Sunderland AFC takeover: The Louis-Dreyfus-Rybolovlev hybrid ownership model that could bring success

Sunderland’s completed takeover has more than its fair share of ties to France.

Thursday, 18th February 2021, 7:00 pm

Kyril Louis-Dreyfus has purchased a majority stake in the club with Juan Sartori also retaining a minority stake, and both have strong links to Ligue 1.

And fusing together the best elements of the Louis-Dreyfus family’s operation of Marseille and Rybolovlev’s policy at Monaco could create a successful ownership model – according to one French football expert.

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Sunderland AFC takeover: The Louis-Dreyfus-Rybolovlev hybrid ownership model that could bring success

Eric Devin of Get French Football News has offered us the inside track on the Louis-Dreyfus family, their stewardship of OM, the plans Kyril may have, and how he could take a leaf from his new business partner’s in-laws:

A successful period

The Louis-Dreyfus family purchased Marseille in 1996, and went on to oversee a fruitful period at the club.

While domestic titles at times proved elusive, given Lyon’s dominance of Ligue 1 at the time, there was no shortage of ambition on behalf of the owners – who knew their operation of the club would intrinsically be tied to public perception of both the Louis-Dreyfus family themselves and their businesses, including long-time shirt sponsor Neuf Communications.

And that ambition led to some high-profile signings, UEFA Cup runs and cup successes.

"There was a stated ambition as the success of Marseille would be publicly tied to Louis-Dreyfus family as individuals and the perception of his company,” said Devin.

"If we look at Marseille and the big crowds they usually have, if they were perceived to be letting the team stagnate or not be ambitious, how is that going to reflect on the company?

"I know we think of PSG as being the biggest club in France, but Marseille is still the most-supported club in France.

"There certainly wasn’t any lack of effort on the part of the Louis-Dreyfus family to be successful. Look at some of the players he brought in and developed - Pires, Laurent Blanc, Didier Deschamps as manager - they were a success.

"They reached a UEFA Cup Final, Didier Drogba was purchased from Guingamp, they beat Liverpool at Anfield and there was a sustained period of success - despite them not winning many domestic league titles.

"Even though it seemed like a period in French football where Lyon were the most visible export given their consistency in the Champions League, Marseille were there or thereabouts.”

It’s important to remember at this point, that Kyril was not involved in the day-to-day running of Marseille during the period in which his family owned the club.

As Devin explains: “He’s 23, and they sold the club in 2016 - how much involvement is someone who’s a teenager going to have?

"It’s really down to that. His involvement was not there, simply because he wasn’t asked to be. The club had an established series of presidents and sporting directors who would have taken care of the football side of things.”

Splashing the cash

He will, however, have undoubtedly taken lessons from how his parents operated the French side.

"The club’s third most expensive signing is still Lucho Gonzalez, who was signed under the Louis-Dreyfus family,” said Devin.

"You also had the likes of Andre-Pierre Gignac, Loic Remy, Stephane Mbia, Hatem Ben-Arfa, they were not shy in spending money.

"There was no shortage of ambition in terms of buying players under the Louis-Dreyfus family. They spent money on players, and the signing of Gonzalez was probably close to a league record.”

Lessons from Rybolovlev

But splashing the cash will not be an immediate option for Kyril as he takes control at Sunderland.

The nature of League One means cash is not often splashed, something which Devin believes creates an intriguing dynamic.

“A lot of times if well-to-do people want to make a splash in sports it’s through money.

"I feel as if this is Kyril saying ‘I want to get this done by bringing in the right kind of people’, in terms of managers, sporting directors, scouts. If all teams are operating directly under the same level of resource, that to me speaks to more of an interest in the technical and player side of the game - which isn’t necessarily a parallel to what his family did at Marseille.

"Perhaps he has established networks in France - I know we’ve seen through the likes of Brentford that French players can come and make a splash.

"So perhaps he is looking at using those networks to scout players from the Championnat and Ligue 2. He may want to challenge himself to establish the club in that way, and it seems an interesting choice.”

But Kyril won’t be working alone at Sunderland.

He will also be able to call upon the knowledge of Sartori, who himself will have learned plenty from watching how Monaco have operated under his father-in-law, Dmitry Rybolovlev.

While the Russian billionaire is not directly involved in this deal, his influence could be felt – if Sunderland can adopt a similar model to the one which Rybolovlev has installed at Monaco.

"Monaco have brought in players, but besides that flurry initially under Rybolovlev of bringing in Falcao, James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho, they’ve always been a team that has developed talent or used academy players,” explained Devin.

"There’s a long list of players who have come through Monaco, and they invest in their academy. That’s not something I necessarily saw at Marseille, so if the idea is to foster an academy then that’s encouraging.

"Footballers don’t grow up in the principality. If the idea of having a national scouting network and bringing players to the North East is something that they can take from Monaco’s playbook, then that’s incredibly encouraging.”

So is there value in taking the best elements of Marseille under the Louis-Dreyfus family, and fusing them with some of Rybolovlev’s policies at Monaco?

Devin’s verdict is a conclusive one.

"Yes, absolutely.”

So Kyril and Sartori, should their bid for Sunderland be successful, may not have to look too far for inspiration when it comes to how they run the club.

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