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What will Sunderland’s new owner have learnt from his father’s time at Marseille?

They say the apple never falls far from the tree. The human condition is a little more nuanced than that of course but let’s hope it’s true for Sunderland AFC’s new majority shareholder, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus.

Photo taken on July 13, 1996 shows Rober Photo credit should read ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images

Since the recent takeover there’s already been plenty written about the Louis-Dreyfus family and their experience with Olympique Marseille.

Just because KLD grew up around success in football does that mean this time period has left its indelible mark and can anything be learned from his experience?

If we hop across the Channel and peer into the past, are there any clues as to a framework which could be adopted here on Wearside?

Well, let’s pull back the curtain on what Robert Louis-Dreyfus achieved in France to find out.

Robert Louis Dreyfus Photo : Reportages / Icon Sport via Getty Images

In the main RLD did a stellar job at the French side, although it wasn’t an immediate turn around and not without challenges or controversy. Those trials and tribulations can chime with the weary red and white faithful if nothing else.

Wind the clock back to 1996 (when KLD was just one year old) and Marseilles had just tapped RLD. Based away from the metropolitan limelight it was their latest roll of the dice to bring back success – an attempt to awaken the great side from its short slumber as the cliché goes.

Sunderland’s sleep is deeper but could we draw some parallels here?

Perhaps KLD has seen in the Black Cats what RLD saw in the French giants.

Recent quotes attributed to the 23 year old suggest so.

The fervour of the people [in Sunderland] is reminiscent of that of Marseille. There were more spectators on average than in half of the Premier League clubs. You can’t buy this! In cities like Zurich, Monaco, nobody is interested in football, it limits the possibilities of expansion.

RLD, a former CEO at Saatchi & Saatchi and Adidas, brought with him a healthy dose of business acumen as well as his own wealth, of course. However, like most successful business types the funding was not always from his own pocket.

Sponsorship deals with the likes of Adidas, and Neuf – which he founded – placed a figure apparently approaching €200m into club coffers during his presidency.

Could KLD call upon that Louis-Dreyfus Rolodex of corporate contacts and bring in some big money sponsorships to help support the development of the club?

Yes and no.

Judging by his social media account he has his own A-list contacts and won’t want to rely solely on any ‘legacy’ names leftover from his father’s business interests, assuming any are even still active.

Selfies with Floyd Mayweather, Lewis Hamilton and former French president Nicolas Sarkozy suggest a broad spectrum of influential names within his social circle.

Back in France, what was the result a year on from RLD’s arrival?

Well, disappointment. Olympique Marseille concluded the season in 11th spot. By this point RLD had got his feet under the table though, and he had developed a formula – that elusive alchemy you might say – namely successful recruitment.

Interestingly, money was spent but as Sunderland has realised to its cost this isn’t the only ingredient required for success.

Specifically the cash went on the right players for the task in hand, with signings such as Claude Makélélé, Fabrizio Ravanelli, Christophe Dugarry and Laurent Blanc arriving at the club.

They brought panache, a star quality which all supporters crave, but crucially they were a good fit for the club.

If there’s a confidence here on Wearside in Kristjaan Speakman et al and with the EFL salary cap abolished, KLD may be prepared to unlock the trust fund for key signings going forward.

They won’t immediately be at the level his father made of course, but it could make all the difference assuming he shares the same approach to spending.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Papa John’s Trophy
The relationship between Louis-Dreyfus and Speakman is going to be critical
Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Yet, the Academy of Light should still be the key to the club’s progression. If there’s money to be spent then the longer term return on investment which a revitalised U23s squad could bring is a no-brainer.

Meanwhile, as the turn of the century approached RLD could legitimately declare his club was becoming a force once again. Olympique Marseille secured a fourth place finish and then second, just falling short by ‘un point’ as well as securing a UEFA Cup Final spot.

It ended the decade on a high.

Around this time the team also included Robert Pirès and key members of France’s World Cup winning side. The good times you might say had returned.

Robert PIRES - 19.10.1999 - Marseille / Manchester United - 1er tour Champions League,
Pires in action for Marseille against Manchester United, 1999
Photo : Eric Renard / Icon Sport via Getty Images

However, as Sunderland supporters are only too acutely aware the next debacle is always lurking ready to reveal itself.

The chequebook had certainly been open, so a lack of funding could not be blamed, but Olympique Marseille plummeted to 15th. RLD then pulled the trigger on managers at pace. They came and went at a rate even Sunderland supporters would struggle to comprehend.

In football often the biggest rewards come from taking the biggest risks.

For Sunderland, the moment the club stopped gambling and stuck with Moyes things really deteriorated. RLD clearly knew when to make the change, but context is also key.

KLD needs to learn for himself that in football timing is everything yes, but so are the circumstances in which the club finds itself.

Eventually, RLD grasped hold once again to relative success after a worrying period and a third place spot was achieved.

Looking back at this time it’s hard not to argue the rapid fire change in management brought reward but in the moment fans must have questioned the logic in such a manic turnaround.

How does KLD reflect on this time period in particular, given he will surely be required to make a change during his tenure? It’s difficult to say as he was still so young and that’s the point here.

What could have been learned from observing his father in the boardroom as a boy?

Possibly little, possibly a lot; who knows?

Though the father’s achievements can lay a foundation from which the child can grow, ultimately KLD’s success or failure on Wearside is in his own hands.

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