In Part 1, I suggested that investing in facilities is more important than investing in the first team. By no means am I saying that we shouldn’t invest in the first team - I’m saying we shouldn’t invest in the first team at the expense of everything else.
There are short-cuts to short-term success but there are no short-cuts to long-term success. So it becomes a question of patience, not only for the owner but for the supporters too. Yes, Louis-Dreyfus needs to have a vision and philosophy, but the real challenge is to sell that vision and philosophy to everyone connected to the club.
Which is a better investment? A huge contract for a player who may (or may not) make an impact on the pitch, or spending the equivalent wages on half a dozen top coaches who will help improve all of the junior and senior players within the club? What would you rather see as a supporter? A £5 million investment on a quality player who sticks around for a couple of seasons and then potentially leaves on a free transfer, or £5 million spent on upgrading the Stadium of Light, so that you can enjoy it every match day for years to come?
Both are questions of philosophy, and although I know which side of the fence I sit on, I realise that some will see it differently.
I’m sure some supporters would always want to focus on the manager and the first-team squad - the belief that the best option is to throw money at the first team in an attempt to get out of this god-awful league. Many fans believe that if it doesn’t work out, then we can just keep replacing the manager and bringing in a bunch of new players on an annual basis until someone eventually gets it right. Now... I’m not saying that it won’t work, but it hasn’t worked well in our recent history, has it?
One thing I often hear people say is “we have to get out of this league, no matter what.” While it’s hard to disagree, it’s a very short-term way of thinking. I’d much rather hear, “we have to make sure we’re never anywhere near this league again”.
That means a long-term plan - not scraping promotion, panic buying bog-standard championship players, and offering them ridiculous contracts in an attempt to survive relegation. In previous seasons, I was worried that this may happen but it doesn’t sound like this is what Kyril Louis-Dreyus has in mind at all.
We’re fortunate that, after two full seasons in League One, we’ve trimmed down our wage bill and the majority of our squad are on sensible contracts. This means that we are in a strong position to rebuild the squad next season for either League One or the Championship, depending on what happens in the next few months. In his first interview that aired at half-time during the Fleetwood game, it was reassuring to hear Louis-Dreyfus say that whatever happens, ‘we cannot panic’.
Overall his interview was music to my ears - long-term vision, rebuilding from the foundations, appointing the right people, not panicking and so on. In my opinion, it’s absolutely the right philosophy to have. However, stating your philosophy is one thing but it’s much more difficult to stick to it, especially with the level of expectation that supporters have. If we miss out on promotion this season and start poorly next season, the unrest will grow, as will the temptation to stray from the vision and allow panic to set in.
We all applauded when Donald and Methven announced that ‘the p*ss-taking party’ was over. So it was somewhat confusing when they sent Wigan Athletic a VIP invitation to a private ‘p*ss-taking party’. This anti-p*ss-taking stance was quickly abandoned during a moment of panic and money that could have been much better invested at Sunderland ended up at another club.
However, that era is over, and now we’re living under the reign of Kyril Louis-Dreyfus.
His first year in charge is going to reveal a lot about our new chairman and his commitment to his vision. If things aren’t going to plan and he panics and starts sacking managers, taking risks, paying out big money, and dishing out silly contracts, then he runs the risk of starting the Sunderland self-destruct cycle all over again. Conversely, if he doesn’t splash the cash on players, then he may find himself accused of a lack of ambition or not knowing what he’s doing from certain sections of supporters. It’s a fine line to walk, but I hope that Kyril Louis-Dreyfus has the commitment to see his vision through.
As supporters we need to be optimistic but realistic. The club is still rebuilding after back-to-back relegations, years of financial mismanagement, two changes in ownership, three changes of manager and a massive turnover of players. As a result of becoming a League One club our revenue has been slashed and therefore our costs had to be cut. Now, finally, there’s a chance for some stability and to start from close to scratch, with a clear vision.
By the sounds of it, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus has this vision and is already putting things in place to work towards it. A vital part of this vision must be to communicate this plan openly and honestly with everyone involved in the club, especially supporters.
It has been confirmed now that he had a hand in the appointments of recruiting Speakman and Johnson, so the football changes are already in motion. Both men have spoken impressively about the potential of the club and the importance of long-term planning. It’s refreshing to hear that the people running the club all seem to be on the same page. But are the supporters? And if not, how can the new regime's structured engagement programme get everyone on that page?
It will certainly be a challenge, but the fact that Kyril Louis-Dreyfus decided to buy Sunderland would suggest that he is a man who is up for a challenge.
The start he has made suggests he is capable of rising to the challenge. His vision and philosophy sound great, his first interview was excellent, the decisions he has made so far have been commendable and his team are already doing the business on the pitch.
It’s a great start but we need him to keep it up, not just for this season, or the next season but for the long term.