyfus take 59% of the club, with Juan Sartori, Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven retaining minority shareholdings. Initial indications are that, following the deal, club will be debt-free and that the Stadium and Academy will remain the main tangible assets of the club and that, as a result of the deal, Donald and Methven will no longer have any say in key decisions at the Stadium of Light.
Roker Report understands that the EFL did contact the significant minority shareholders to get further assurances that they would guarantee to fund the club for a further two years, and that although this was an unexpected move, it wasn’t a significant hurdle for the shareholders to overcome.
The announcement was preceded by the filling of documents at Companies House notifying the business regulator that the £9m loan Donald secured from FPP Sunderland as been repaid in full, which appears to have been the final step in the takeover process.
At 23, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus is the youngest owner and Chairman of Sunderland AFC in our 142-year history, and he brings with him his and his family’s experience owning Olympique Marseille, his vast inheritance, as well as his Harvard MBA and training in football administration.
According to reports in The Telegraph, M. Louis-Dreyfus now plans to move to the North East in order to take a leadership active role in the running of the club, a development that will be welcomed by fans who have worried about the prospect of having another absentee owner. It has also been widely reported that Kyril’s twin brother Maurice - who also holds a multibillion pound trust fund - will join as a director, further embedding the club within their portfolio of investments.
There’s no doubt that the new owner’s love of football motivated his decision to invest in our club, and that Kristjaan Speakman’s plan to focus on youth development is linked closely to Louis-Dreyfus’ wider programme of improvement across all aspects of the club, both footballing and commercial.
This news comes over two months since news of Louis-Dreyfus’ interest in the club first broke and six weeks after the deal was agreed in principle, and it announced on the club’s website as being handed over to the EFL.
It represents the final step in a transition period that has lasted from around the time Phil Parkinson was sacked, after which the club appointed Lee Johnson and Kristjaan Speakman as Head Coach and Director of Football respectively, hired a dedicated Data Analytics team and, finally, brought in experienced Sunderland-supporting businessman Steve Davison as Chief Operating Officer last month.
Louis-Dreyfus is reported as having been the key decision-maker at the club in this period, and has already put in place an experienced yet youthful team to support the players’ efforts to get out of League One as soon as possible. Johnson was, evidently, the choice of Speakman and Louis-Dreyfus, and he confirmed in his post-match comments after the Shrewsbury match on 9th February that he has been in contact with the new owner ever since the news of the takeover became public. Louis-Dreyfus has now attended the last three matches, including the EFL Trophy semi-final victory on Wednesday evening.
For fans, it’s been a very slow and often frustrating process to get to the point of welcoming a wealthy new owner to the Stadium of Light.
After leveraging the Premier League parachute payments in order to take over from Ellis Short in 2018, and then failing to get promotion back to the Championship at the first time of asking, the initially positive relationship between Stewart Donald’s consortium and the fans began to break down.
In the summer of 2019 he twice attempted to sell control of the club, firstly to Mark Campbell and then the American-based FPP Sunderland group, but both deals failed to get over the line.
Relations further soured after a fractious Structured Dialogue meeting between Charlie Methven and fan groups in November 2019, the deterioration of results on the pitch, and the FPP takeover turned from a takeover into a £9 million loan secured against the club’s assets.
In December 2019, following a horrendous 0-0 Boxing Day home draw with Bolton, Roker Report along with Wise Men Say, A Love Supreme and democratic fan group Red & White Army called for Stewart Donald to stick by his promise to leave the club when he was no longer welcome - a call that he answered when he announced early in January 2020 that he would sell-up as soon as possible.
By early February, Methven was telling BBC Newcastle’s breakfast show that several serious bidders were in contention to buy out the Madrox Group, but then coronavirus pandemic hit, the season was cancelled, and the normal rhythms of football and business ceased almost entirely during the first lockdown.
Donald’s final act as club Chairman was to hold an informal meeting with Red & White Army and other fan groups in mid-July, during which it was reported that he set out the harassment he claimed he and his family had suffered from fans, before making personal attacks on individual supporters. Donald then casually offered to sell the club to the fans if we could raise his £35 million asking price.
Three days later he symbolically resigned, passing executive responsibility for the running of the club to new CEO Jim Rodwell, who had been recruited in the spring, whilst retaining his ultimate control as the majority shareholder.
A few more days passed before the club announced that it was in “a period of exclusivity” with one serious bidder with the hope that the deal would be completed by the start of the season in September, but that date came and went with nothing more being said, and the second and third waves of coronavirus hit England hard.
The fact that the uncertainty has now come to an end will be welcome news to a tired and frustrated fanbase, and we look forward to a new era in which we can rise back to where we all feel we rightfully belong - amongst the top ten clubs in the country.