Last week the news of Alhaji Aliko Dangote’s interest in buying English Premier League giants Arsenal resurfaced in the media across the world. This time multi-billionaire, who is Africa’s richest man, made clear that his desire to buy the club was deep-seated, insisting he had loved the Londoners since he visited Highbury – the club’s former ground – over 30 years ago as a guest of its former vice-chairman David Dein who is a close friend and associate.
Many have been confounded by why the quiet tycoon would choose to invest his vast resources in the EPL and not the Nigerian Professional Football League which is practically comatose and in dire need of fresh and wealthy investors. Why not buy a club at home and make it a mighty force in Nigeria and the continent before shipping desperately needed funds at home into the already wealthy English game, people have asked.
Many, including this writer, have posited that Alhaji Dangote’s companies in Nigeria, which account for the lion share of his N3.6tr (12b pounds) valuation, would fare even better from the attendant wealth created locally if the Nigerian league becomes successful. We have argued that investing in Arsenal only creates jobs and wealth for the English to the detriment of his countrymen and even his businesses in Nigeria. Some of us have contended – based on available facts from reputable organizations – that there is no easy money to be made from buying a club like Arsenal, albeit such an investment would easily globalise the Dangote brand.
Over the last week I had chosen to look at why the Alhaji has not as much as mentioned the Nigerian league in his interviews about buying Arsenal. Clearly he is a football enthusiast, so there must be a reason why Nigerian football does not seem to appeal to him. After all he would know that arriving at the negotiation table in England as the owner of the biggest club in Nigeria and a force in African football would seriously improve his profile as a credible investor in a big club like Arsenal.
Think about it, the Glazers who own Manchester United, John Henry who owns Liverpool, Stan Kroenke of Arsenal, and Sheikh Mansour of Manchester City all have serious investments in sports in their respective countries. Chelsea boss Roman Abramovic also has a track record of supporting CSKA Moscow and the Russian national team.
Alhaji Dangote has said he is looking at making a play for Arsenal in a few years after he completes his massive oil refinery in Lagos and starts to reap from it. So I figure there is some little time for the smartest club owners in Nigeria to try and cement a relationship with the magnate.
Realistically however, I believe their task may not be an easy one even as I imagine that given the responses to his Arsenal hunt, he may at last be considering some local interest. There are a few significant hurdles that may be standing in the way of any club convincing the Alhaji to put his money in the local league. The good news is that what would have been the most significant hurdle – believing in Nigeria – does not apply in this case. After all we speak of a man who former president Olusegun Obasanjo acknowledged his government supported because of his backward integration philosophy that has seen him invest massively in the country.
Nigerian newspaper Daily Independent, summed up their reason for naming him the Man of the Year in 2012 by saying Alhaji Dangote is “one Nigerian who makes his money in Nigeria and also spends it in Nigeria for the benefit of the country’s economy; unlike several other Nigerians who spend their wealth buying houses and other choice properties abroad, or stacking them into foreign banks to the detriment of the growth of their own country’s economy, Dangote is always at home with his business.”
So what are the possible roadblocks to Alhaji Dangote investing in the Nigerian league?
1. Home club – One would imagine that the first club that the Alhaji would be interested in would be one from his home state Kano. Kano Pillars have easily been the best club in Nigeria over the last five years having won three of the five league titles on offer in the period. But the club is owned by the state government and one needs to ask whether a sales pitch has been made to their most illustrious son while government focuses on providing infrastructure and amenities that would encourage more fans to get involved in games; like roads, power and security? My guess is that this has not happened because most state governments do not want to relinquish ownership despite blowing vast amounts of tax payers monies on these clubs that are hardly competitive in Nigeria let alone Africa.
2. Integrity – the integrity of the league must reach acceptable limits to interest the biggest Nigerian investors who from interactions and some close experiences I have had would have no problem backing Nigerian clubs, especially the iconic ones like Enugu Rangers, Bendel Insurance, Pillars, IICC Shooting Stars if there is good organisation and transparency. For instance referees must be properly trained, monitored and protected, there must be scheduling fidelity, fans must know when our league season begins and ends every year. Today a chronic lack of funds means dates are bounced around such that it is hard to tell when the season starts and ends. Clubs must be made to adhere to the same rules, regulations and standards, and justice must be dispensed fearlessly.
3. Excitement – the league must be designed to be highly entertaining. The stakes must be high and clubs must be willing to pay star-like wages. A league without true stars like the NPFL cannot attract, or retain interest. An entertaining league would ensnare fans and attract investors from around the country and even the world. A league that produces unpredictable results would maintain high interest levels as opposed to one where home teams are virtually invincible as is the case with the NPFL.
4. Title sponsorship – Every society must find solutions that suit them and the way Nigeria works, perhaps the League Management Company must now explore the option of having a pure brand by dropping name sponsorship in the future. Though the desperate need for the sponsorship revenue at this time gives the LMC little choice, a pure brand might ultimately open the door to more sponsors. As I have heard many times, nobody wants to invest in a league and end up promoting “another man’s business”. This might not be why Alhaji Dangote has kept his distance, but I believe that there might just be more investors warming up to a no-man’s league.
5. Fast-track – It is possible that the Alhaji’s team is not Kano Pillars. It may be a club that has disappeared from the league, or one wallowing in the lower divisions. Should he or any other big investor in the same position want to revive this club, they may be discouraged by having climb up the ladder from probably the third or fourth divisions and waiting three or four years before making it to the top-flight. Would it be possible to fast-track that process at least at this time when there is a dire need to revamp the game? Could such a team replace a nonperforming side farther up the ladder for instance? This is a potentially contentious option, but these are desperate times and desperate measures are required. Perhaps there can be a five-year grace period before the league stabilizes.
Just in case no one has put together a compelling pitch to capture the vast resources of Alhaji Dangote, you may want to start now. Who knows… -ThisDayNews