Alhaji Aliko Dangote needs no introduction. He is at present Africa’s richest man with a net worth of $10.8 billion. His business interests cover manufacturing, oil and gas, haulage services, agriculture among others. His sphere of influence transcends Nigeria as he has vast business interests across the African continent and, indeed, the entire globe. Without doubt, Dangote ranks among one of the highest employers of labour in the country. Indeed, a few analysts have claimed, either rightly or wrongly, that the economy of Nigeria is partly being sustained by Dangote.
What many do not, however, know about Dangote is that he is an ardent football fan. As it is characteristic of most Nigerian soccer fans, Dangote is also passionate about the English Premier League as he keenly follows and supports the London Gunners, Arsenal FC. Dangote’s romance with Arsenal FC recently came to public consciousness with reports that the Kano born billionaire has his eyes on buying the London based football club.
According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Dangote announced his intention to buy Arsenal FC last year. In the report, he is only bidding for his business prospects to improve and his investments in gas pipelines and oil refinery to play out before making an audacious bid for the London club. In a recent interview with Bloomberg Television in New York, Dangote revealed his interest in acquiring Arsenal. He said: “There is no doubt that I will love to buy Arsenal FC and there is no problem about money. I am going to do it may be in three or four years’ time. Presently, I have more challenging headwinds and I need to get those out of the way first and start having tailwinds. Then, I will focus on the acquisition of Arsenal”.
Arsenal Holdings Plc, the owner of Arsenal FC trades on the ICAP Securities and Derivatives Exchange, or ISDX, has a market capitalization of 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion). Currently, Stan Kroenke, American business entrepreneur with a net worth of $7.3 billion (Forbes-2016) and owner of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) top flight side, Denver Nuggets, holds 67 percent of Arsenal Holdings.
If Dangote eventually acquires Arsenal FC, he would be the first sub-Saharan African to own a team in the English Premier League. His desire to buy Arsenal, however, goes beyond merely creating such record. Being a keen follower of the club, Dangote essentially craves to build and sustain the club into one of the best football teams in the world. He said: “The intention is not just about buying Arsenal and just continuing with business as usual. It is about buying Arsenal and turning it around. I have run a very successful business and I think I can also run a very successful football team”.
Considering its recent dwindling fortune on the soccer field, Arsenal FC is actually in dire need of a magical turnaround so it could regain its position of reckoning. With 13 top flight league titles, Arsenal FC is, no doubt, one of England’s most successful teams. However, it last won the English Premiership title in 2004, something keen watchers and analysts of the English Premiership consider as not too good enough for a club of Arsenal’s pedigree.
While it is true that football in Nigeria not in any way as profitable as it is in Europe, America and North Africa, development in the last two seasons has shown that things are really improving, especially in the management of the local national premier league.
Indeed, all sorts of professionals-doctors, physiotherapists, psychologists, grass men, scouts, etc-are employed by the various teams in their drive for soccer glory. Therefore, in Europe, football has gone beyond a mere recreational activity. Consequently, youths across the continent have found in football a means through which they could use their talents to escape poverty.
Ironically, in Nigeria, what we have is the exact opposite of what operates in Europe. The once exciting Nigeria local league, that produced household names like Segun Odegbami, Adokie Amaesimeka, Christian Chukwu, Stephen Keshi, and Rashidi Yekini among others, has become a shadow of itself. Hitherto widely followed teams such as Stationery Stores, Spartans of Owerri, Rovers of Kano, Abiola Babes, Leventis United, etc have gone into extinction while popular European clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal and AC Milan among others have been in existence for over a century. Unlike in Europe, where football clubs are purely run as business ventures, clubs in Nigeria are mostly run by governments on a non- profit making basis.
Unfortunately, football administrators in the country are mostly only interested in fighting over the paltry funds that come from government rather than creatively and passionately evolving strategies to lift the game. This is why, some of our footballers travel to less known footballing nations such as Bangladesh, Sudan and India among others to further their careers.
It is, therefore, in order to reverse this trend and bring about a major transformation in the management of football in the country that one is appealing to Dangote and other such spirited Nigerians and corporate organisations to key into the development of football in the country. Indeed, the private sector needs to take more active part in the project to restore the nation’s lost glory in sports. All over the world, the initiatives and funds that drive sports come from the private sector. With the much required private sector participation, the declining status of football in the country could be effectively addressed.
It is in doing this that we can discover new football heroes, revive the sport and tackle the twin issues of job creation and youth restiveness in the country. God bless Nigeria.
Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa,