IN many respects, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus’ formative footballing experiences were the same as those of any other youngster. Proudly sporting a Marseille replica shirt, with a blue-and-white scarf draped around his neck, he would attend the Stade Veldrome sitting alongside his father. He readily admits he would get too emotionally involved, cheering wildly at a win, crying himself to sleep after a defeat. If it was a really big game, he would pester his dad to be allowed to postpone his homework to watch.

It was only when Marseille were playing away that his privileged position would stand out. Unlike pretty much ever other football-mad youngster around the world, he didn’t have to worry too much about transport to and from the game. Instead, he would settle into his own personal seat on Marseille’s team plane.

One person, two worlds, and it is important to consider both when assessing Louis-Dreyfus’ decision to purchase a controlling 59 per cent stake in Sunderland, a deal that was formally ratified by the EFL this week, ending Stewart Donald’s controversial two-and-a-half year reign as owner and chairman.

When reflecting on Louis-Dreyfus’ motives for buying Sunderland, and attempting to consider what his stewardship over the next two or three years might bring, his wealth will always be a valid starting point.

The 23-year-old is a member of the world’s mega-rich elite, boasting a level of family wealth that is hard to comprehend. The family of his late father Robert, who died in 2009, founded the Louis-Dreyfus group in 1851, and helped develop the business into a world leader in agriculture, food processing, transportation and, over the last few decades, hedge-fund management. His mother, Margarita, who now runs the company, which posted an annual revenue of €36.5bn in 2018, is thought to be the world’s richest Russian woman. Kyril is believed to have access to a trust fund worth more than €2bn.

That certainly helps explain how he could afford to buy a controlling stake in Sunderland and wipe out the debts that had been incurred during Donald’s reign. It does not, however, explain why he felt compelled to purchase a club currently sitting seventh in English football’s third tier, based in a part of the country that is not normally on the travelling itinerary of the super-wealthy.

To account for that, you have to switch your gaze back to the wide-eyed eight-year-old, tingling with excitement in his Marseille scarf. For all that he has had to become a hard-headed businessman, making billion-dollar decisions, when it comes to his sporting outlook, Louis-Dreyfus remains a footballing romantic. Having watched his father transform Marseille, turning a ‘sleeping giant’ of a French club into regular European finalists, he wants to perform the same trick with Sunderland.

“He is fascinated by his father,” said Vincent Labrune, the former Marseille president who became something of a surrogate parent to Louis-Dreyfus after his father’s death from leukemia. “He took his slippers.”

“Following the sale of OM, I stuck to one idea,” said Louis-Dreyfus, in a recent interview with L’Equipe. “We don’t do anything in football anymore, it’s a rotten business. But Sunderland is a special project, really.

“The potential is in England. At Marseille, we didn’t have the Veldorome, which caused us a lot of problems. Sunderland owns its stadium with the country’s seventh biggest capacity.

“The fervour of the people is reminiscent of that of Marseille. In Division Three, before the health crisis, 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.”

Clearly, Louis-Dreyfus wants to follow in his father’s footsteps, but his motives for purchasing Sunderland appear to stretch beyond a desire to simply extend the familial association with football. From the moment he was ushered into the inner sanctum at Marseille, he has clearly felt a strong affiliation with the game.

For a while, he hoped to make it as a professional, briefly spending time in the academy of Swiss side Grasshoppers Zurich. Then, after a period of schooling in Singapore, he spent a year studying with RIASA, a world-renowned soccer academy programme, before completing an MBA at Harvard.

It was 2017-18 when he was enrolled with the Richmond International Academic and Soccer Academy (RIASA), studying for modules in sports and business management while also playing football at a semi-elite level. The course involved spending time at Leeds Beckett University, with its campus in Headingley, and RIASA’s former head coach, Kamran Stead, remembers a talented, if somewhat injury-prone, central midfielder.

“Kyril was a good technical player and a very polite and intelligent young man,” said Stead. “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.”

By all accounts, Louis-Dreyfus was a popular student who did his best to hide his privileged background. It has been suggested that his class mates did not really know who he has until one of them discovered then when he left on a weekend, he would head to Leeds Bradford Airport from where he would fly to the south of France on his family’s private plane.

A firm fan of the Football Manager simulation game, Louis-Dreyfus appears to have spent the final few years of his academic career preparing himself for a life in football. It would have been much easier for him to have taken up a senior boardroom position on the family firm, and given the extent of his wealth, he could certainly have chosen a much simpler task than the challenge of rebuilding Sunderland, a club at its lowest ebb as it ploughs its way through its third season in League One.

After his experiences in the last couple of weeks, he certainly knows what he has let himself in for. His first public outing at a Sunderland game came at Shrewsbury’s Montgomery Waters Meadow, where the Black Cats lost 2-1. He has subsequently attended the club’s home matches against Doncaster, in the league, and Lincoln, in the Papa John’s Trophy, and is expected to be at the Pirelli Stadium today as Sunderland take on Burton Albion.

It is a far cry from the day in 2021 when he flew back from his private school in Singapore to watch Marseille take on AC Milan in the last 16 of the Champions League, but for the moment at least, he appears to be relishing his new role.

“I am proud to become a custodian of this esteemed institution, but I also recognise the significant responsibility that comes with it,” he said this week. “Today marks the start of an exciting new chapter in Sunderland AFC’s history, and although the current landscape facing football dictates that there are challenges to overcome, 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.”