Why I Think Aliko Dangote Should Buy A Nigerian Premier League Club

Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote said earlier this month, in an interview with Bloomberg, that he is still interested in buying English Premier League (EPL) club, Arsenal despite having his first offer rebuffed back in 2010.

Being an ardent follower of one of the best leagues in the world, it is easy to understand why Dangote’s dream of owning the North London club seems to be the right business decision.

However, one wonders why he has not thought of purchasing a Nigerian Premier League (NPL) club instead.

Nigerian football is in dire need of a shot in the arm and Dangote may be the man to take our football to the acme of African, if not World, football.

The progress of our league is still marred by the interference of State Governments. Most Nigerian Premier League clubs are still owned by the Governments in the states where they are situated, hence the league lacks a proper business structure.

Captail Oil owner and business man, Ifeanyi Ubah recently acquired Gabros FC for over a billion naira and said “We seem not to know what we have in this country in terms of football standard. I feel ashamed whenever I see Nigerian young players go to lesser football-playing countries to play professional soccer. I don’t see why our players should run to places like South Africa, Malta, India, Bangladesh and even Israel to play professional football, when in the actual sense, with proper organization and planning, the Nigerian league is better. My dream is to make Nigeria the Mecca of club football in the world.”

The English Premier League is lauded today as the best league in the world because England allowed foreign investors to come in and buy the clubs, attract foreign players to the league and expand their fan base.

Egyptian Mohamed Al Fayed was the first foreign owner in English football, with Fulham. He purchased the club for £6.25m back in 1997 when they were still in the fourth tier of English football.

But it was the success of Russian billionaire, Roman Abramovic at Chelsea that heralded the influx of foreign investors into English football.

Abramovic bought Chelsea, a fairly midtable team at the time, for £150m from Ken Bates back in 2003 and has since turned them into EPL/FA cup/Champions League winners.

Since then, Stanley Kroenke, Alisher Usmanov (both Arsenal), Randy Lerner (Aston Villa), Assem Allam (Hull City), Ellis Short (Sunderland), The Glazer Family (Manchester United), Katharian Liebherr (Southampton), Tony Fernandes (QPR), John Henry (Liverpool), Sheikh Mansour (Manchester City) and  Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha (Leicester City) have all acquired major stakes in English premier league clubs.

Investment of the Dangotes and Ubahs in Nigerian football may also propel our league to such great heights and attract the likes of Abramovic to invest in the league.

One cannot overemphasize how Nigeria, as a nation, will benefit from having a well-structured and competitive football league.

The English Premier League generates €2.2 billion per year in domestic and international television rights.

Having a well-structured league will help curb the chronic youth unemployment we have in the country. Apart from being a footballer or coach, many youths will get the chance to work for the league clubs in different capacities such as advertising, managerial, human resource, sports science etc.

The prospective club owners can record profits from sale of club merchandise and match tickets, if sold at available prices, to ensure the stadium is filled and make the match enjoyable for everyone.

I had the opportunity to watch a League One (English third tier) match between Bristol City and Scunthorpe United at Ashton Gate stadium in 2014. I was in awe of the atmosphere in the stadium; it was nothing like what I experience back here in Nigeria. The fans were in boyish mood and sang on top of their voices.

The club also slashed the match ticket prices for students and persons with disabilities hence allowing everyone to get a glimpse of their local stars.

The Egyptian, South African, Moroccan, Tunisian, Mexican and Japanese leagues are leagues we can use as stereotypes. Let’s use the Egyptian league for example, it is so organized and exciting that their top players leave Europe and return home. For instance, Amir Zaki was an instant hit at Wigan Athletic when he was on loan at the club (2008/2009 English premier league season) and had the opportunity to make the deal permanent but he declined the offer and opted to return back to Egypt where he’s been representing Zamalek.

The Egyptian league is so exciting to watch because of their style of play and the atmosphere in the stadia. The fans come out in mass, wearing the colours of their favourite teams and singing loudly.

Nigerian football needs this boost!

Football’s Life Lessons I

Football is the most popular sport, played and watched by millions of people world wide.

Football is more than a game because it teaches us a lot about life so let’s take a look at some of the lessons we can learn from following the game.

1. People don’t remember all the things you’ve done for them rather they will hold unto the one you didn’t do. Robin van Persie has scored a lot of important goals for Man United this season but took a lot of stick for missing a glorious chance late in the game against Chelsea.

2. Success breeds haters. Lionel Messi and his FC Barcelona team are hated by many because of the success they’ve recorded.

3. The media will make and mar you. David Beckham married spice girl, Victoria Adams in 1999 and the pair were dubbed “Posh & Becks” by the British media. A few years later, British tabloids offered Rebecca Loos a whooping £5m to reveal all the details of her affair with the football star.

4. Competition is healthy and brings out the best in us. Javier Hernandez has really improved in his all round play this season because of the emergence of Danny Welbeck and signing of Robin van Persie.

5. Football enlightens us on geography and makes us conversant with some places we had never heard of. Eg Andorra, San Marino, Faroe Islands, Luxembourg, Catalunya, Lichtenstein, Basque country, Andalucia country, etc.

6. Football helps you become familiar with some names of the players/coaches and the countries associated with such names.

7. Nothing is permanent. Life is all about rise and fall. In 2002, Leeds United were in the semi finals of the UEFA Champions League; they play in the English second tier (Championship) today.

8. All is fair in love and war.
If you like complain and moan all day about some refereeing errors that cost your team the match, the match won’t be replayed.

9. Opportunity comes but once, take it! Kenneth Omeruo was relatively unknown prior to the start of AFCON. He was given the chance to play after Efe Ambrose was red carded in the first game, he did well and cemented his place in the team ousting the captain, Joseph Yobo from the starting line up.

10. Football educates one about history, only if you listen to the commentary and don’t make silly noise/arguments during a game. Did you know whenever Tottenham Hotspur plays at home, Arsenal (Highbury days) must play away to prevent traffic jam?

11. It is hard to replace or leave a team player out of the team. Pedro is the one of the most hard-working players I’ve seen, that’s why it’s hard to keep him out of the team at FC Barcelona and International level.

12. Footballers inspire you, you can be anything you want to be if you work hard.

13. Money will always come but what would you do with the money? A lot of footballers have gone from riches to rags because they failed to invest their money properly.

14. Nobody is indispensable. Manchester United won’t become extinct when Sir Alex Ferguson finally retires.

15. Humility is truly a virtue. Ryan Giggs is the most decorated player in the history of English football but he’s laid back and humble, a true example to everyone. See Kanu Nwankwo also.

To be continued

TOP TEN NIGERIANS TO PLAY IN THE ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE (Posted first on connectnigeria.com)

With or without the consent of European football governing body UEFA, the English Premier League is the best and most exciting football league on planet earth.
People from all over the world, are glued to their television sets to get a glimpse of the EPL action week in, week out.
Since the start of the EPL in 1992, about 25 or thereabout Nigerian Internationals have played in England’s elite football league and this is a list of my top ten Nigerians to fly the Green White Green in the EPL.

KANU ‘PAPILLO’ NWANKWO
Although Kanu made most of his EPL appearances as a substitute, he is the reason the league became a popular one here in Nigeria. He moved to Highbury from FC Internazionale of Italy for 4.1million pounds after a scare about his heart. He went on to play for West Bromwich Albion and Portsmouth. He made a total of 315 appearances (118 as a substitute, an EPL record) scoring 57 goals. He won 2 Premier League titles, 3 FA Cup trophies, and 1 Community Shield, African and BBC Footballer of the year during his stint in England.

JOHN MIKEL OBI
John Michael Nchekwube Obinna popularly known as John Obi Mikel joined London giants Chelsea after a tug of war with Manchester United which saw FIFA intervene and act as a pacifier between the two rivals. The matter was resolved and Chelsea were asked to pay 12million pounds in compensation to Manchester United and 4million pounds to his parent club, FC Lyn Oslo of Norway.
He made his EPL debut as a substitute and scored his first goal in English football in 6-1 thumping of Macclesfield Town in January 2007 (FA Cup). He’s gone on to play in the League Cup, FA Cup, and Champions League finals for the club. He’s the most decorated Nigerian to play in the EPL; he has won a Premier league title, 4FA Cups, 1League Cup and 1Champions League medal during his 5years at Chelsea. He’s also made 160 appearances for the club scoring 2goals.

YAKUBU ‘YAK’ AIYEGBENI
After a tremendous display in the 2002/2003 Champions League campaign where he scored 7goals in 8matches, he earned a loan deal to Portsmouth FC, who were fighting for promotion in the Championship. He helped them to the EPL before signing permanently.
He is the third highest goal scorer in the history of the Nigerian national team. He made his debut in English football as a 57th minute substitute for Vincent Pericard in 1-all draw against Brighton & Hove Albion on 18th June 2004 and scored his first goal against Grimsby in his first start.
He played 37times in Portsmouth’s debut season in the EPL scoring 16times; scored his debut EPL goal in the 1-1 draw against Manchester City (his second match).
He went on to represent Middlesborough, Everton, Leicester City and Blackburn Rovers. He scored 29, 26, 25, 17 EPL goals for Pompey, Middlesborough, Everton and Blackburn Rovers, a total of 97goals in 213 appearances; averaging 0.45goal per game. He scored four hat-tricks in his EPL career.
He joined Chinese side, Guangzhou R&F this summer after Blackburn Rovers’ demotion to the Championship.

JAY JAY OKOCHA
A cult hero at the Reebok stadium, he joined Bolton Wanderers after the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan after the expiration of his deal with French side, Paris Saint Germain.
In his debut season, he was limited to few appearances due to injuries but he still steered his team away from the hands of relegation with 7goals. This endeared him to the hearts of Bolton fans, which made them unveil a T-shirt in his honour with the inscription “Jay jay, so good they named him twice”. His goal against West Ham United was voted EPL team goal of the season. He was made captain of the team in 2003 and led Bolton to their first cup final in 9years (League Cup final v Middlesborough) in 2004 which they lost to a Bolo Zenden’s first half penalty.
In 2006, he was stripped of the captaincy and subsequently, joined a Qatari club that summer. He played 124 times in the league, scoring 16goals.

JOSEPH YOBO
The Super Eagles captain and most capped player with 87caps joined the EPL train in July 2002 after signing for Everton FC from Marseille in a million pound loan deal. The deal was made permanent a year later with Everton paying Marseille an additional 4million pounds for his services.
He went on to become one of the most consistent players in the Everton squad, and was one of only 7 players in the entire league to play every minute of every match throughout 2006/2007 season.
As of 15 April 2007, he is the record appearance holder for an overseas player and became the first African to captain the side in the absence of Phil Neville, against Larissa of Greece in the UEFA Cup on 25th October 2007
In 2009/2020 season, he fell down the pecking order after the club signed John Heitinga and Phil Jagielka from Athletico Madrid and Sheffield United respectively, his poor form didn’t help either and he was farmed out on loan to Turkish giants, Fenerbahce; He made the deal permanent last week. He played 220 times in the league for Everton, scoring 8goals.

OSAZE PETER ODEMWIGIE
Born to a Nigerian doctor and Uzbekistani mother, he joined West Bromwich Albion on 20th August 2010 for an undisclosed fee on a two year contract.
He scored on his debut, 81st minute winner against Sunderland. He also scored in the memorable 3-2 win against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium; a brace against Newcastle United in a 3-1 win surpassing Robert Earnshaw’s record as the club’s top scorer in the EPL with 15goals. On 30th April, he became the first WBA player to score in 4consecutive matches after scoring against Tottenham Hotspur. He won two Player of the Month awards during the course of the season; the sixth man to receive the accolade twice in one season in the award’s history.
He scored his first hat trick in EPL in 5-1annihilation of Wolverhampton Wanderers on 12 February 2012, which made him win the Player of the Month award for the month of February; his third in his short stint in England. He has chipped in 25goals in 60 EPL games, an average of 0.416goal per game.

EFAN EKOKU
Efangwu Goziem Ekoku, English-born ex Nigerian international played in the EPL with Norwich City and Wimbledon.
He joined the EPL bandwagon after signing for Norwich City in a 500,000 pound deal from Harry Redknapp’s Bournemouth side where he scored 7times in 14games. Norwich were in the thick of the title race, he scored 3goals in 10matches; Manchester United later won the title that year while Norwich finished third.
He scored four times as Norwich beat Everton 5-1 at Goodison Park; becoming the first player to score more than 3goals in one match in the EPL.
He moved to Wimbledon in 1994 replacing John Fashanu. He was the club’s top scorer that year with 9goals while they finished in 9th position. He went on to score 7 and 11 goals in 94/95 and 95/96 seasons respectively. He took them to the League and FA Cups finals in 1996 which they lost on both occasions.
He left the club in 1999 for Swiss club, Grasshoppers.
He was inducted into Norwich City Hall of Fame in 2012, obtained his FA/UEFA coaching badges and serves as a co-commentator for TWI overseas coverage of the EPL.

CELESTINE BABAYARO
The ex-Nigerian was signed by Ruud Gullit as a 19year-old back in April 1997 from Anderlecht for 2.25million pounds for Chelsea, a club record for a teenager at the time.
He won the FA Cup and Charity Shield with Chelsea in 2001 and 2002 respectively. The arrival of Jose Mourinho saw him lose his place to Wayne Bridge who was signed as part of Roman Abhramovic’s revolution. He joined Newcastle United in 2005 after playing 200 times for Chelsea. He made 179 EPL appearances scoring 5goals.

DANIEL ‘THE BULL’ AMOKACHI
He signed for Everton for 3million pounds after the 1994 World Cup. He is famous for bringing himself on as a sub then proceeding to score two goals in the Semi Final FA Cup win over Tottenham in 1999; although he won the match, his coach wasn’t too pleased with his actions. He also appeared in the FA Cup final triumph but only as a late sub. He didn’t make the best impact in an Everton shirt and lost his place to Rideout and Duncan Ferguson. He played 43times and scored 10goals.

FINIDI GEORGE
Nicknamed “The Gazelle” during his time at the Amsterdam ArenA, joined Ipswich Town during the twilight of his career in 2001 from Mallorca for 3.1million pounds. Ipswich town had defied all odds and finished third in their debut season in the EPL, all thanks to the goals of Marcus Stewart, Martijn Reuser and James Scowcroft.
Finidi scored twice on his debut in a 3-1 win over Derby County at Portman Road but they were relegated at the end of the season and he returned back to Spain in 2003.

Much Ado About Manchester United

I wasn’t into English football when I was growing up rather I was an ardent follower of the Dutch Eredivisie, all thanks to my late uncle. The first “official” European match I watched was Ajax vs. AC Milan, Champions League final, 1995 where an Ajax team of youngsters captained by Danny Blind and coached by Louis van Gaal won the day courtesy of a goal by then 17 year old Patrick Kluivert. Ajax had the Van der sars, de Boers, Davids, Seedorfs, Witschges, Litmanens, Kluiverts, Blinds, Reizigers along with 2 Nigerians, Kanu Nwankwo and George Finidi in their ranks.

I fell in love with the Ajax team and kept on following the Dutch league but all I really cared about was the goals; I never missed an episode of Rothmans football show on NTA back in the 90s. I did not support any club until I watched the UEFA Champions League magazine show prior to the final between Manchester United and Bayern München at the Nou Camp in 1999.

They did the pathetic story of the ruin and rise of the club, Manchester United F.C. The Munich air disaster took place on 6th February 1958, when British European Airways Flight 609 crashed on its third attempt to take off from an ice-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport in Munich, Germany. On board the plane was the Manchester United football team, nicknamed the “Busby Babes” along with a number of journalists and supporters. 23 of the 44 people on board the aircraft died instantly as a result of the crash. As I watched this documentary, I wept as one of the players, Liam Whelan actually said: “This may be death, but I am ready” shortly before take off! The manager, Sir Matt Busby read his last rites (prayers before death) twice on his hospital bed because his chances of survival were slim. But the death of their best players did not bury the club! To feeble minds that would have been the end of the story. I saw the Munich memorial clock on the south eastern corner of Old Trafford that permanently read “Feb 6th 1958.” I saw the “Munich Tunnel” in Old Trafford stadium that contains the names of all the dead players and the bold inscriptions under the crash victims’ pictures: Manchester United Shall Rise Again and that was the day I joined the club because that is the summary of life.
The club did rise again; Sir Matt Busby resumed managerial duties the next season (1958-59), and eventually built a second generation of Busby Babes including George Best and Denis Law, that ten years later won the European Cup, beating Benfica. Bobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes were the only two crash survivors who lined up in that team.

Thirty one years later (1968-99), United exorcised their Munich demons in a dream final at the Nou Camp beating the men from Munich 2-1 courtesy of late strikes from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjær cancelling out Mario Basler’s opener. Basler had given Bayern the lead via a free kick in the first half only for Sheringham to head in a David Beckham’s corner with 2mins left to play. Deep into extra time, Beckham delivered another corner, Sheringham got a head to it and Solskjær who was at the back post poked it in. I was delirious, elated and ecstatic that I couldn’t contain my joy. Since then, the name Manchester United F.C has been encrypted in my heart.

There are only two clubs in England; Manchester United and the rest. If football is your passion, Manchester United is your brand.

Who are the favourites to win the English Premier League this season?
What are your predictions for the incoming season?

Talent

I’ve always wanted to play football in one of the big leagues and show the world the talent God gave to me.

People who’ve known me for years still can’t believe I didn’t play professionally. Allow me to blow my own horn; I am blessed with the gift. I can play as a playmaker, striker or winger. I am tremendously skillful with both feet, have a flair for defence-splitting passes and a hawk eye for goal.

Everybody in my family supported this dream of mine except my dad. My dad is a very intelligent, meticulous and articulate man thus I trust his opinions and thoughts. The moment I knew he didn’t give his consent, my heart sank because I believe the man die!

He said “How can you, my son be a professional footballer? Mba nu! You are more intelligent than that. You must be educated. What would you do when you retire from the game at 30/35?”

He had a very serious point. Most footballers call time on their career between the ages of 30 and 39. You know what they say, life begins at 40 so you see where he’s already looking at. If I retire at 30 without education, I could become a liability to other members of the family.

My dad always maintained education doesn’t make one rich but gives you wealth of knowledge and removes the scales of ignorance from your eyes. He believed footballers are womanizers, who lavish their money on girls, cars and other irrelevant things because they lack educational exposure.

My late uncle was an ex-Green Eagle and my in-law, Christian Obodo used to play for the Super Eagles. In my late uncle’s case, his career was cut short by a nagging knee injury and my dad said to me…”My son, if you have a career ending injury like your uncle, what would you do with your life?” I couldn’t utter a word.

I kept on nursing my ambition to lock horns with the stars I watch every week on television, I sent my video clips to some clubs, most notably Manchester United and Real Madrid wearing their colours in the video clips. I even proceeded to write SAT with my friends Ababa & El Rey which I passed and got admission to study Economics at Memorial University of Newfoundland, UCLA or University of Illinois but my dad didn’t budge. The coach of University of Illinois Men’s soccer team at the time, Ben Massena tried to pull the deal through…for where? UK and Ireland (University of Loughborough to study Chemical Engineering) came calling…zilch! Then my dad asked me one question that if I answer it correctly I could go play wherever I want. He asked “what would you do with the money you will make?” Huh, did I hear him correctly? Who you dey ask that one? I mean I was 15/16 at the time and of course, I couldn’t answer that question. I was speechless and numb.

Parents often pressurize their kids into choosing things they don’t want like filling Medicine and Surgery, Law, Enginnering or any other professional course on their JAMB forms for one particular reason or the other (could be selfish or not). That’s why some of these kids end up failing because they have no interest in the course or are afraid of failing & disappointing their parents.

Don’t get me wrong, our parents love us and they want the best for us but what they fail to understand is that God gave you that talent you have for a reason.

All they have to do is support and encourage the child’s dreams and ambitions and help him/her develop that talent. When they do, the child will definitely do exceedingly well. I’m yet to see a person who failed to bring to fruition his dreams, goals and ambitions when he/she had the backing of the parents.

For instance, look at Lionel Messi, the man who every football lover believes is a Martian, was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency at the age of 11. Argentine perennial champions, River Plate backed out on offering him a deal because they had no money to foot his medical bills. Then came Barcelona with an escape route for the Argentine imp, offering to pay his medical bills only if Messi signed for their academy (La Masia). The father, Jorge agreed and resigned from his job as a factory steel worker and migrated to Barcelona to be with his son.

Today, he’s won everything winnable except the World Cup. He has been world footballer of the year thrice at just 24 and has 21 winners medal with club and country including a myriad of individual honours.

If you have a talent, nurture it and put it to great use. If you are a parent, help your child discover his/her talent, aid and support the development of this God-given talent.

What’s your talent?