At 26, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus is the youngest person ever to own an English football club. So it seems fitting that this scion of the agricultural trading dynasty is betting on youth to bring Sunderland back to the promised land of the Premier League.  “My family’s been around sports for a very long time,” he told the Financial Times. His late father Robert once owned French team Olympique de Marseille. “Football isn’t new to me,” he added, “it isn’t

something where my passion came overnight.” He took control of Sunderland in 2021, aged just 23, and now owns a 64 per cent stake. The remaining shares are held by Juan Sartori, a Uruguayan senator, who is also a private equity executive, and the son-in-law of Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian oligarch who controls French club Monaco. Championship football — the second-highest English league, where Sunderland plays — can be a treacherous place for ambitious clubs. Some, such as Derby County, have thrown money at the chase for promotion to the Premier League, only to fall short, leaving themselves financially stretched. Average wage bills

in the Championship exceed revenues generated by clubs, according to figures from Deloitte.  Under Louis-Dreyfus, Sunderland is attempting to chart an alternative course, relying on young, unknown, imported players to win matches.  Many clubs in the league value Championship experience above all else, said Louis-Dreyfus, but that can mean signing expensive players who are “on the way down”. Instead, Sunderland hunts for overseas players, typically aged between 19 and 21.  “What we’re trying to do on the football side is invest in young talent

and give them the opportunity and the belief,” he said.  As a result, Sunderland has the youngest squad in the league this year, with an average age of 22.6, according to figures from Transfermarkt, down from more than 29 when Louis-Dreyfus bought the club. That compares with 25.6 at league leaders Leicester City and 27.3 for West Bromwich Albion, the team with the highest average age. Louis-Dreyfus, whose twin brother Maurice also sits on

Sunderland’s board, is betting on this strategy to overcome the “biggest discrepancy between potential and actual” in football, based on the club’s large and loyal fan base, modern stadium, big online following and past success on the pitch. Promotion to the Premier League is “an absolute necessity”, he added.  “This period we’re going through now is the longest Sunderland has ever been outside the Premier League. So this is not something that anyone is used to,” he said. “We think our strategy is going to get us there.” Sunderland was promoted to the Championship at the end of the 2021/22 season, after a four-year stint in the third tier of English football. The

team is chasing promotion this year, and is currently mid-table but still with a good chance of making the play-offs.  It is a reversal of fortunes for a team that dropped from the top to the third tier of English football in just two seasons. That painful fall was captured in the Netflix documentary Sunderland ’Til I Die, produced by three life-long fans. It became a cult hit and was the inspiration for the purchase of non-league club Wrexham by Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. One of the show’s producers, Leo Pearlman, recently

joined Sunderland’s board of directors. The club hopes the third and final series of Sunderland ’Til I Die will boost global interest from both fans and sponsors. Released this week, it tells the story of the rebuilding under Louis-Dreyfus. “There was no recruitment department, there was no data science department, there were no scouts, there was no academy manager. If you looked at the vacancies list, it was almost entirely vacant,” he said of his early time in charge. “While it seems like we’re completely different now, we have to keep a level of realism.

These things take a little bit of time.” Off the pitch, the club is looking to boost other income streams. Last year the 42,000 seater Stadium of Light, Sunderland’s home ground, hosted Beyoncé and Pink concerts, while plans are coming together for a solar farm on land owned by the club.  The most recent set of accounts, which cover the 2021/22 season when the club achieved promotion back to the Championship, showed a loss of £7.9mn. The wider group of companies, which includes income from non-football activity, lost £4.4mn. The Louis-Dreyfus dynasty has history in European football. They owned Olympique de Marseille when a Qatari fund bought rival French club Paris Saint-Germain in 2011 and flooded it with money and elite talent. Marseille has not won the top French league since, and Kyril’s mother Margarita sold the club to US billionaire Frank McCourt in 2016.  Kyril

Louis-Dreyfus once again finds himself looking over at a rival bankrolled by petrodollars, following the takeover of Newcastle United by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund in 2021. But he insisted the situation was positive for the “productivity” of England’s north-east as a whole.  “The first thing everyone said to me when I arrived was that the region thrives off having a strong Sunderland and a strong Newcastle. For many years, both clubs were not doing well, and I think it had a real negative impact on the whole region,” he said.    However, when

Sunderland tried to make Newcastle fans feel welcome at a recent cup game by repainting the visitors’ section of the stadium in the black and white of Newcastle, home fans were outraged. Louis-Dreyfus said mistakes were made and lessons learnt.  “In Sunderland, I go through the same entrance as thousands of fans. By going to games, you get to feel what the mood is like in the fan base, you understand what the community wants, hopes,”

he said. “I’m fully aware of what the rivalry means.” He remained upbeat about the team’s prospects this season, but said he was wary of getting too excited. The Championship, he noted, was “relentless”. “The uniqueness of the league is that every single team in the division goes into it with the hope, the investment and the belief that this is

the year they’re going to get promoted,” he said. “It can shift very quickly, both ways. You can be bottom of the table and get promoted, and you can be top of the table and get relegated. For the [fans], it’s very exciting. But for the owners, it’s a very, very difficult league.”