Nigerian businessman Aliko Dangote has explained the rationale behind his decision to abandon Nigerian clubs for English Premier League side, Arsenal.
The 58-year-old business mogul believes that buying a Premier League team will help to raise the profile of his home country.
Dangote had been criticised by some people in Nigeria for not investing in the domestic league there, but he thinks that the Gunners represent a better project.
‘The issue is that if I buy all the Nigerian clubs, the Nigerian flags will continue to remain here,’ Dangote told Forbes.
Dangote believes Arsenal, who won the FA Cup last season, could help to boost Nigeria’s credibility.
He added, “Buying Arsenal will take the Nigerian flag worldwide. Just like whenever (Chelsea owner) Roman Abramovich is mentioned, the name of his country comes up. Everyone knows he’s Russian.”
Dangote amassed his fortune by becoming the majority shareholder in giant cement, flour and sugar companies and currently supplies 90 per cent of Nigeria’s 170million population.
His business empire also extends to oil and he is building a private refinery in one of the country’s jungle swamps due for completion in 2018.
Five years ago, Dangote attempted to buy a small stake in Arsenal but was rebuffed. He tried to take over the 15 per cent owned by Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith who eventually sold to Stan Kroenke.
Dangote recently insisted his interest in buying Arsenal is not ‘overnight stuff’ and revealed he has been a fan of the club for more than 30 years thanks to former vice-chairman David Dein.
Dangote, who is the 67th wealthiest person in the world with a fortune of £12billion, has explained his interest in The Gunners saying he was first taken to the club’s former Highbury ground by Dein, a close friend and associate.
Dein, a former sugar trader, helped Dangote start his business in 1980. Dangote Sugar Refinery Plc now accounts for 90 per cent of the product sold in Nigeria.
“I have been a supporter of the team since the Eighties,” confirmed Dangote after publicly declaring his wish to be the club’s next owner.
“My love for Arsenal dates back to when I went to watch them play with the-then largest shareholder David Dein. I developed a likeness for the team and I have been a supporter of the team since then. So it is not overnight stuff.”
Using Dein’s name leaves the fascinating prospect of whether the former vice-chairman will return to Arsenal if Dangote becomes the club’s new owner.
Dein was regarded as Mr Arsenal and key to the appointment of Arsene Wenger as manager until he left in 2007 when the board chose to sell to American Kroenke rather than his ally Alisher Usmanov. Kroenke, 67, is now the majority stakeholder at the club with a 67 per cent share.
Dangote believes his background won’t be an obstacle to buying Arsenal.
“What I always say is that money doesn’t have colour. It doesn’t matter whether you are from Africa or anywhere in the world. The colour of money is the same. Once I put money on the table, they will not think if I am an African.
“It might be a policy that they don’t want an African to own it, that is another matter altogether, which I don’t really believe.”
Dangote tried to buy a 15 per cent stake in Arsenal in 2010 but claims the price was too high. “The people who were interested were actually trying to go for the kill,” he said.
‘Obviously I am not going to lose money. Arsenal are doing well but they need another strategic direction. They need more direction than the current ownership who just develops players and sell them.”
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