Our governments must now realise that running football clubs is not the business of government. There is not a single progressive country in the world where this is the case. So when I read recently that the boss of betting company Nairabet, Akin Alabi, wanted to buy Shooting Stars FC, I thought ‘why not?’. I am not aware that there has been any official response to this expression of interest, but what I would suggest is that if due diligence is conducted and the prospective buyer is found to be worthy, the club should be sold to him. It will not only be great business for the Oyo State because it frees up scarce resources spent on running the club for other constructive projects, it would improve the chances of achieving better success in areas that make the government fund the club in the first place, i.e. creating employment, boosting trade, inspiring more people in the state to higher levels of competition and fostering unity. Above all else, the right ownership change would see the once popular and admired brand regain its lost lustre. We run a flawed system in Nigeria which makes our clubs neither competitive nor marketable. The time has come for all state governments to reassess their roles in football and move in step with the world by letting private enterprise unlock the vast economic potential of sports. So Governor Abiola Ajimobi, the vote here is sell if the buyer is right!
Think about it, for all the hundreds of millions pumped into Shooting Stars annually, how many players or officials do they really employ? How many young people in the state are being identified, engaged and developed by the club when you consider that they do not have a youth system? How does the club affect the mentality of the people in the state when they have become serial losers? Where do the millions really go, and can any state government in Nigeria afford such wasteful investments today? Why not free the government of paying salaries, paying for transportation and logistics, buying kit and merchandise, etc and spend that money on upgrading the decaying sports facilities in the state that would then boost interest from the public and enhance revenues for all stakeholders?
As things stand today, government clubs are black holes that just gulp scarce government resources and return little or nothing on the investments. This is not unique to Oyo State and Shooting Stars, as other traditional giants like Rangers International and Bendel Insurance (my club) have suffered stagnation or decline for years and years. Shooting Stars last won the Nigerian league crown 18 years ago in 1998, Rangers in 1984 and Bendel in 1979. Yet these are the brands that should drive the marketability of the Nigerian Professional Football League like the Manchester Uniteds, Arsenals, Liverpools, Barcelonas, Real Madrids, AC Milans, Juventuses, Bayern Munichs, Borussia Dortmunds, Paris Saint-Germains do in countries like England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France. Clubs like Shooting Stars, if professionally managed – and not by civil servants, can become forces in Africa, attract huge sponsorship and create thousands of jobs for citizens of their states.
However, while I am predisposed to selling the club, care must be taken to ensure it does not fall into the wrong hands. Shooting Stars are a Nigerian legend and in that sense, their influence goes far beyond Oyo State. The club has fans stretching back over four decades, fans who live around the world today, thus giving it a global feel. It should only be sold to a serious player with deep pockets who must be capable and willing to invest – possibly agreed sums – into getting better players, paying better wages, developing the youth system and competing for honours.
Even if, in spite of due diligence, the new private buyer proves incompetent based on agreed contractual deliverables, there is nothing that says the government cannot reclaim the club and find a better investor. To that effect my only advice would that he the club’s name must not be changed. No one wants Shooting Stars to become Alabi Babes or Nairabet Shooting Stars – a petty culture our megalomaniac business leaders are prone to. Retaining the traditional name means the club stays a state institution rather than being tied to any particular person. This would then make it easier to find new investors from among wealthy fans and investors whenever necessary.