Why Sunderland's new, long-term vision tempted Lee Johnson back into League One management

On Tuesday evening Sunderland fans heard from Kyril Louis-Dreyfus for the first time.

Thursday, 25th February 2021, 6:00 am

There were some eye-catching comments about the running of the club in recent years, and above all else a commitment to a long-term vision moving forward.

The takeover, he conceded, took longer than he had hoped but the feelgood factor it has brought has coincided with Lee Johnson's vision on the pitch beginning to come to fruition.

Louis-Dreyfus has wasted little time initiating change behind the scenes and that comes as no surprise to Johnson.

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Sunderland head coach Lee Johnson

It was this vision and plan that led him to drop into League One management when that had not been his intention.

"I did my due diligence extremely well," Johnson said.

"We know how volatile football can be and in particular football management. I'm lucky enough to be able to have this as a passion project if you like.

"I'm away from my family, it was a big decision to do that, though I hope they'll join me in the not too distant future. At the same time, it was a decision made on potential.

"I had to make sure through the number of offers that I had, both here and abroad, that I picked the right one.

"If I'm honest, I didn't want to drop into League One but Sunderland was a different kettle of fish and I just believe that this is the right place for me and I'm very grateful for the opportunity."

One of the key remarks from Louis-Dreyfus came as he insisted that failure to win promotion this year would not lead to a change in strategy.

"I think it's very important in football not to panic," he said.

"A key moment will be this season. I truly believe we can get promoted this season because we have a very strong squad. a good manager and the league is still open to play. However, we need to follow our long-term plan.

"We can't panic if we fall short this year. We believe the club needs to be rebuilt from the foundation and it starts with the appointments of Kristjaan [Speakman], Steve [Davison] and Lee."

Johnson shares the Louis-Dreyfus goal of achieving promotion this season but says taking the long-term view is the right way to get the club back to where it belongs.

"It's the right way to go," he said.

"We've seen numerous examples, and removing Sunderland from it now, where people have chased the dream.

"There's 24 teams in a division and it's not easy.

"You've got to keep making the right decisions for the right reasons for the long term, and play the numbers game.

"We know we're Sunderland and we know we're expected to win games at this level.

"We know the demand is to win promotion so my job is to remove all of that, because players can tighten up and you end up with frustrated performances.

"You have to focus on nailing the process in every aspect of the club.

"The bit on show is the 3pm on Saturday but there's a lot of decisions that go on during the week, a lot of hard work, to ensure that the players are ready....

"It's not a given.

"I can offer blood, sweat and tears, and to die in a ditch trying to win those games.

"But at the same time we know that football is football. Over a period of time you expect Sunderland to return to their rightful place as long as decisions are made and made well.

"Hopefully I'll be the one to help facilitate that but if not, the club will be in a better place for the next person.

"That's my job. To take it day by day, to make the club better every day."

Louis-Dreyfus has already begun his efforts to rebuild the club's infrastructure, with Kristjaan Speakman announcing key academy appointments and initiating a search for new staff in data and analytics.

Johnson is well versed in those areas from his time at Bristol City, who were seen as leading the way in their innovative use of technology.

Sunderland's Head Coach believes he shares a curiosity and desire to be at the cutting edge with Louis-Dreyfus, leaving the pair 'fully aligned' in the process of rebuilding the club.

"I'm a manager who can cope with it in terms of, there's a lot of detail with the data," Johnson said.

"The data is an aid to what you see because there are so many variables in football.

"It enables a well-versed businessman to see that their money is being invested wisely and I think that's really important in the modern day.

"Of course, there's a lot of other clubs trying to do that as well and sometimes you have to go against the grain.

"The recruitment aspect of it is interesting as that's something you ultimately live or die by.

"It's about if you lose somebody you have an active replacement ready to go, and I've suffered from that more than most let me tell you!

“He’s been good to work with, and he’s got a lovely way about him,” Johnson added.

"He definitely cares, he’s definitely passionate, and he’s been present here at the club as well, which I think is important. All the staff and players have been able to get a feel for the type of person he is.

“As a head coach of a team, you become a disciple of that message and try to manage it as much as possible. The good thing is that we’re very aligned – and we have been from the start. Hopefully, like he says, that long-term gain will come as long as we’re making the correct decisions, both on and off the pitch.”

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