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!