What Does Sunderland’s Share Shuffle Mean For the Club?

The news confirms, when it comes to accountability at least, there is now zero confusion

Last Friday afternoon Sunderland AFC launched into one of its semi-regular pastimes, it shuffled shares around the Board table. This time Kyril Louis-Dreyfus increased his majority share in the club from 51% to 58% and Juan Sartori sees his previously held 30% rise to 33%.

Happily, this means Stewart Donald goes from 19% down to 9% and as a result he is – fingers crossed – inching closer to the exit.

Of course, Sartori conversely now grows his share leaving an uneasy feeling for the reasons previously highlighted here. Indeed, for anyone who chooses to ignore the broader concerns and simply believes having another ‘billionaire’ involved, even in a limited capacity, can only be a good thing, they may be interested to note that his reported wealth is, unsurprisingly, not all it seems. 

In respect of the timing to the change in stakes, it is interesting to note the Sunderland Echo stated, “With Donald now holding a stake of less than 10%, ownership rules means he could take an active role elsewhere and in an interview with BBC Radio Solent last weekend, he has made clear that he would like to resume day-to-day running of the club [Eastleigh] he left for Sunderland in 2018.”

We could speculate about whether the financial demands place upon him, even as a minority shareholder of a Championship club, have also been a contributing factor but to do so at this point would be just that – speculation.

Instead, let’s highlight what we know for certain.

The news confirms, when it comes to accountability at least, there is now zero confusion. To be fair, even with his 51% stake, the onus was already on Louis-Dreyfus to try and take the Black Cats forward.

However, with Donald being carried along like a redundant cipher, there was always the concern that financially, there were constraints holding the club back. His reduced shareholding will hopefully go some way to allay those fears.

Perhaps any trepidation will always be present until Donald departs entirely. Yet, there really can be no excuses now – accountability has increased along with Louis-Dreyfus’ shares – he is the main man. The buck firmly stops with him.

That announcement will be welcomed by most of us.

But, let’s not forget the current ownership situation (or a variation of it) was one that we were led to believe existed from the beginning. It took until June 2022, when Louis-Dreyfus and Sartori increased their stakes, buying out Charlie “piss taking parties” Methven to get anywhere near it as the young Frenchman obtained the bare minimum majority share.

Included in the recent announcement the club confirmed, for avoidance of doubt,  that, “SAFC’s Board of Directors and governance remains unchanged.” 

So then, what will the realignment of shares mean going forward?

Well, the summer will become the crucial test. And, perhaps, when it comes to the aspirations of supporters and those in charge there is still somewhat of a disconnect to be reconciled.

On the one hand Sunderland is the biggest side in the division and ambitions should reflect that, on the other it finished fifth in League One last year, is trying to grow “sustainably” and has a very young side still finding their way in the game never mind the Championship.

It seems many find themselves sitting on one side of that debate or the other and Louis-Dreyfus would do well to bridge the gap.

At the very least, incremental improvement upon the current season will be essential going forward. And that is certainly not an unreasonable expectation. 

Especially, given the Black Cats sat as high as fourth in the Championship leading up to the January transfer window. It all seemed a step beyond what even the most wildly optimistic fan envisaged back in August.

Yet, reasonable investment during that winter period in just a few crucial areas could have been the catalyst to a truly remarkable season. As we know that investment did not come to pass. Not in the manner to achieve that particular goal at any rate. 

However, given early results – indeed exceeded expectation – for some the current campaign may end up being defined as an opportunity missed rather than the one of quiet consolidation it was initially hoped to be. Louis-Dreyfus will need to bear this in mind when planning for the season ahead.

Supporters will rightly demand more with each passing year and at some future point common ground needs to be found between ‘sustainability’ and true ambition to match the stature of the club. 

Nevertheless, given this is the first time back in the second tier after four years in the wilderness, there is currently an abundant supply of patience from fans around what is being built on Wearside.

The remaining eight games and the summer transfer window may define how much of that goodwill carries over to next season.  Either way, the spotlight will now shine more intensely on Louis-Dreyfus as a result of Friday’s news.