OVER the last couple of years, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and Kristjaan Speakman have built up a large amount of reputational stock.

They have overseen promotion from League One and successfully helped reestablish Sunderland in the top half of the Championship. They have conducted a wide-ranging overhaul of the Black Cats’ off-field structures, strengthening the coaching and scouting ranks and developing a recruitment model that has led to the acquisition of a group of exciting, talented youngsters. They have also rebuilt the relationship between club and fans that had become broken under the stewardship of Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven.

In short, they have earned the right to be trusted. By dismissing Tony Mowbray and appointing Michael Beale, however, they have put that trust and good feeling on the line. If this goes wrong, Louis-Dreyfus and Speakman will be to blame.

It was their decision to remove Mowbray from his post, even though Sunderland were within touching distance of a play-off place, having finished last season in the top six. Mowbray wasn’t sacked because results were unacceptable, and he didn’t lose his job because supporters were calling for his head. He was ushered through the exit door because his relationship with Louis-Dreyfus and Speakman had deteriorated to the point where the pair felt the situation was no longer tenable. It was the ‘model’ or the manager, and ultimately, Sunderland’s ownership group decided they would rather stick with their own approach.


Mike Dodds’ promotion to a caretaker role bought them time as they assessed their options, both at home and overseas, but within the space of a couple of matches, the stand-in’s success had become a double-edged sword. If Sunderland’s owners wanted a young, progressive, innovative head coach, had they not just unearthed one from within their own backroom set-up?

Sunderland’s supporters were excited by the links to Will Still, but when it became evident that the Black Cats were either unable to persuade the Reims boss to leave Ligue 1, or unable to afford to buy him out of his contract in France, the mood seemed to be turning towards giving Dodds a chance. He had overseen victories over West Brom and Leeds, after all, with the latter success displaying a willingness to be tactically bold as he switched to three at the back, and the Black Cats’ away support were singing his name as he oversaw last weekend’s game at Bristol City.

However, by that stage, it had become clear that Dodds would not be keeping his head coach position. Beale had been chosen as the anointed one, and his appointment was eventually confirmed on Monday afternoon. Suffice to say, his arrival has not exactly been rapturously received.

That is probably a bit harsh, reflecting, in part, the way in which an unknown overseas candidate can often have an allure and mystique lacking in his domestic rivals. Sunderland fans knew next to nothing about Kim Hellberg or Julien Sable, but would probably have been willing to give them a chance. Beale, as the boss who was sacked by Rangers in October, is seen as damaged goods from the start.

As both Louis-Dreyfus and Speakman were quick to point out in the statements that accompanied confirmation of Beale’s appointment, events at Rangers can be interpreted as an anomaly in an otherwise successful coaching career.

The Northern Echo: Sunderland owner Kyril Louis-DreyfusSunderland owner Kyril Louis-Dreyfus (Image: Ian Horrocks)

The 43-year-old was extremely highly regarded during his time as a youth coach with Chelsea and Liverpool, with Steven Gerrard thinking enough of him to offer him a job as part of the first-team coaching set-up at Rangers as soon as he was appointed at Ibrox.

From there, Beale followed Gerrard to Aston Villa, before striking out on his own in the summer of 2022 to take over at QPR. A couple of months into the season, with his QPR side sitting at the top of the Championship, he was offered a move to the Premier League with Wolves, such was the esteem in which he was held.

Admittedly, things turned sour at Rangers, with Beale dismissed less than a year into his tenure after a trophyless first season and a fairly disastrous start to his second campaign, but as he has been at pains to point out this week, the parameters of his role changed markedly during his time in Glasgow.

Unlike at Rangers, Beale’s remit at Sunderland begins and ends with coaching. He claims that plays to his strengths, and both Louis-Dreyfus and Speakman will be hoping he can improve a squad that was already looking fairly well-set for a play-off place under Mowbray.

Lead Sunderland to the Premier League, and Beale will have justified the owners’ faith. Fall short, however, and it will not just be his own reputation that is damaged. Louis-Dreyfus and Speakman will quite rightly be in the firing line too.