Africa’s richest man, Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote, hoping to buy top English side Arsenal one day, but critics say the business mogul should invest in local soccer instead.
LAGOS, NIGERIA (REUTERS) – Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, has renewed debate about his interest in purchasing top English football club Arsenal.
The Nigerian billionaire told Bloomberg last week that he still had “hopes” of buying the London-based side “one day”, even though he was turned down by the owners back in 2010.
The north London club is currently controlled by US billionaire Stan Kroenke, and Uzbek billionaire Alisher Usmanov also owns just under a third of the club.
Dangote’s entrepreneurial skills have helped make him Africa’s richest person, with cement plants opened or under construction in countries such as Senegal, Ethiopia and South Africa. His industrial conglomerate is estimated at 18 billion U.S. dollars, whilst Arsenal are thought to be worth 1.49 billion U.S. dollars.
However, some critics have challenged Dangote’s interest in the top tier English Premier League club, saying he should invest in local football first.
Sports commentator, Toyin Ibitoye, believes Dangote’s interest in Arsenal could be a wise investment but his wealth and management experience could also help turn around Nigerian football.
“Maybe it is the right business decision for him, that is left for him to decide, but we can only appeal to him that while planning and strategising on what he wants to do in terms of buying Arsenal in the future, he could also look inwards as well to help develop our domestic game to the level where the English Premier League is at the moment. I mean, what we have lacked in Nigeria is a proper business structure for our clubs, a proper business plan for our clubs. And if a man of Aliko’s calibre is interested in setting a structure in place for Nigerian football, that could just be the turnaround that we’ve been waiting for.” said Ibitoye.
2013 Africa champions Nigeria are ranked 45 by FIFA but failed to qualify for the Africa Nations Cup held in Equatorial Guinea earlier this year.
The nation’s football governing body, Nigeria Football Federation, has faced controversy and escaped two possible suspensions by FIFA in the last year.
Nigerians have expressed mixed feelings over Dangote’s sports aspirations, with some saying even he cannot help the current state of the country’s football.
“Our football has a national problem, it is a system problem, it will not automatically translate into him developing the national league. Even if he is in charge of the league, he can’t do it all of a sudden. It is a national, it is a problem system. So we have a league that is not properly run. We have a league that is not even on television and whatever you don’t have on television is open to a lot of manipulations,” said Taiwo Ademola, a public servant.
Ibitoye also believes Dangote’s potential entry into football could help attract other wealthy investors into Nigerian football and other sports.
“We know that Nigeria at the moment, we have a lot of challenges. Infrastructural challenges, power, no power, a lot of these challenges are here in Nigeria but it has not stopped Aliko Dangote from making a success of his cement business, of his sugar business, of his other businesses that he is doing, because what he does is that he creates a conducive environment around these businesses that will make them thrive.
“The same thing can happen in our sports, in our football. The environment may not be perfect at the moment, but somebody like Aliko Dangote coming in, setting a structure around his own interest in football can begin to draw a road map that other billionaires, other money bags can follow to have a proper structure for club football in Nigeria and of course for sports in general,” he said.
Soccer remains an abiding passion for many of Nigeria’s population of 170 million people.