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The Kyril Louis-Dreyfus era: Long-term investment, not short-term gambles (Part 1 - Facilities)

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Stewart Donald replaced pink seats with red ones. Kyril Louis-Dreyfus needs to begin his tenure by giving the Stadium of Light more than just a facelift. At least that’s what Paul Fletcher reckons. But should improving the facilities be the top priority right now?

A general view of the Stadium of Light

The point has been made several times: Kyril Louis-Dreyfus is young, wealthy beyond imagination and has the world at his feet.

Yet for some reason, which we’re all fascinated to hear more about, he’s chosen to buy Sunderland Association Football Club.

What are his plans for the club and where should he start?

I believe one of the first things on his agenda should be upgrading both the Stadium and Academy of Light to a level where they can be considered among the best facilities in the country once again.

I realise that with complicated financial fair play rules to adhere to and drastically reduced revenue as a result of the pandemic, such grand plans may be impossible to implement in the short term. However, I’m writing this as a supporter, not as a financial expert.

What better time to get started with such a project? Crowds aren’t even allowed in the ground at the moment so the disruption would be minimal. In addition, a big project like this could be a massive boost to the local economy during a tough time.

Louis-Dreyfus’ predecessor, Stewart Donald, came in and replaced the pink seats with lovely new red ones. It was a symbolic gesture that brought fans together and, at the same time, gave the stadium a much-needed facelift. In modern football terms, it wasn’t a huge investment, but it brought a smile to the faces of many Sunderland fans.

Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League
The Stadium of Light’s faded seats were symbolic of a club in decline
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

In a way, I view the changing of the seats as quite representative of Stewart Donald’s tenure.

He was much more hands on than the previous owner (at least at first), he listened to what the fans wanted and he started out with good intentions.

Whether everything was done with the best interests of the club in mind or with the goal of turning a quick profit is an entirely different debate.

However, what isn’t debatable is the fact that Stewart Donald gave the club a temporary boost, tried to sort out the mess he’d inherited and made some superficial but welcome changes.

The one thing Donald was always honest about was the fact that he never had the financial clout to get us back into the Premier League. He was a National League club owner running a League One club.

Donald’s most significant investment during his stewardship of Sunderland wasn’t an investment at all. It was a gamble – a last-ditch purchase of Will Grigg, forking out six times his market value in the hope that he’d score us the goals that would fire us to promotion.

Had the gamble paid off, who knows where we would be now. Unfortunately it didn’t pay off and the club stands to lose the vast majority (if not all) of the three million ‘stake’ gambled on Grigg.

As for Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, in financial terms, we have a Champions League owner running a League One club. With his bank balance, he doesn’t need to gamble. He can afford to invest in a long-term vision.

I don’t know what his vision is or how it will develop but I sincerely hope he’s thinking long term.

If I were in his shoes, I’d make it my mission to make sure that Sunderland’s training and match day facilities are among the best in the country. I’d do this with full confidence that it’s only a matter of time before Sunderland are among the best football teams in the country again.

A general view of the Stadium of Light
Should KLD improve the Stadium of Light?

I’m not talking about superficial changes.

I’m talking state-of-the-art, Premier-League-ready facilities that players, staff and supporters can be proud of. The kind of facilities that will attract the brightest young players from across the UK and further afield. Not only attract them but convince them to stay on and develop into first team footballers at Sunderland.

I’m talking about the kind of stadium experience that will give home fans that same buzz I felt as a 12-year-old stepping into the Stadium of Light for the first time. A stadium that will have the wow factor for away fans, regardless of whether they’re visiting from Accrington or Arsenal.

Imagine how good that first game back in the stadium with no restrictions on crowd numbers is going to feel.

Now, imagine how much better it would be in a stadium that feels brand new, with a new sound system belting out some matchday classics.

Regardless of whether it’s a game in League One or in the Championship, a new lease of life for the Stadium of Light will inspire the sensation that this really is a new era and not another false dawn.

Louis-Dreyfus will know that when he makes Sunderland successful again, he can sell in excess of 25,000 season tickets and fill the stadium with more than 40,000 fans every week.

He will know that if his academy can start producing and holding on to outstanding young players again, the sale of even one of them could fund the academy for years. These are not gambles. These are calculated, long-term investments.

Sunderland v Doncaster Rovers - Sky Bet League One
A long-term vision is imperative - and that seems to be Kyril’s view, too.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The financial position that Louis-Dreyfus is in means that he does not need to chase instant success and make rash short-term decisions in order to achieve it.

The on-field success won’t happen overnight, but with the correct long-term strategy in place Sunderland will get back into the Championship and the Premier League eventually.

Part of this strategy has to be a substantial investment to upgrade the facilities at the academy and the stadium.

Such a show of commitment to a long-term vision should win over even the most cynical of supporters.

The key to rebuilding Sunderland is not to splash out on one or two players and pin all our hopes on them to work miracles. It’s to invest in the infrastructure of the club. Louis-Dreyfus needs to re-cement the positions of both the Academy and the Stadium of Light as beacons of hope for the city and the region.

Not by neglecting them, not by selling them off, not by selling the naming rights but by investing in them and putting them at the forefront of everything he’s trying to build.

That’s a vision I could get behind.

I realise that to many readers this may sound completely ridiculous – why does a club that’s barely scraping into the League One playoffs need Premier League facilities?

Fear not, in part two all of these concerns will be addressed!