Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote, commonly referred to as Africa’s richest man, has once more been linked with an attempted Arsenal takeover, something he has seemingly been trying to do for a decade already – since at least 2011.
The latest rumours about Dangote trying to buy out current owner Stan Kroenke, an extremely unpopular figure with fans, have been sparked by reports that a major oil and gas refinery he owns on the outskirts of Lagos will finally be operational at some point in ‘early 2021’ – a projection made last summer. He has long been hoping it will significantly increase his bank balance for a takeover.
That time has now come, which has prompted speculation the Dangote could soon be preparing his long overdue offer to buy Arsenal. But the hype is definitely nothing new and the issue has come up time and again without the chatter ever yielding anything of substance.
Dangote was born into an extremely wealthy Nigerian family in the late 1950s. He studied business at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, and started his own company in 1977.
He has invested in numerous industries and his ‘Dangote Group’ operates in large parts of west Africa. Food processing, with a dominant market share on sugar trade in particular, cement, freight, banking, real estate, textiles, oil, gas and telecommunications have seen his wealth soar.
As of February 2021, Forbes estimates Dangote to be worth $11.5bn.
Dangote is known to have been interested in buying Arsenal since at least 2011, now 10 long years ago, when Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith was in the process of selling her 15.9% stake.
This was a time when Kroenke was still trying to buy up shares for his own takeover attempt, having amassed a 29.9% stake in the Gunners by 2009.
Dangote said in 2015 that he had wanted to buy up those shares in 2011. But he had pulled out, claiming it was because he had also been ‘very busy’ in his other ventures. Kroenke wound up buying the Bracewell-Smith shares, as well as those from Danny Fiszman to take his stake to 67%.
“There were a couple of us who were rushing to buy, and we thought with the prices then, the people who were interested in selling were trying to go for a kill. We backtracked, because we were very busy doing other things, especially our industrialisation,” Dangote said, looking back on the 2011 race.
Those comments were made in 2015 and, at the same time, Dangote expressed hope that his refinery would provide the capital needed. That is the refinery is now supposed to be operational by ‘early 2021’ and has been in the pipelines since 2013.
“When we get this refinery on track, I will have enough time and enough resources to pay what they are asking for,” he said.
In 2016, Dangote once more spoke about his interest in Arsenal but said he didn’t have the resources both for a takeover and to continue with other projects he valued at more than $20bn. At that time, his wealth was also reported to have dropped by $4.4bn in a year, mainly as a result of a depreciation in the Nigerian currency.
“It’s not about buying Arsenal and just continuing with business as usual. It’s about buying Arsenal and turning it around. I’ve run a very successful business and I think I can also run a very successful team. Right now, with what we’re facing, over $20 billion of projects, I cannot do both,” he said.
A year later, Dangote once again pinned his dreams of buying Arsenal on the refinery’s progress.
“I don’t want to go after Arsenal until I deliver the refinery. Once I deliver, I will go after Arsenal,” he explained in an interview with Bloomberg.
“We’ll be in a position to give them the right offer. They will not hold Arsenal forever. Someone will give them an offer that will make them seriously consider walking away. And when we finish the refinery, I think we will be in a position to do that.”
Speaking in 2018, Dangote put a two-year time-frame on his planned Arsenal takeover, insisting that 2020 would be the year it takes off.
“We will go after Arsenal from 2020, even if somebody buys, we will still go after it,” he declared.
As of January 2020, Dangote had pushed back his ambitions by another year, insisting on Bloomberg’s David Rubenstein Show that he was still too busy with other things to consider buying Arsenal and earmarked 2021 as a time when he might be able to.
“It is a team that, yes, I would like to buy some day, but what I keep saying is we have $20bn worth of projects and that’s what I really want to concentrate on.
“I’m trying to finish building the company and then after we finish, maybe some time in 2021 we can. I’m not buying Arsenal right now, I’m buying Arsenal when I finish all these projects, because I’m trying to take the company to the next level.”
Now that 2021 is here, will it be any different this time? If that huge refinery starts bringing in the money as he hopes, Dangote might at last have the extra financial clout he has been waiting for. But it’s been 10 years of talk and no action so far. So perhaps don’t hold your breath, Arsenal fans…