Sunderland Opinion – Louis-Dreyfus dialogue gave us little insight but many more inconsistencies

Graeme Atkinson reacts as Sunderland's 'controlling shareholder' speaks to supporter groups

The recent structured dialogue between the Red & White Army Supporters’ Trust and Kyril Louis-Dreyfus revealed very little of substance, while still managing to say a great deal. Schrödinger’s Black Cat you might say. Certainly Madrox appear to have nine lives. 

Amidst the banal and non-committal responses it exposed, yet again, the difficulty supporters have in taking anything the ‘ownership group’ say at face value.

And that must surely now also include Louis-Dreyfus.

Confidence in the club is perhaps at an all time low.  As every opportunity for it to rectify this presents itself, a further step backwards is taken.

There was, quite rationally, a lot of goodwill and faith placed upon the Swiss national when he arrived last year. Like a knight in designer armour, Madrox appeared to be if not conquered by him then marginalised. The King was dead, long live the King. Many of us reasonably assumed Louis-Dreyfus was the majority shareholder if nothing else.

Yet, it is not hard to find comments where the owners have, with an ever-increasing regularity, contradicted themselves and this simply continues to damage the faith we have all shown them. Indeed, it is happening far too often and can no longer be easily hand waved away as a misstep.

“It is a fresh start” said Louis-Dreyfus, in February 2021. “It has been many years now where the club had no real long-term vision and also cost-cutting at its forefront, which basically led to an asset-stripping in almost all departments…” Fast forward to the present day and it’s a different story.

We must assume that it’s fine for Louis-Dreyfus to slam the artists formerly known as Madrox, calling them out as ‘asset-strippers.’ However, when supporter groups question those same individuals then essentially ‘I don’t conduct my business in public’ is the riposte. Strangely, business was very much conducted in public when the club was looking to bring fans back on side in early 2021. It would be fine to maintain this position if there was some consistency to it. Instead, it frankly all just sounds like double standards.

One inevitable and sad conclusion from this is now the shareholdings are public it no longer suits the narrative.

In advance of last week’s meeting we knew one of the main areas for debate would be that of ownership. Specifically whether Louis-Dreyfus (41%) would be looking to purchase the shares from Charlie Methven (5%) and Stewart Donald (34%). Indeed Methven placed that topic squarely at the top of the agenda with his timely statement the day prior to discussions taking place.

So, when asked by RAWA why he didn’t buy 51% of the club Louis Dreyfus stated, “A variety of different shareholdings were discussed but an acceptable commercial deal was found at 41% for all parties.

Yet only last month during the last RAWA meeting Steve Davison, COO, remarked, “At the outset it was the intention of KLD to buy a bigger share of SAFC, but it was not possible to find a suitable commercial deal for all parties at the same time.”

What are we meant to conclude here other than further contradictions? How else can we rationalise that a suitable commercial deal was found at 41%, which, by any measure, places Louis-Dreyfus in a weaker position than had he been the majority shareholder? It is a puzzler even with agreements in place. This is especially true when Madrox seemed in an incredibly weak bargaining position at the time of Louis-Dreyfus’ investment due to the reported financial situation of the club.

That aside, is there any intention for Louis-Dreyfus to now buy out Methven and Donald? When this question was put to him the minutes state,

“There have been discussions with Stewart Donald about increasing KLD’s shareholding, but to date it hasn’t been possible to agree. If a credible buyer with sizeable funds capable of passing the EFL’s Owners & Directors Test and who agrees with the vision of the club, wishes to buy shares in the club, KLD would be happy for another party to invest, but will not relinquish control.”

Somewhat of a rowing back then from earlier reports which emerged shortly after the shareholding was made public. It was suggested at the time Methven and Donald were happy to move on as ‘willing sellers’ and Louis-Dreyfus was ‘interested in purchasing more shares in the football club…’ Davison chimed in that he ‘…hope[d] that they could reach some conclusion around those shares to Kyril.’ Methven further added, “I read…that there is a desire to buy those shares from existing shareholders. Obviously, if that is the case then the situation would be resolved very quickly…”

Well, despite those indications, nothing from the 3rd March RAWA meeting suggests this matter will be resolved speedily. In fact, in short, if you wanted the ghosts of Madrox to be laid to rest, sadly nothing from any of this suggests that is in any way imminent.

What we do know though, with some degree of certainty now, is that contradictions continue to be clearly visible amidst all of the smoke and mirrors.