What is Kyril Louis-Dreyfus’ plan for ownership of Sunderland AFC?

Much has been made of investors taking on the Madrox shares in Sunderland, but what about our chairman's intentions?

Imagine if Sunderland AFC’s victory at Wembley was not only the impetus for significant revival but somehow also the chance to retain the overwhelming sense of positivity that Alex Neil gave us, for years ahead.  

This is where we are. The club has that opportunity in front of it now.

Yet, once more the matter of its shareholdings is thrust uncomfortably into the media spotlight. The swell of Wembley euphoria is punctured as a result. If nothing else, it leaves many supporters searching for further clarity – a transparency that instead becomes increasingly obscure as each related revelation emerges.

And, while much has been written following stories linking The Fans Together Group (TFT) to the shares of Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven, comparatively little has been made of Kyril Louis-Dreyfus’ ever changing intentions to further invest in the Black Cats.

Looking back over the last five months alone, reports suggest the club’s ‘controlling shareholder’ has somewhat flip flopped on the matter four times.

Whilst TFT currently make all the headlines and we ponder what next, the above begs the equally pertinent question…

What is Louis-Dreyfus’ plan for ownership of Sunderland AFC?

The varying views

Here are his fluctuating views thus far

• In February 2022, and speaking on his behalf, COO Steve Davison made clear where Louis-Dreyfus stood on the matter, “We believe that Kyril is interested in purchasing more shares in the football club moving forward, so you would hope that they could reach some conclusion around the sale of those shares to Kyril.”

• By March however, at the supporters collective meeting, that position had altered. “Louis-Dreyfus has signalled that he is unlikely to meet that price [set by Donald and Methven], and has said that he would be open to a third party acquiring those shares if they are prepared to meet it.”

• Following promotion in May, the Sunderland Echo stated, “Kryil Louis-Dreyfus remains keen to increase his 41% shareholding in the club, but as of yet there has been no resolution in his attempt to purchase Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven’s stakes.”

• Now in June, quotes attributed to Sky Sports’ Tom White confirm, “He’s [Louis-Dreyfus] happy with the amount of shares he’s got, remember that he’s got 41%, he’s got the controlling stake and he’s Chairman, does he need an extra 39%? He’s got Juan Sartori with 20% and it’s also my understanding that those two get on very well, those two work together”

So, which is it? 

Does the Swiss billionaire want to buy additional shares in Sunderland AFC or not? Fan opinion would suggest they hope he does. The reality as you can see, is less clear.

Even putting media speculation to one side – why, some sixteen months after his arrival do we not yet have a definitive and consistent answer from Louis-Dreyfus himself? 

The mitigation

For balance, in matters of football ownership, sometimes when you ask questions the answers risk being nuanced. We get that. We understand it. We can assume, for example, that the opaque position set out above is linked in someway to boardroom manoeuvring.

Not without some merit, it has been argued in various quarters that Methven and Donald are on the financial back foot now that Championship football has been secured. The increased costs to any owner incurred from playing higher up the pyramid will become more of a burden to those not able to meet the fiscal demands. Louis-Dreyfus is somehow calling their bluff – the theory goes – in a bid to lower their asking price (set at £11.7million).

Well, that particular ship may have sailed with two agreed bids seemingly progressing through due process with the EFL. Louis-Dreyfus can of course still match any existing offers currently on the table. Yet, if he were, it would rather make the concept of him haggling a reduced price seem redundant. Why? TFT and the other, as yet unnamed party, have agreed a figure that satisfies Messrs Donald and Methven. Matching the valuation now, at such a late stage, would not appear to make sense as it could have been achieved at any prior point.

Perhaps instead, he has firmly changed his mind about further investment and is indeed content with arrangements as they are? If reports elsewhere are to be believed Louis-Dreyfus is actually ‘calm’ with the situation.

Well, if that is true we then got this;

“Neither I nor any employee from Sunderland AFC has had any dialogue with the Cryptocurrency Group ‘The Fans Together’ and although a timely conclusion to this matter is preferable, any transfer of shares must not compromise the club’s integrity.”

His rather prickly response to TFT’s press statement outlining their intention of investing in the club suggests he is possibly less at peace with this latest development and more quietly, well, scathing with fury. 

Unfortunately, TFT are simply an example of what can happen when some shareholders are happy to sell to anyone in order to turn a profit. By not investing further himself, Louis-Dreyfus has little say in what happens next. Instead, from a certain point of view, 39% of the club is in the hands of the EFL.

The upshot

As such, the thrust of the matter is this – Louis-Dreyfus is of course perfectly entitled to further invest in the club. Or not. No one would wish to imply anything other. It is his decision to make in light of the many considerations we can all be sure there are at play here.

Yet, the contention around shareholdings has become a fissure running through Sunderland AFC. It plays out ad nauseam and, for supporters and the club itself, there can be no easy journey through it until a final satisfactory conclusion is reached. Surely then, as an owner ‘wholeheartedly committed’ to the club and with the financial means to do so, one would hope to heal this rift as quickly as possible.

Put simply, Louis-Dreyfus is now swinging in the wind. Either take control of the narrative by finally ousting Methven and Donald through the acquisition of their shares, at an inflated price, or risk uncertainty with cryptocurrency types seeking a significant chunk of the Black Cats. After all, who else would want 39% with little control?

Through the actions of the current owners, now more so than ever, we are continually reminded of their, at best, many missteps. This latest debacle around TFT is just a further example. In the mind of this scribe, even the very nature of their potential investment risks tarnishing the reputation of the club.  And, for the situation we now find ourselves, as the above highlights, Louis-Dreyfus is not without some responsibility. Indeed, in the weeks after the summer transfer budget was due to be agreed we can also assume these latest revelations will hardly help progress player targets.

There is of course concern around Juan Sartori too as Louis-Dreyfus’ recent keenness to show close alignment with the Uruguayan raises further eyebrows. However, there is little point in going into the detail of that again as you can read more on this here.

In addition, despite the increased season card sales in light of promotion, we should also not forget the many voices who find all these matters around ownership simply unpalatable. A recent example of such a supporter’s view was recently noted by this writer online;

“I opted against renewing this year. First time in 40 years I won’t have a season card. This was on the back of KLD’s unsatisfactory answers…”

This will not be an isolated case and is perhaps evidence of the negative impact the controversy derived from the club shareholdings has provided.

So, in conclusion as we look to turn a corner – yes, here we are again and yes shock – some clarity would be welcome.