SINCE being formally confirmed as Sunderland’s new majority shareholder a week-and-a-half ago, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus has already made his presence felt in a number of different ways.

Igor Levin and Patrick Treuer have joined Sunderland’s board of directors, with Stewart Donald and Juan Sartori relinquishing their positions. Steve Davison has been appointed as the Black Cats’ new chief operating officer, with Jim Rodwell standing down from his position as chief executive. Louis-Dreyfus, in his first public interview with Sunderland’s official website, has pledged to introduce “strategic changes” that will “not be affected by what happens in the rest of this season”.

In terms of potential long-term impact, though, perhaps the 23-year-old’s most significant move has been to announce his unequivocal backing for Sunderland’s academy and firmly rule out any possibility to seeking to downgrade the youth set-up’s category one status.

Rather than seeing the £4m-a-year needed to run a top-level academy as a drain on resources, Louis-Dreyfus regards the funding as an investment that could have massive financial and footballing benefits in the future. Lewis Dickman has been promoted to the position of academy manager, with Dickman’s former position as head of coaching being filled by Stuart English, who has previously worked at Brentford and Birmingham City.

“I look forward to supporting our new academy leadership group as we strive to deliver a best-in-class youth system with a clear talent pathway through to the senior squad,” said Louis-Dreyfus, comments which were music to the ears of head coach Lee Johnson.

“It’s an absolute must for sustainable success,” agreed Johnson. “We all know how expensive football is now. You’ve always known that the North-East is a real hotbed of football, and I think that’s something we really have to tap into, both in terms of our marketing, our guerilla marketing, our belief in our current crop of players and the pathway through to the first team.

“The pathway is the most important bit, and it’s not easy because you’re trying to tick all the boxes. You’re trying to win the league by however many points, you’re trying to play 11 Sunderland-born players in your team, and you’re also trying to trade better than anybody else as well.

“That’s where the data becomes very important. Sometimes, a young player can be full of potential and have great attributes, but they’re not quite ready to perform at the level we need them to. Other times, they’re performing really well, but they don’t get their shot. The data becomes an important piece of that because bias can easily set in, depending on agendas at the time.”

In the last two or three years, a host of talented youngsters have left Sunderland to pursue their career development elsewhere. Some would have been impossible to retain no matter what given the size of the clubs that came calling for them and the way in which the current academy system makes clubs like Sunderland vulnerable to powerful Premier League sides cherry-picking their assets.

Some were persuaded to leave because they felt their development was being stunted on Wearside though, and addressing that failing will be a key priority for the new academy regime.

Johnson rightly regards the ideal of having 11 Wearside-born players in the first team as being far-fetched, and points out that youngsters have to merit a place in the senior side no matter what their background or upbringing. However, he acknowledges that Sunderland have to become much better at protecting their financial interest in the players they develop.

“At Bristol, we probably had 20 to 25 players that were deemed not good enough for the first team, but that the club could still regard as an asset,” he said. “Wes Burns is a good example – he went to Fleetwood, but Bristol City retain a percentage of any sell-on so still have a financial interest. If Wes goes, Bristol City’s efforts in developing him get rewarded and they can reinvest that money back into the club."