Meet Kyril Louis-Dreyfus. The 23-year-old heir to a Swiss commodities fortune has bought a majority stake in Sunderland AFC and installed himself as the youngest chair in English football.
Louis-Dreyfus, whose family owns the Louis Dreyfus Group trading empire, has been interested in football since going to Olympique de Marseille (OM) games with his late father, Robert Louis-Dreyfus, who owned the French club until his death in 2009.
Following the sale of OM to the US billionaire Frank McCourt, the younger Louis-Dreyfus vowed that the family would not “do anything in football any more, it’s a rotten business”.
That was until Sunderland, who are currently seventh in Football League One, came calling and Louis-Dreyfus was bowled over by the passion of Black Cats fans.
“Sunderland is a special project,” he told French newspaper L’Equipe. “The fervour of the people [in Sunderland] is reminiscent of that of Marseille. There were more spectators on average than in half of the Premier League clubs.
“You can’t buy this! In cities like Zurich, Monaco, nobody is interested in football, it limits the possibilities of expansion.”
Louis-Dreyfus, who flew over from his boarding school in Singapore to watch OM take on Inter Milan in the Champions League in 2012, had considered a career on the pitch as a player or manager but was sidelined by injury.
He studied for a degree in International Sports Management at the private Richmond International Academic & Soccer Academy (RIASA) in Leeds and South Kensington, London, in 2017-18 but dropped out of the £26,000-a-year course.
Kamran Stead, the assistant head coach at RIASA at the time, said: “Kyril was a good technical player and a very polite and intelligent young man.
“Unfortunately he was unlucky with injuries whilst at RIASA, but you could clearly see he had a competitive edge to him in a very positive manner and he had a good sense of humour both on and off the field.”
Announcing his takeover of Sunderland AFC this week, 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”.
“I am confident that together we can weather the present storm and put solid foundations in place to bring sustainable and long-term success to the club.”
Sunderland’s former owner Stewart Donald, who will keep a minority shareholding, said he had been impressed by Louis-Dreyfus’s intelligence and enthusiasm despite his youth.
“Kyril’s commitment, acumen and integrity convinced us to accept his proposal,” Donald said.
“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.”
The sale was first agreed on Christmas Eve, but was only given approval by the English Football League this week. Other existing shareholders Juan Sartori and Charlie Methven will also retain small stakes.
Lee Johnson, Sunderland’s head coach, said: “I’m very, very confident in his motives, and I’m very confident in his ideas. He’s probably the most well-rounded 24-year-old [sic] I’ve ever met in my life.”
Louis-Dreyfus, who refers to himself as KLD, is friends with several footballers including Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembélé, Manchester City’s Benjamin Mendy and Crystal Palace’s Michy Batshuayi.
They all appear in selfies on Louis-Dreyfus’s Instagram feed, which also includes photos with the boxer Floyd Mayweather, Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton and former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Robert Louis-Dreyfus was chief executive of Adidas and advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, before he took over the family firm established by his great-grandfather Léopold Louis-Dreyfus in 1851.
Following Robert Louis-Dreyfus’s death from leukaemia in 2009, his wife, Margarita, became the majority shareholder and chair. The company reported a 50% increase in profit before charges to $634m (£450m) in the first-half of 2020 as the pandemic boosted demand for many of the commodities it trades.
Louis-Dreyfus has a twin brother, Maurice, who refers to himself as MLD and is a DJ in Zurich. They also have an older brother, Eric. They are distantly related to the actor Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who played Elaine in Seinfeld and Selina Meyer in Veep.
Margarita, 58, is now in a relationship with Philipp Hildebrand, the former head of the Swiss central bank and vice-chair of US asset manager BlackRock. The couple welcomed the birth of twin girls in 2016.
Vincent Labrune, who was president of OM and is now president of the French football league, said of KLD: “He has absolute passion. He takes up the torch [from his father]; there is ambition, pride. He has a good memory, he will feed on past mistakes.
“He will not flare up: it is not in his nature, and his mother, anyway, would not let him.”