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How Paystack’s Shola Akinlade bought Danish club Aarhus Fremad

The Nigerian businessman acquired majority stake in the second division club and paid it a first visit on Easter Monday.

Paystack CEO Shola Akinlade attended his first board meeting at his new club Aarhus Fremad on Tuesday. The Nigerian businessman acquired 55 percent stake of the club in March. can reveal that the negotiations for the acquisition started in October 2022 and it took more than six months of behind-the-scenes discussions to finally make it happen.

Akinlade, 38, a Babcock University graduate of Computer Science, came into the limelight in 2020 when he sold the startup payments platform Paystack that he co-founded to US company Stripe for $200million. This made him one of the richest self-made Nigerians, a country where many rich people are connected to government contracts and patronage.

The journey to football business started for Akinlade in 2022 when he set up Sporting Lagos FC following the death of his father. He said that his father’s death made him want to create a community project that would be a legacy of his own life.

At Sporting Lagos, Akinlade has been trying to create a community-based club that can be on the same level as many clubs in Europe while infusing an American-style entertainment element to keep match-going fans entertained.

Nigerian tech entrepreneur Shola Akinlade meets with young fans of his new club Aarhus Fremad on Monday in Aarhus, Denmark, accompanied
by club director Lars Kruse and coach Paul Aigbogun. Photo by Lolade Adewuyi/Soccernet Media

While the team currently plays at the public run Onikan Stadium, Sporting Lagos has acquired land for the construction of its own stadium in the Lekki area of Lagos. This will bring the opportunity to design its programme and build a true community of fans and members.

This is part of the learning that Akinlade and his Sporting Lagos board hope they can take from Aarhus Fremad, a 76-year-old community club in the Central Danish university city of Aarhus.

Many of the staff of Fremad are volunteers and they hold the club as a model of communal engagement. There are no right-wing elements in the club and the atmosphere during game day is like being at a cookout with the barbecue stands selling big Danish wurst and brotchen and beer. Many fans sit on the grassy knoll overlooking the pitch while a group of young fans drum up support on the lone bleacher stand.

How the deal started 

As part of Akinlade’s growing interest in football, he set up an academy to bring young players into the Sporting Lagos football pipeline this year. He hired former Nigeria U20 national team coach, Paul Aigbogun, to handle player scouting.

Aigbogun, a former coach of Warri Wolves and Enyimba, had recently coached in Denmark at Jammerbugt FC, a club owned by a German businessman, Klaus-Dieter Müller. Hired in summer 2022, Aigbogun was tasked with taking the club to the first division, but things slowly started to unravel when Müller hit hard times and was unable to pay players and coaches.

Danish club ownership rules

Aigbogun was soon out of work as Jammerbugt FC was declared bankrupt and relegated. There was uproar in Denmark about foreign ownership of football clubs. But the laws do encourage foreign ownership with strict regulations put in place.

Aigbogun returned to Nigeria from his London base when he was contacted by Sporting Lagos to become its scouting lead for young talent. The 55-year-old went around the country to watch top young players that would be brought into the Sporting Lagos academy for future promotion into the main team.

It was when it struck the board that they would need more outlets to send the budding talent to beyond their main squad.

Aigbogun’s knowledge of Denmark’s club ownership laws and his contacts made the call to Aarhus Fremad possible. They found a community club that was doing decently on the second division table that could do with some financial investment to improve its fortunes.

It could also serve as a platform for bringing top talents from Sporting Lagos into Europe. Voila! It made perfect sense.

A fan of the Danish club Aarhus Fremad waves a flag during their home game against FC Roskilde on Monday. Photo by Lolade Adewuyi/Soccernet Media

Calling the deal

Akinlade made the call to Lars Kruse, CEO of Fremad, a man whose passion for the club was keeping it going, despite the difficulties they faced financially. Kruse said that Aarhus may be the 25th best team in Denmark, but financially they were not in the top 50.

He and his team listened to the offer by Akinlade. Months of video calls, text messages and conversations over the deal followed. They finally agreed on the sale of the 55 percent stake in March.

There was joy in the Sporting Lagos offices and relief in the Riisvangen Stadium club house, both sides celebrated the future. According to Danish laws, Fremad had to make a public announcement to their members and the public. Sporting Lagos, who wanted the deal to remain under the radar, scrambled to make their own announcement. They published it on March 28.

Four days later, on April 1, Fremad announced that their goalkeeper Can Dursun would be going to Sporting Lagos for the rest of the season. The exciting news was a fool’s day prank. But it energized their fans on the possibilities ahead – African players coming in, Danish players going to soak in some warmth in Lagos. Enticing possibilities.

Naija in Aarhus 

On Easter Monday April 10, Akinlade finally visited Aarhus to take in the atmosphere and meet with fans of the club. The smiling businessman shook hands all around, grabbed some sausages, drank a local pint and answered questions from some fans. He visited with members of his Sporting Lagos board, Ekene Agu, Fola Olatunji-David and coach Aigbogun. There was also Austrian-based football businessman Moses Egbebi and tech entrepreneur David Oluwanisola.

Nigerian tech entrepreneur Shola Akinlade bought 55 percent of Danish second division side Aarhus Fremad and also owns the Sporting Lagos FC. Akinlade sold his payments platform Paystack that he co-founded to US company Stripe for 200 million dollars in 2020. Photo by Lolade Adewuyi/Soccernet Media

I spoke to Akinlade after the game about his vision for the club and the partnership. There is a lot of excitement among Nigerians and Africans about this huge move. The idea that a young Nigerian who made his money legitimately from creating a tech platform is making such a business move is inspiring to many.

Akinlade’s vision for the growth of Nigerian football from a business perspective is something that has the potential to change the way we operate the local industry.

It is a shot in the arm that we didn’t know we needed. And it could pave the way for a new stream of investors that could truly change the industry for good.

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