Kyril Louis-Dreyfus: 23yo son of Russian-born billionaire businesswoman takes over as chairman of struggling giants Sunderland

Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, the 23-year-old heir to a billionaire business fortune headed by his Russian-born mother, has become the youngest chairman in English football after completing his takeover of third-tier Sunderland.

The youngster was confirmed as new chairman on Thursday at the proud North East club, who are spending a third season languishing in League One after tumbling down the tiers when a 10-year stay in the Premier League ended in 2017.

Louis-Dreyfus takes over from British businessman Stewart Donald, who had been owner at the Stadium of Light club since 2018, and who will retain a minority share in the company.

“Kyril’s commitment, acumen and integrity convinced us to accept his proposal,” Donald said in a statement on Thursday.  

“His vision and desire to bring success back to Sunderland was obvious from the outset and his bid is the one that we feel gives the club the best chance of long-term success and sustainability.”

Frenchman Louis-Dreyfus is one of three heirs to a sprawling billion-dollar business group which is run by his mother, Margarita, a Russian-born 58-year-old who married into the empire when she wed Robert Louis-Dreyfus in 1992.

The businessman died of leukemia in 2009, leaving his wife, who now holds Swiss citizenship, to take over a company which posted net sales of $33.6 billion for its most recent financial year.

Her son Kyril’s interest in football is said to stem from French giants Marseilles, where his family were the largest shareholders from 1996 to 2016.

The budding young chairman served an internship at the club’s training ground, gaining a firsthand insight into the running of the club.

He is believed to have later pursued a degree focused on sports management and the football industry at the Leeds campus of RIASA (the Richmond International Academic & Soccer Academy) in the north of England.

Despite – or perhaps because of – his tender years, Louis-Dreyfus had already attracted a great deal of interest in football circles before his appointment as Sunderland chairman was confirmed this week.

Initial agreement for the deal was reportedly reached in December, although the EFL have only just given the greenlight to the takeover.

Reporting on Louis-Dreyfus last year, The Athletic quoted a source close to the family as saying that the youngster was “groomed from a very early age to take on responsibility.”

“[His mother] wanted to make sure their children would not be stupid, just spending daddy’s money. It would have gone against their father’s personality to be like that.”

A supposedly compulsive player of the Football Manager computer game, Louis-Dreyfus’s footballing education is said to have come primarily under former Marseilles president Vincent Labrune.

“Kyril has a clear understanding of the football world because of Vincent,” The Athletic quoted a source as saying. “He saw all the good things but all the bad things also. Agents, money, who goes and stays. Good buys, bad buys. He saw everything.”

The youngster’s link to Sunderland appears to come through Uruguayan businessman and politician Juan Sartori, whose billionaire Russian father-in-law, Dmitry Rybolovlev, owns Marseilles rivals Monaco.  

Sartori had owned 20 percent of Sunderland since the summer of 2018 and will reportedly retain a stake under the new set-up, as will UK businessman Charlie Methven.

On assuming control of the club, Louis-Dreyfus himself said he was “proud to become a custodian of this esteemed institution” but that he also “recognize[s] the significant responsibility that comes with it.”

Sunderland currently lie down in seventh in the League One standings, with Louis-Dreyfus has been spotted in the stands in recent weeks. 

Founded in 1879, the Black Cats have six top-tier English league titles to their name, but the last of those came way back in 1936. They have also won the FA Cup twice, the last time being in 1973.

Sunderland’s recent woes were captured in all their agony on the popular Netflix docuseries, ‘Sunderland ‘Til I Die’, which followed figures at all levels of the club – from the boardroom to the loyal and long-suffering fans – as they watched the team’s fortunes unravel after leaving the promised land of the Premier League.

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