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Opinion: “Trust at Sunderland AFC has been destroyed and something radical now needs to happen!”

“We were told a year ago that the start of a new era on Wearside had been signalled. It’s clear we’ve been misled. This time, the change we seek in the relationship between club and fans has to be fundamental” writes Rich Speight.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

So, there we have it. What many had suspected was the case but longed not to be true, what had been hinted at but never confirmed, has been confirmed by the club. We have been misled – or at the very least had the wool firmly pulled over our eyes.

When the announcement was first made almost a year ago regarding Kyril Louis Dreyfus’ takeover, this is how Sky Sports reported the news on 18 February 2021:

The EFL has approved the takeover of Sunderland by Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, who becomes chairman with immediate effect.

French billionaire-heir Louis-Dreyfus, 23, has acquired a majority shareholding in the Sky Bet League One club, with Stewart Donald, Juan Sartori and Charlie Methven each retaining a minority shareholding.

Louis-Dreyfus was in attendance as Sunderland lost 2-1 to Shrewsbury Town last week, his first public appearance since announcing on Christmas Eve he had agreed a deal to become the new owner at The Stadium of Light.

Donald said: “I am delighted to welcome Kyril Louis-Dreyfus to the club as our new chairman and controlling shareholder.

A huge question now remains to be posed at the Supporter Collective meeting tomorrow: how have decisions been made at the club over the last year?

We know that the board consists, amongst others, of the Louis-Dreyfus brothers and their lawyer, Igor Levin, their close family friend Juan Sartori, and a lawyer representing Donald and Methven’s stake.

Sunderland v Northampton Town - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

The club’s official statement carefully never mentioned a majority… but certainly said that the controlling stake had been sold. It may well be that Sartori’s 20% and Louis-Dreyfus’ 41% are effectively in control – since gaining UK residency the Uruguayan senator has been more visible in and around the club.

But this is very much a best case scenario and the takeover was never presented that way, and the suggestion here should not be taken as sugar-coating the deception and misdirection that has been at the heart of the club’s communication in public about this matter.

Who owns our club matters. I’ve spent a great deal of the last two years or more thinking and writing about this very issue. What I thought was effectively the end of the saga – the announcement last February – and the undoubted changes in how the football side of the club has been run since it became clear in December 2019 that Louis-Dreyfus was buying into the club – did take away the urgency of some of my calls for greater fan ownership and oversight.

My energy was refocused towards engaging with the Fan Led Review of Football over the summer and autumn, and over the winter on the future financing and governance of women’s football.

When speaking in RAWA meetings I’ve backed calls for these questions - and others relating to Sartori’s role at the club and at AS Monaco - to be asked. But today’s confirmation of the shareholdings should act as a kick up the backside for those of us who have taken our foot off the gas when it comes to the governance of our own club.

Paris Saint-Germain v AS Monaco - French Cup Final
Ekaterina Rybolovleva - daughter of President of AS Monaco Dmitry Rybolovlev - and her husband Juan Sartori attend the French Cup Final match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and AS Monaco (ASM) at Stade de France on May 19, 2021 in Saint-Denis near Paris, France.
Photo by John Berry/Getty Images

As I wrote in my editorial the other day, Donald and Methven should sell up as soon as possible - that’s a given. I also wrote that the implementation of the proposed reforms of football governance give us an opportunity.

So RAWA could start by insisting that Sunderland does not follow the Premier League clubs in trying to block the Crouch Review’s recommendation of the creation of an Independent Regulator for English Football (IREF).

The club should also follow Liverpool FC and others in creating a shadow Supporters Board immediately, to ensure that we have ongoing and detailed oversight of the way the club is being run. This is how FSG sought to rebuild trust with the Reds fans after the Super League debacle.

Perhaps KLD will get the message now and move quickly to buy at least enough shares to give himself the majority ownership; but a large amount of trust and good will have been eaten up over the past few weeks.

I’d go as far as saying that supporters should now be given a mechanism to buy into the club – whether through the supporters trust or through individual share purchasing - in order to bring the people who have the long term interests of the club at heart – the fans - back into the ownership structures of the club on a formal basis.

The more fans who join Red & White Army the better, because the bigger the membership the bigger the voice and the bigger our capacity to act collectively will be. Given the revelations, given the anger, given the one thing is now absolutely clear – we cannot go on like this.

Trust has been destroyed, and something radical now needs to happen as a result.

Sunderland vs Ipswich Town Sky Bet League 1 Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images
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