Africa’s richest man is the latest to target Arsenal, want to change everything the club does

Arsenal is getting all the Tinder swipes from the rich dudes. Eight years ago, the richest man in Russia tried to take control of the North London club. Now, another of the world’s thickest wallets may make a play. Africa’s richest man, 58-year-old Arsenal fan and Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote, is once again targeting Arsenal.

Speaking to Bloomberg, Dangote, who previously attempted to swipe right on Arsenal (didn’t get a match) back in 2010, said, “I still hope, one day at the right price, that I’ll buy the team.”

Fast forward to present day, and Dangote still has enough money, with a net worth of $18 billion, according to Forbes. But Arsenal’s current majority owner, Stan Kroenke might have other ideas. Wanting to buy Arsenal is one thing; convincing Kroenke — who owns a 67.02 percent stake in addition to his NFL, NBA and NHL teams — to sell is another.

But in typical billionaire fashion, Dangote doesn’t seem too distraught by the prospect of a Kroenke obstacle, saying, “I might buy it, not at a ridiculous price but a price that the owners won’t want to resist. I know my strategy.”

And he isn’t necessarily in a rush. “We have $16 billion-worth of investments in the next few years,” he said. “Right now I want to take my own business to a certain level. Once I finish on that trajectory, then maybe [I’ll make his move].”

Billionaires, right?

Back in 2007, Alisher Usmanov, formerly the richest man in Russia, aggressively swiped right on the London club, purchasing a hefty chunk of Arsenal shares through Red and White Holdings Ltd. He wanted to take over the club, taking it in a new direction. At the time, Arsenal was trying to stay afloat competitively on a meagre budget because it recently built a large, fancy home, Emirates Stadium. The swashbuckling Usmanov wanted to throw money at Arsenal’s struggles. Manager Arsène Wenger and his board, he believed, had to change their mentality.

Usmanov had big plans, but was never able to complete a full takeover because shareholders refused to sell him the requisite shares. As it stands, Usmanov is no longer the richest man in Russia — with an unimpressive net worth of $14.7 billion, according to Forbes — and Red and White Holdings Ltd. owns 30.04 percent of Arsenal Holdings Plc.

Like Usmanov (and most Arsenal fans), Dangote also has an opinion on the club’s management, and Wenger. He “needs to change his style a bit,” opined Dangote. “They need new direction.”

[Insert exasperated sigh.]

That’s just what the club needs, a fan, albeit one with billions of dollars, instructing one of the greatest coaches of all time — who’s put together one of the most entertaining teams to grace the game — on style. Because meddling owners in England have a long, proud history of putting together entertaining teams that remain consistent over time.

And as far as direction goes, Dangote’s “new direction” comments probably require some articulation, if or when he decides to attempt his next swipe right. Because as it stands, he sounds a bit like the other man who tried to swipe right and take Arsenal on a date toward “new direction”: Usmanov.

Back in 2012, Usmanov and Farhad Moshiri, a co-owner in Red and White, sent a now infamous letter to the Arsenal board. In it, they outlined their grievances with Arsenal’s direction, noting, among other things, “deep reservations about the viability of the policies being pursued by [Wenger’s] management team and sanctioned by the Board.”

But what about Arsenal’s direction?

As it stands, some Arsenal fans are still grumpy because they love counting trophies and deplore having to watch people like José Mourinho snatch up old Arsenal possessions (e.g., Cesc Fábregas). Meanwhile, Arsenal has paid off its fancy new stadium. It’s debt-free. At present, the club is the most entertaining in England. Easily. It’s also fighting for second place in the league instead of fourth.

Are these the greatest things in the world? Of course not. Puppies, jokes, and Piers Morgan being sad are infinitely better. But there’s no doubt that Arsenal is moving in the right direction, despite what Usmanov, Dangote, or any other billionaires interested in swiping right might suggest.

Billionaires, give or take a couple of billion dollars, are just like regular people. They all have ideas; it’s just that some of them aren’t very good. Over time, I’m sure we’ll learn more about Dangote’s vision. He’ll have my support if one of his aims is to build a statue of Santi Cazorla outside the Emirates.


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