The more digging around I do about Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, the more bits and pieces of gossip, rumour and speculation make sense. That’s why I’ve been so surprised by some of the fans response to the news today that it isn’t true or that it’ll see no change. News that, if true, I think could be extremely positive for the club.
First of all, let’s deal with the fact Donald and Methven keep some shares. That seems to be the issue causing greatest concern. With the sale not done, we have to make a few assumptions about who will own what and what roles they’ll fill. We know that Donald and Methven are retaining 20% of the business, presumably of Madrox, the club’s parent company. That leaves 80% to be acquired. Whether that is to be acquired by another company owned by Sartori and Louis-Dreyfus or directly by the pair of them is fairly irrelevant, the simple answer is they own the club.
I wrote previously that the club wasn’t worth the money Donald was asking for it and I stand by that. The problem we kept hearing over and over was that, when the potential of the club was considered (and we’ve all run through that logic many times) the possibility of the club being worth serious money in the future is clear for all to see. It just needs the right people in the right roles with the right funding. Owning 15% or 5% of a company gets you nothing but potential capital value. I suspect, as is common in deals like this, the buyers agreed a compromise – its worth this much today so we’ll give you £x for 60% of the shares and, once we’ve moved the club forwards, you’ll make the rest of the money you hoped for. It’s a kind of insurance policy against someone being successful. I doubt Donald will be involved at all. That is one of things I’ll be watching out for as and when the new owners speak publicly. He might keep his seat on the board for legal and tax reasons but I’d be surprised to see any more than that.
The second thing I’ll be watching out for is the financing of the club and the security of the assets of the club going forwards. I would expect new owners to want to tidy up the financial position of the club and I have suspected for quite a while that the Dell loan was a foot in the door should a heavily discounted sale ever end up a possibility. New owners make that unlikely in the medium term so them walking away, debt cleared, would certainly be a good start to this new beginning.
And that’s what the club needs. A new beginning.
Donald has, as majority shareholder, brought us a mentality that was never going to see us move forwards. There are many League One clubs which are outdated in their approach on the pitch, in the backroom, in their youth set up and in the board room. They are clubs happy with their lot and enjoy the underdog status which goes with it. That is a level Sunderland AFC should never accept. Appointments like Hill, Parkinson and Reid, signings like Danny Graham while letting players like Bali Mumba leave all showed the structure we were aiming for – Eastleigh on steroids – and that was never the right way forwards. A more modern outlook, structuring a club from top to bottom is the only way for us to return to the top table. A journey which Louis-Dreyfus senior achieved with Olympique Marseilles, a journey which Sartori was attracted to when he was told about the Dortmund approach. Perhaps it can finally happen.
The one positive of where we are is that new owners won’t have to sack lots of people to get the right team in place to start that process. There is no director of football, academy director, chairman, recruitment and scouting team to bin. I hope the first appointment is a director of football. I’ve been banging on about us getting someone to look after the whole football side of the club for years and, hopefully, the new owners will see that the way this club moves forwards is to take the academy in both hands and turn it back into the place that brought Henderson and Pickford into the first team. A director of football who brings the club a style which all of our teams play. A director of football who looks at recruitment at first team level as seriously as at under 11. A director of football who will look at the best people to work in the academy and the first team and make those appointments as soon as possible.
Juan Sartori has shown in all of his business dealings around the world that he is a man who tends to have a long term plan. His appointment as a senator in Uruguay is a stepping stone to his plan of being the President. His business interests have shown organic growth and logical acquisitions as part of a long term strategy. My feeling has, for two years, been that Sartori saw a great opportunity to get involved and was waiting for the right time to step up his involvement. I suspect that time is now and I anticipate we’ll see a significant increase in his shareholding when the details are revealed.
And what of his friend and co-investor? Kyril Louis-Dreyfus is a young man who has been given a range of opportunities as a result of his fortunate upbringing, that is unquestionable. But let’s look at what he has achieved (bearing in mind he could quite easily have sat back and enjoyed his immense wealth without really having to try very hard at anything). His Harvard degree has been put to good use taking on specific roles in the family’s business empire including a senior role within Olympique Marseilles. While his mother owns 5% of the club, reports in France suggest that his involvement is actually based on the contribution he has made in conversations within the club and his incredible contacts throughout European football.
His work, along with his colleagues within the family business has seen it’s value rise over recent years and, in the last week, has seen 45% of the business sold to Abu Dhabi investors increasing the family’s personal wealth by billions of pounds. Are we really going to judge a man’s business successes based on the fact he had an easier route in to the room because of his family? In business, like in football, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.
The fact some of his wealth is held in trust is entirely normal for someone who inherited at such a young age but the fact it adds a level of protection within the family doesn’t affect Sunderland any way. Any fans hoping we’ll be sold to a Saudi prince who’ll sign Messi and Ronaldo to play up front against Lincoln on a Tuesday night are ignoring the assorted financial restrictions that clubs have to work within. The places clubs can spend their money is where we need to spend - the academy, structuring the club and making it a place players want to come.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the potential introduction of a billionaire to the existing billionaire is an obvious positive, especially in the longer term, but I’m more attracted to their experience and achievements in developing and running businesses in a footballing world where splashing the cash is often evidence of failed planning rather than successes. How involved will they be? I look forward to finding out in the near future.
As I said earlier, the rumours all start to make a little bit more sense. The idea that Juan Sartori was taking over the club have been circling for quite a while, stories of him bringing in someone else alongside him with a link to a French team, the story that the money could be coming in from a very large family business empire made people think the Dell deal was back on the table and, of course, the news that the meeting would be cancelled because a takeover was very close. It turns out all of these factors might well be true with Sartori and Louis-Dreyfus potentially taking over.
Having done some research, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic, but the big questions will be answered if and when the deal is done. If investment in the academy and structure of the club is announced then we can start to look forward with some hope, announcing who will be running the various aspects of the club would be fantastic and a line in the sand. Here’s hoping for good news in the near future.