Sunderland Echo

Key quote from KLD that reset the footballin­g strategy at Cats

- Phil Smith @Phil__Smith

The obvious caveat, which we have learned the hard way at Sunderland, is that it is always wise to wait and ensure the reality meets the rhetoric.

All the same, it was hard to overstate the importance of a clear and deliberate­ly stated message from Kyril LouisDreyf­us in his first interview on Tuesday evening.

His most eye-catching remarks, without a doubt, came as he recognised what had gone at the club in recent years and in doing so, acknowledg­ed what has been a historic low for supporters.

Most important for the club's long-term trajectory, though, were these words: "I think it's very important in football not to panic.

"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."

In less than a minute, Louis-Dreyfus underlined how the club's footballin­g strategy has been upended and reset.

There is no suggestion that Sunderland are prepared to accept a fourth season in League One. Key figures at the club, from head coach Lee Johnson to KristjaanS peak man, have all insisted that a club of this size must produce regular results and eventually, promotion from the third tier.

There is a recognitio­n, though, that football is a game of often uncontroll­able variables and most importantl­y, what is no longer accepted is that Sunderland face a choice between short-term success and long-term improvemen­t.

The logic underpinni­ng Sunderland's new strategy is that promotion will only be achieved by focusing on getting the process and the structure right, both on and off the pitch.

Johnson, for example, will be judged on results, but also on how he is able to develop Sunderland's style of play and the players within his squad.

Johnson had initially been reluctant to drop into League One after leaving Bristol City but it was the strength of Louis Dreyfus' plans that convinced him Wearside was the best place to be. He has ambitions to be back in the Championsh­ip next season but most importanti­s that the club is able to be competitiv­e at higher levels over a long period of time.

That requires investment on the pitch but just as important is the investment off it.

To that end, it has been notable that Louis-Dreyfus' first actions have been to bolster the infrastruc­ture around the club that has been so comprehens­ively dismantled since dropping into League One (a process that had begun even before then).

He had begun this even before taking charge, the arrival of Speakman as Sporting Director and Steve Davison as Chief Operating Officer addressing the chronic lack of day-to-day leadership that had come to define the Ma dr ox era.

Moves to strengthen the club' s data and analytics operations­are already underway and Speakman's first Academy appointmen­ts suggest a shrewd understand­ing of what has gone wrong under the previous regime. Too many of those talented youngsters who have left the club felt there was not a strong enough desire on the club's part to keep them.

That was a bitter frustratio­n to Academy staff who continued to produce outstandin­g results in player developmen­t, and in appointing Lewis Dick man, Speak man has identified the importance of strong relationsh­ips on the ground and an understand­ing of the operation at its best.

It should give confidence to players and families that there is a commitment to developing talent over a longer period of time, and the clear support for Johnson will in turn give them the freedom to better establish a proper pathway.

This is the kind of infrastruc­ture and targeted investment that should have been in place to support the first team from the moment the Black Cats dropped into the third tier. Take, for example, that fateful first January window.

Will Grigg had been Jack Ross' primary target to fill the

imminent striking vacancy but the frustratio­n for the manager was to discover at the last minute that the club's possible budget had suddenly been transforme­d.

The point was not that he didn' t want to sign Grigg, which he did, but that his overall approachto the window may have been different had he known from the start what the ownership were ultimately prepared to spend (some of that money, for example, would very clearly have been better spent on a young, athletic centre-half ).

The frustratio­n was particular­ly acute given the lack of spending on key infrastruc­ture that was already in clear need of attention.

This, in a nuts hell, is a prime example of how a' promotion at all costs' mentality can lead to flawed decision making that in time actually reduces the club's chances of getting back to where it belongs.

There is a broader point here, too: What is the point of getting back to the Championsh­ip if you are not in a position to succeed when you get there?

The gap between the third and second tier is growing larger by the season.

One of the biggest challenges in football is removing emotionfro­m decision making and it's an obvious statement that only when the pressure is on will Louis-Dreyfus' vision be truly put to the test.

The encouragin­g aspect for Sunderland fans is that he is putting in place the structures around him to best aid his decision making when those key calls come around.

Underpinni­ng those decisions will be the logic that what is best for Sunderland in the long term will not necessaril­y harm their short-term prospects. Get the set up right, and the opposite can be true. It' s nothing short of a complete overhaul in thinking from the Madrox era.

 ??  ?? Sunderland owner Kyril Louis-Dreyfus.
Sunderland owner Kyril Louis-Dreyfus.
 ??  ?? Sunderland’s Stadium Of Light.
Sunderland’s Stadium Of Light.
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Charlie Methven and Stewart Donald.
Charlie Methven and Stewart Donald.

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