From head tennis to crucial appointments and letters of thanks: One month of Kyril Louis-Dreyfus at Sunderland assessed

The disappointment of defeat has been increasingly rare for Lee Johnson and Jamie McAllister of late.

Monday, 8th March 2021, 12:30 pm

Sunderland are unbeaten in seven across all competitions and with injuries in key areas along the way, it's a record of which they will rightly be proud.

There was one disappointment behind the scenes last week, though.

Head tennis is a serious business at the Academy of Light and for Sunderland's management duo, the combined efforts of Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and head performance analyst Mark Boddy were too much.

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Kyril Louis-Dreyfus watches on as Sunderland beat Rochdale at the Stadium of Light
Kyril Louis-Dreyfus watches on as Sunderland beat Rochdale at the Stadium of Light

It seems Louis-Dreyfus' touch has not deserted him even as his journey off the pitch begins.

Tuesday marks one month since Louis-Dreyfus made his first public appearance at Shrewsbury; in truth the one positive of the night for Sunderland supporters as their team fell to an insipid defeat.

This vignette from behind the scenes captures neatly the way he has approached his first month on Wearside.

In public he has been understated and reserved. Privately, he has been visible, approachable and above all else, very busy. The takeover took longer than he had hoped to finalise and the sense of making up for lost time has been obvious.

"We've seen a lot of him," McAllister explained on Saturday, reflecting on a win that underlined the sense of a corner turned.

"He's been excellent, in and around it pretty much every day.

"You can see his hunger and his love for the game. He's got an exciting vision for the game.

"He's very focused and has got a clear plan for where he wants to take the club.

"He's easy to talk to, which is rare in a Chairman! Very approachable. He's even joined in some head tennis with some of the staff. Good player! Good touch on him.

"It's exciting times, something that the club needed."

That Louis-Dreyfus and Johnson have struck up a swift rapport is perhaps not surprising. Their backgrounds may be very different but what they share is an upbringing which brought them unusually close to the game.

Kyril had a front row seat as his father ran one of Europe's biggest clubs; Johnson recalls hiding in a skip and hearing the infamous John Beck deliver his half-time team talks (Gary Johnson was his assitant at Cambridge United).

The pair are driven to put Sunderland at the cutting edge of the game, to innovate and build long-lasting structures.

It was not easy for Johnson to talk about in the weeks following his appointment as the takeover dragged on, but he has since said that the deal was an 'important' factor in bringing him to the club.

In his first press conference he spoke of being blown away by the plan presented to him. The power base at Sunderland was complicated then but there is no doubt now that Louis-Dreyfus was at the heart of that vision. It’s no coincidence, then, that Johnson cuts a far more relaxed and content figure than he did in those early weeks of his tenure.

Results are only part of that and the optimism has certainly extended to the fanbase.

Louis-Dreyfus has publicly been reserved but the curious dynamics of where Sunderland found itself as a club means that this has largely been welcomed.

There was a brief interview through the club in which he acknowledged the scale of what had happened in recent years (a startingly direct and symbolic intervention), and pledged to bring sustainability.

Last week, season-card holders received a letter thanking them for their support, warning of challenges ahead but stressing a commitment to long-term improvements.

The contrast of this understated approach with the early months of the Madrox era was lost on no one.

Supporters have welcomed this tacit recognition that on Wearside, actions have become the only statements that truly matter.

Lessons seemed to have been learned and the suggestion has been that there will be a willingness to talk more when there is change and action to discuss and explain. You suspect there will be plenty.

Kristjaan Speakman's appointment was a moment of great significance for the club and he has already moved quickly to address some of the key deficiences that had been holding the club back.

A review of the academy's structure has been held, with crucial and overdue appointments made.

The club's analysis and recruitment departments have been in a similar situation and on that front swift progress has been made.

At boardroom level, Louis-Dreyfus has moved quickly to demonstrate the extent to which he now has ultimate control.

There are no members of the Madrox group still on the board, with Louis-Dreyfus appointing two close allies in Igor Levin and Patrick Julien Treuer.

Maurice Louis-Dreyfus has attended the club's last two games and there have been reports that a more formal role will follow.

In this is a reminder that very clearly, there remains much to learn about this project.

We have the outline of the vision; underlined by Speakman in a recent look ahead to the summer window.

Sunderland's future is in player development, the academy, sustainability and counter-pressing. In the detail there is much still be to be explained and to be learned.

The experience of the last three years has also underlined that it is in adversity that we learn the most about a project.

Louis-Dreyfus acknowledged that himself in his first public comments, vowing not to panic if promotion is not achieved this season.

It has, by Sunderland's standards, been a quiet month even as the pace of change has felt rapid.

The sense of professionalism and clear day-to-day leadership have served as something of a tonic.

These are early days but optimism is cautiously growing.

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