Everything Sunderland owner Kyril Louis-Dreyfus said about January plans, Juan Sartori and Ross Stewart contract
Kyril Louis-Dreyfus made one of his first public appearances as Sunderland Chairman on Monday night as he attended a Q&A with members of the Red & White Army supporter group at Pop Recs.
Louis-Dreyfus appeared on a panel alongside Chief Operating Officer Steve Davison, Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman and non-executive Director David Jones.
The quartet took questions from those present and discussed Louis-Dreyfus’ time at the club so far, as well as looking ahead to key issues on the horizon.
Here, The Echo runs you through some of the main talking points from the discussion…
KYRIL ON CLUB PROGRESS
Louis-Dreyfus began by reflecting on the club’s journey under his tenure so far, and his relief that they had finally been able to deliver what was for so many supporters their first win at Wembley. He also wryly noted the progress made from the first two games he watched in person, a 2-2 draw with Gillingham and a 2-1 defeat to Shrewsbury Town.
He stressed that there was still a lot of work ahead: “We have done a lot of work in the last 18 months to get the club back to the Championship, and I still see a huge, huge amount of work to be done before I consider it ready for the Premier League.
“The people on this stage are working 24/7 to get us to that point. Of course, we want to get there as soon as we can, but I believe there is a reason why the club fell out of the Premier League and there is a reason it spent so long in League One.
“Only a lot of hard work and consistently making good decisions will get it back - every staff member we've recruited on and off the pitch and has come here to achieve that, many of them were working at clubs higher up the pyramid right now but they have the belief that we will get to the Premier League and they want to be a part of that.”
Louis-Dreyfus was later asked whether Sunderland would be able to compete if, hypothetically, they were to win promotion this season: “You can never, ever say no to promotion because it's so hard to do. I would be over the moon.
“To be honest, in the 18-months since I came in we've been chasing to get up to speed because there was so much to do, to rebuild. It feels like we've built the base now.
“We want to build our infrastructure so that when we're promoted we're ready to compete and stay there. It would be challenging, but I would be over the moon.”
Kristjaan Speakman added that when looking at this season, two-thirds of the squad had no Championship experience and so a period of adjustment was required, particularly with a desire to play an attacking style. So consolidating in midtable with a view to pushing upwards, rather than a specific position, was the goal initially. He added that he felt the squad could perform at a top-ten level in what is a division of very fine margins and where variables can make a big difference (injuries, suspensions).
KYRIL ON JANUARY STRATEGY
Speakman told supporters that planning for January was now stepping up considerably.
One supporter asked whether the view still stood that Sunderland had adequate options across the forward line - to which Speakman said all areas of the squad would be under review and a fresh assessment made.
Louis-Dreyfus said the club would look to strengthen in that window: “We wanted to build the value of the squad from when I arrived. It's higher now than it was six months ago, it was higher then than it was six months before that, and hopefully it will be higher again in six months.
“We're still in that phase where we have to invest and develop the squad before we get to the point where we just reinvest the funds that we're generating. So, for example, if you were able to sell £20-million worth of talent in the summer as some clubs did, then there you have £20 million to reinvest. We're not there yet, we're still in the growth phase and so we'll be looking to strengthen in January and then again next summer, I expect. We're still trying to grow.”
STEVE DAVISON ON AWAY FANS
The club’s Chief Operating Officer confirmed that Sunderland will consider moving away supporters back to the lower bowl in the long term. This is actually a requirement for Premier League clubs, and Davison believes it will additionally ease safety issues and could also be beneficial for the atmosphere at games.
Getting the configuration of the ground right and preparing its next phase as it reaches 25 years since opening was, Davison said, one of his top current priorities.
He stressed that all decisions would be made only after extensive dialogue with fans, which will begin soon.
KRISTJAAN SPEAKMAN AND KYRIL LOUIS-DREYFUS ON ROSS STEWART AND HIS FUTURE
Speakman told the supporters gathered that talks were ongoing: “It's a really, really good thing to have players of this calibre who generate this type of discussion.
“Ultimately, we want to tie down our best assets for as long as we possibly can and we've got a good track record of doing that. We've been having this conversation with Ross since last January to a certain degree, which is neither unusual nor dissimilar to a number of our other players.
“These types of discussions often get portrayed as very polarising, it's either that the club won't pay the money or that the player doesn't love the club etc. Neither of those things are true. It's a negotiation, it's a process. The player isn't out of contract in the summer so this isn't the last window [where we could recoup a fee] so there is time. Ross is, I know, 100% motivated and committed to Sunderland, an incredible guy who is incredibly highly thought of because of who he is off the pitch.
“Everyone on this stage wants Ross to be here for longer [than his current contract] but it's got to be right for him as well and we respect that.”
Louis-Dreyfus said of Stewart: “We are having ongoing conversations and we're all hopeful that it will lead to a successful outcome.
“Football is unpredictable, you don't know what will happen between him coming back and January, which clubs might be interested in him etc.
“All we can do is A) do our very best to retain Ross and B) plan for all eventualities so that we're not in a situation where we are panicking and don't know what we're doing. Plan A is to keep Ross and secure a longer contract, but we will be prepared for all possibilities.”
THE ROLE OF SELLING PLAYERS
More broadly, the panel agreed that while they could not predict what would happen in future windows, they did not think Sunderland were yet at the point where it made sense to sell key assets.
They also agreed that ideally, the club wants to ensure a succession plan is already in place before a player leaves, whether that is through recruitment or through promoting from the academy.
Louis-Dreyfus told fans to this effect: "You only have to look at the scouts at our games, we have big Premier League clubs coming to watch out players.
"We're still in that phase where we are trying to grow the squad and make it better, so we would only consider selling a player if we had confidence that we can replace them with something better."
The panel also stressed strongly that this model does not include selling academy players, with retaining them and showing them there’s a pathway to the first team a key part of the plan.
Speakman, for example, noted that there are players who left the club before Louis-Dreyfus’ arrival who could have been a major part of the club’s current conversation around long-term striker options.
It was also stressed that selling at the right time can be important as it shows future recruits that you will be prepared to do the same in future, if they wish to take a new step in their career and if the right bid is there.
Louis-Dreyfus added: “All of these players we are signing, these are all players who want to get to the Premier League and they want to do it with Sunderland.
“If the club doesn't move as quick then they will want to get to the Premier League. It's a very ambitious group and what we all hope is that they get there with us but if not, then we reinvest that money to build an even stronger squad and help us get there ourselves.”
KYRIL ON JUAN SARTORI
One supporter asked Louis-Dreyfus for clarity on Juan Sartori’s role at the club, given his involvement with the previous ownership group.
Louis-Dreyfus said: ‘What I would say is that since I've come in, Juan is a very busy man with a lot of projects: his business, his political career, he is VP at AS Monaco as you know. I would say that he's not hugely involved on a day-to-day basis, but he has been very supportive of what we've done. We have robust debates about everything, that includes everyone on this stage, but so far he has for me been an asset.
“AS Monaco is one of the most successful clubs in Europe so having access to that kind of resource for example. We can exchange ideas and so for example when we sign to French players, we can speak about what their reports say and have that synergy.
“Juan has also helped give us a presence in the South American market, he knows a lot of people and has opened doors for us. We haven't utilised it regularly but when we have Juan has helped and I'm sure that will grow in future.”
KYRIL’S FINAL MESSAGE TO FANS
“I’d just like to say thank you for sticking with the club through its years in League One, the club would probably not have made it out of League One without your continued support. That support is 95% of the reason that drives us to make the club more successful 24/7.
“I hope we will have more success along the way and we’ll give everything to do that. If there’s anything that all of you feel we are not doing it right, we want to hear your voice and that is what the supporter collective meetings are there for.