The key issues that Kyril Louis-Dreyfus needs to quickly address at Sunderland after takeover confirmation

The long wait for Sunderland supporters finally came to an end on Thursday when the EFL granted Kyril Louis-Dreyfus approval to assume a majority shareholding in the club.

Thursday, 18th February 2021, 4:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 18th February 2021, 4:02 pm

In a statement Louis-Dreyfus said he was ‘proud to become a custodian of this esteemed institution, but I also recognise the significant responsibility that comes with it.’

The news came shortly after a Companies House update confirmed that the FPP Sunderland loan had been repaid in full.

That was one of the key question marks surrounding the deal and means that Louis-Dreyfus begins his tenure with that debt settled.

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Sunderland chairman Kyril Louis-Dreyfus

Sunderland's stark decline in the Madrox era nevertheless leaves him with an immense amount of work to be done in the weeks and months ahead, with a number of key issues in need of urgent attention.

The arrivals of Kristjaan Speakman and Lee Johnson were a signal of the new direction but there are many other key questions still to be answered.

Here, we outline seven areas that Louis-Dreyfus will need to begin addressing in the near future...

Outline a vision to supporters and clarify the club's day-to-day leadership moving forward

Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman will have a key role to play in the new era

Lee Johnson described it last week as sort of 'purgatory'.

Louis-Dreyfus has been influential in the club's major change of direction, central to the appointment of Sporting Director Speakman and therefore the arrival of Johnson himself.

The sensitivity of the deal has nevertheless meant that supporters have only had brief insights into the long-term plans for the club.

Player development and a modernising of the club structures are known to be at the heart of it but supporters eagerly await a proper outline of intentions.

Johnson said he was 'excited' about that very prospect, an interaction which will allow both himself and Speakman to then speak more freely about their roles and plans.

Early engagement will also allow Louis-Dreyfus the opportunity to allay any lingering concerns about the roles of the previous owners moving forward, given that they all maintain a minority shareholding.

Speakman's appointment, as well as the arrival of Steve Davison as Chief Operating Officer, mean that we already have a fair idea of who will be in charge from day-to-day, given that Louis-Dreyfus will be named chair of the board and is believed to already have a base in the area.

Over time, some degree of further change looks likely and it is not yet known whether there will be a role for CEO Jim Rodwell.

Louis-Dreyfus could also make some further changes at board level, either at executive or non-executive level.

Improve staffing levels in key departments

It is widely known that the club's staffing levels have been cut significantly across the board during the Madrox era.

This has manifested itself in a number of ways but the most visible and striking has been the recruitment department, which has been left threadbare in recent times.

It left Speakman and Johnson without any real historical data or knowledge to call upon when they looked to improve the squad in the January transfer window.

A new head of recruitment is expected to be appointed in the coming weeks and months and with a transformative window ahead in the summer, there is little time to waste.

The club is in need of modernisation across the board and while the results of addressing this issue will only be seen over time, that does not make swift action any less crucial.

Commit to Category One status & reach out to those who have left

The role of Academy Manager remains vacant and must be a key, early priority for the new regime, with an appointment appearing very close.

The departure of young talent was without question one of the biggest failures of the Madrox era and one that cannot be repeated under the new regime.

Clearly, the biggest step forward Sunderland can take in protecting their best talents from being poached by big Premier League clubs is stepping up the pyramid at first-team level themselves.

Nevertheless, it should give pause for thought that some of those who left in the Madrox era have cited a perceived ambivalence from the club hierarchy, as well as a lack of pathway to the first team even in League One, as key factors in their decision.

For a new regime and a new academy manager, reaching out to those players and learning more about their experiences seems a good starting point for improvement.

It's also key that the new academy manager has a permanent base on Wearside, enabling strong relationships to be built.

One other issue that departing players have cited is the weakness of the U18 and U23 sides, which some felt stunted their development.

The previous regime did some encouraging steps to address that, with a more experienced U23 side producing significantly improved results so far this season.

That is something for the new regime to build on, while strengthening the structures in order to prevent a repeat of two very damaging years in terms of player departures.

Johnson has shown a willingness to give an opportunity to young players and the impressive handling of Elliot Embleton's loan to Blackpool, with clear communication from both Johnson and Speakman, was encouraging.

Now the key is get the long-term building blocks in place.

Get to work on key contract calls

That Sunderland will reach the end of this season with a raft of players out of contract is inevitable.

The future of many will depend on what division Sunderland find themselves in and whatever happens between now and the end of the campaign, this summer is clearly going to present an opportunity for a rebuild.

There is a group of players, though, who clearly have a future in both leagues and who have a value to the club that needs to be protected.

The removal of the salary cap restrictions should allow Sunderland to secure the futures of Denver Hume, Luke O'Nien and more, though discussions around financial controls in League One are ongoing

Contract management was one of the many failings of the Madrox regime, with Josh Maja and Jon McLaughlin both leaving for a fraction of their true values.

It will be Speakman's job to achieve better relationships with agents and to demonstrate a more pro-active approach.

Confirmation of the takever should allow him to get started in earnest.

Protect the future of women's football in the city

So much of Sunderland's decline in recent years has been self inflicted but the same cannot be said of the club’s remarkably resilient women's team.

Melanie Reay oversaw an outstanding rebuilding operation following the club's forced relegation to the National League, and they were in a dominant position when last season was declared null and void.

Their current campaign has been suspended amid the ongoing pandemic and it is not yet clear whether it will resume.

The knock-on effects of that could be huge. The FA had been planning to promote two sides to the Championship ahead of next season, presenting a potentially big opportunity for Sunderland.

The Black Cats had begun the application process ahead of their likely title win last season and it's understood that the FA were impressed with what they saw.

The pandemic may again prevent that opportunity to get the club back where it belongs and committing to the long-term future of the side would be a serious statement of intent from the new regime.

That the team have been able to compete in the last two seasons is testament to the talent in the region, and the structures in place to nurture it.

The departures of Mollie Lambert and Bridget Galloway last summer were also a warning of the inevitable consequences of not getting back to the top-two tiers.

Turn the season-card challenge into a positive

It is clearly no exaggeration to say that the loyalty of Sunderland supporters after the club's lowest-ever finish last season played a major part in securing the club's immediate financial security.

The issue of refunds will have to be addressed at some stage given that the season is almost certain to be completed behind closed doors.

This is an opportunity for the new regime to demonstrate their appreciation of the club's support and some creativity could help turn a potentially difficult issue into one that builds some unity.

Create consistency in supporter relations

Madrox began by making themselves accessible to supporters.

After the malaise and silence of the latter years of Short's tenure, it was refreshing and welcomed.

Relations, though, suffered significantly when inconsistencies over much of what was said became clear, and many of the lofty promises did not lead to anything substantial.

The solution for the regime is two-fold.

The first is in maintaining proper day-to-day leadership and the early signs both from Louis-Dreyfus himself, and through the appointments of Speakman and Davison, are encouraging.

That should allow a consistency in supporter engagement to be established.

Sunderland has a thriving fan culture, from its fanzines to its branches and the Red & White Army.

The flurry of life and colour in the Roker End, as well as the staggering attendance for a Boxing Day win over Bradford City, showed the power there to be harnessed in the years ahead.

It isn't about grand promises, just honesty and consistency. That is the biggest lesson of all from the Madrox era.

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