The Paystack CEO visited the Danish club for the first time to meet with the fans after his recent acquisition and he met an eager community who hope things work well
Aarhus, Denmark – “Why did you buy this club,” a young fan asked Shola Akinlade on Monday during the Nigerian businessman’s first visit to Aarhus Fremad, a club in the Danish Jutland region. “Why not,” Akinlade replied, “I think there’s so much we can learn from each other.”
Akinlade’s visit to the Riisvangen Stadium was a charm offensive that brought him closer to this community club with a passionate set of fans who are hopeful of better days. Fremad currently sits in second place on the second division table, the third tier of Danish football.
They will go into a play-off of the top six teams, where two teams will gain promotion into the first division, just below the Superliga. Their best years were when they played in the Superliga from 1997 to 1999 and many dream of a return to those glorious days.
On this Monday afternoon, as the team played against FC Roskilde, the barbecue stand was lined with fans who bought sausages and bread and took their seats on the grassy hill abutting the pitch. Akinlade, accompanied by members of the Sporting Lagos board, Fola Olatunji-David, Ekene Agu and coach Paul Aigbogun, shook hands with the fans who came to him, many happy to finally meet their new owner.
Up in the bleacher, a group of young fans who organized themselves into a drum chorus, belted a freshly minted composition in honour of their new owner: “We love you Shola, we do, we love you Shola, we do, oooh Shola we love you!”
Akinlade, co-founder and CEO of Nigerian fintech Paystack, that was bought by US payments platform Stripe for over $200million in 2020, has been making a push into the football business. In 2022 he established Sporting Lagos, a football club that competes in the Nigeria National League, the second tier of the football system.
In March, he announced that he had taken over 55percent shares in Fremad, a move that signified his growing appetite for the football industry after setting up an academy in Lagos to feed talent into Sporting Lagos FC.
“We wanted to learn from what they have done here and build a long-term project,” Akinlade told Soccernet.ng. “We also want to create a pathway for some of the exciting talent we have in Africa and to provide opportunities for the best talent to move. It is something that we are excited about.”
But there is some apprehension about foreign ownership among fans, after Jammerbugt FC was relegated from the second division last year as it filed for bankruptcy when its German owner Klaus-Dieter Müller could no longer pay players’ salaries. Müller had filled his team with players from Nigeria and Mali, and then stopped paying their salaries. It is one in a long streak of failures of foreign ownership that unsettles Danish football fans.
“I welcome the initiative, let’s see,” said Phillip Quist, a fan who came to the game with his daughter. “This is a community-based club, so it is important to keep that in mind going forward with Mr. Shola. But I have been looking into what he has been doing with Sporting Lagos and it looks like it is based on familiar ideas and values. So maybe this can turn out to be a good thing.”
The sunny weather turned into a slight chill as the sun hid behind the evening clouds, Fremad forced Roskilde to a 1-1 draw, but it did not dampen the atmosphere.
Back inside the clubhouse, Lars Kruse, the club’s director, who will continue to manage it despite the new acquisition, spoke about his hopes for success.
“It has been quite difficult for us running this club as a business. It has been a passion project for a few of us,” Kruse said. “So, it is really good for me now that we have some significant economic strength due to Shola coming to the club.”
In Aarhus where Nigerian businessman Shola Akinlade bought controlling shares in the local Division 2 club, Fremad. Locals and fans are excited about the takeover of this community club and are hopeful of reaching new heights with his investment. pic.twitter.com/cujVaWKqN9
— Lolade Adewuyi (@Jololade) April 10, 2023
On Tuesday, Akinlade will hold his first board meeting at Fremad and meet the city’s mayor to discuss his ideas for the club.
For Akinlade, it is a significant move that could become a yardstick for many Nigerian businessmen to look towards investing in football. It is a significant difference from Dozy Mmobuosi’s protracted purchase of English club Sheffield United. He is already building a home stadium for Sporting Lagos and would also be expected to pitch in for building a proper stadium for Fremad.
The tech entrepreneur has built a multimillion-dollar payments business, he is now bringing his midas touch into the sports space, a business that is like no other. And he is already creating a legacy across two continents.
“I’m very excited for the possibilities ahead,” said Akinlade. “Like tech, football is all about talent. If we can find talented people and just provide opportunities for them, I think there is a lot of potential we can unlock. That’s the journey we’re trying to go through.”