KLD, Stewart Donald and 'The Fans Together': Everything you need to know about latest Sunderland ownership news

Sunderland’s senior players returned for the start of pre-season training on Wednesday morning but the most significant news came at boardroom level.

By Phil Smith
Wednesday, 22nd June 2022, 10:10 am

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The long-running ownership sage has taken a significant step towards a resolution, and has at the very least been settled for the next campaign.

So what’s happened and why does it matter? We explore some of the key questions here...

What's changed and why is it so important?

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Kyril Louis-Dreyfus is now the majority shareholder at the club, owning a 51% stake.

Charlie Methven has departed entirely, while Stewart Donald's shareholding is now down to 19%. Juan Sartori has, like Louis-Dreyfus, increased his shareholding by 10%. He now owns a 30% stake.

This does not alter the day-to-day governance of the club, as Louis-Dreyfus had control of decisions written into the agreement that saw him arrive on Wearside last February.

However, it is significant for a number of reasons.

Kyril Louis-Dreyfus has increased his shareholding in the club

Many club figures have felt that streamlining the ownership structure would help the club progress particularly in times of important decision making. The fractured and often noisy process to replace Lee Johnson earlier this year would be one possible example of that.

Louis-Dreyfus has made clear over recent times that he is closely aligned with Juan Sartori, and this latest development strongly underlines that.

Though the governance of the club may not have changed, Louis-Dreyfus' position has therefore been significantly strengthened.

Many at the club will hope this is the catalyst for the next stage of the club's development.

Given that the club is funded by shareholders on a proportionate basis, in the long run this will clearly make Sunderland more competitive at Championship level.

Perhaps most importantly, it draws one of the club's most divisive and controversial periods closer to a conclusion.

Though Donald remains on the periphery, Methven's time at the club is over.

His spell as a director proved hugely controversial, and his ongoing presence even as a minority shareholder was a source of deep frustration.

Methven was seen as one of the fundamental reasons for the breakdown in trust between club and supporters during the Madrox era, and the hope will be that the club can now start to move forward.

This is clearly Louis-Dreyfus' hope, as he said in his statement this morning: "Today marks an important step as we continue to rebuild Sunderland AFC. Following the 2021-22 season, it was the intention of Juan and I to ensure the ongoing speculation relating to the Club’s shareholding was addressed as soon as possible.

"We remain committed to our strategy of delivering long-term success and sustainability and together, alongside our dedicated staff and loyal supporters, I believe we can now move forward as one unified football club.”

Will Juan Sartori's role change much?

This morning's developments crystallise Sartori's position as a close ally of Louis-Dreyfus at the club.

When the news controversially broke earlier this year that Louis-Dreyfus only owned 41%, sources suggested that Sartori's stake should be seen as working in support of the chairman, not the rest of the Madrox consortium.

Louis-Dreyfus then confirmed this on the record, including in response to the news that 'The Fans Together' group were looking to buy into the ownership structure.

The pair now own a combined 81% of shares.

Sartori's role and involvement will understandably evoke some scepticism. On various occasions the Madrox consortium said he would be stepping up his involvement, but it never seemed to materialise.

And for some, his role in the club's struggles after first dropping into League One is not easily brushed off.

He has, though, made more regular visits to Wearside last season and sat alongside Louis-Dreyfus at Wembley.

This appears to be something of the ideal scenario for both parties, whereby Sartori can support without overly onerous time commitments as he pursues his other interests. Louis-Dreyfus gets control, but support in both funding and advice.

Given the turbulent period that preceded Louis-Dreyfus' arrival, optimism will be cautious as supporters wait to see how the new structure develops.

But the hope will be that this represents a significant step forward for the club.

What does this mean for 'The Fans Together' and their bid?

Quite simply, it's off.

Stewart Donald may still retain a 19% stake in the club but it has been made absolutely clear this morning that there will be no further transfer of shares.

That means that Donald's stake is not for sale at this time, whether it be to the controversial cryptocurrency group or indeed any other third-party buyer.

Louis-Dreyfus has clearly decided he wants a line drawn under the issue as attention turns toward the new campaign.

In his statement this morning, he said: "Our ownership group has been consolidated and there will be no further sale of shares to a third-party buyer."

What does this mean for Donald and what will his involvement be? Why hasn't he sold up entirely?

Though Donald was present at Wembley, he has neither a place on the board or any significant input in decision making.

That influence will now be absolutely minimal, with Louis-Dreyfus and Sartori now commanding a significant majority of shares.

Donald's funding obligations remain, with each shareholder investing on a proportionate basis. His obligations will now of course be reduced in line with his stake reducing.

In the longer term he may well hope to sell those (potentially lucrative) remaining shares to Louis-Dreyfus or someone else should Sunderland make good progress, but for the foreseeable he will remain a silent partner.