ESTHER EGBE meets with Kunle Soname. The owner, CEO of Bet9ja and Remo Stars FC, talks about his multiple investments and his extensive purchase of football club in Portugal among other matters arising. Enjoy.
LET’S begin with some insight on who really Kunle Soname is?
Soname is just a little boy born about 50 years ago. Schooled in Lagos and Ife.
Worked as an Estate Surveyor & Valuer and also a business manager. Married and blessed with offspring. .I’m succinct yet overwhelming.
The desire to venture into sports. Particularly owning a club, when did the thought occur, and what motivated such a decision?
I was fortunate to be a Local Government Chairman BTW 2003 & 2011.It became very clear to me that sports are a veritable crime reduction strategy in my local environment. I therefore set up a grassroot football club to keep youth off the streets and crime. That was what gave birth to the then FC DENDER which later became Remo Stars FC. Also of note, the club has been in existence since 2004.That’s very correct. I did my research well. But it became a professional football club 2010.
Sometimes back, you officially became the first Nigerian to own a top European side. Your acquisition of Deportivo Feirense gave you that honor. Why Portugal? Why Feirense?
Portugal is the only country in Central Europe that has no limits to the number of non-EU players that can be registered. If the business is to get African top talents to Europe, then it has to be where I can get maximum number. Feirense is a club with a rich tradition, founded 1918 and domiciled in a very pleasant city. As much as it is business, the zeal to promote African players still is priority. Very considerate. Reminder: ‘Sabi pikin’ Oghenekaro Etebo plays for Deportivo Feirense. Also, Eagles goalkeeper Dele Alampasu is owned by Deportivo Feirense, although currently on loan to Cesarense.
They say friendship starts from the house before outside. How has the Portugal relationship as a shareholder been of help to Remo stars. And how many players have left Remo to foreign teams?
From Remo to Feirense we have three. But from Nigeria we have six. Three more players are billed to leave soon. We have also had a coach from Feirense visit us for two weeks.
What do you really think our league needs to improve on and what are the steps to achieving such?
The major step has to be with the clubs. We need to better organise the clubs.
LMC has to make sure no club plays with players it cannot afford as this is the highest form of cheating in football. The officiating have to be better, but considering where we were coming from, I think a giant step has been taken.
We congratulate you for the promotion of RSFC. We’d like to know how you felt when the team failed to gain promotion in 2014/2015 NNL season.
For me, you must play with players you can afford else you get docked points as obtains in civilised climes. Had and disappointed but it was easy to overcome as our priority has never been promotion but player’s development.
How you’ve been managing the two teams here in Nigeria (Remo Stars) and abroad (CD Feirense)? What are the differences in managing the teams?
They are very two different things. It’s like comparing apples with oranges. Though both fruits and oval shaped but very different. European clubs are better organised, you submit a budget to the league at the beginning of the season both cost and how to finance the costs. That does not happen here. Very well trained professionals in the management of back office activities in Europe but not so here. But things are gradually improving here also.
What are the structures in place to make Remo stars different from other private NPFL clubs?
Running a football club is not rocket science, we all probably know what to do but it takes a lot of sacrifice. We will strive to our match day experience a worthwhile one for spectators.
We will try our best to bring spectators to our matches and make sure it is worth their while.
Football is not only about winning but an activity to experience and relish.
I hope Remo stars aren’t going to play the season without a shirt sponsor. Any remarks on that?
We are going to play with a shirt sponsor.
Will you take the chance to bring in any foreigner from your club in Portugal to help Remo stars out if Remo are struggling in the NPFL?
It will not be because of struggle if we bring a foreigner, maybe just to add a bit of glamour.
Most NPFL Club side owners mostly recruit players for their club which sometimes cause some imposition of players on the coaches. Does your club structure align with such?
I know better than to do that. It is a recipe for failure.
There were reports that you were considering selling the slot to Ikorodu United, why was this ever considered?
That was never on the table. But to be fair to Ikorodu United, I was never approached for such.It is not correct. You must believe me.Being relegated and promoted is part the activities of organised football. I am sure Ikorodu United will strive to get promoted again.
The name Remo Stars, what affiliation does it have with the community Remo in Ogun state?
I am from that town.
Last season, the NPFL had amongst its twenty teams (4) privately owned clubs.
1 – FCIU, MFM FC, IKD UTD, and GIWA FC. Two of the teams relegated. One for poor performance, the other flouting the rules and guidelines of the LMC. Do you think our system provides enough comfort for many more private ownership across all leagues?
No. It does not. Until LMC ensures that no player or official is owed wages and emoluments.
I can bring Messi & Ronaldo to Remo Stars, promise to pay millions of dollars and refuse to pay without repercussions. It is the height of cheating .The difference between Benfica and CD FEIRENSE is the size of their budgets. You should not be allowed to play with players you cannot afford.
Which means, going into next season, there’d be no report of your players being owed?
I will like to sign Ichull but I can’t afford his wages. That is an impossibility. I will rather pack up the club. He might decide to play for free. (Laughs). Quality lad if he’s signed on.
Away from football, let’s talk money. Bet9ja, How did it happen?
At the end of every month, all staff must be paid as I do in my other businesses. I am a sports lover but hate violence when talking football. Rather I’d advocate that you put your money where your mouth is. Hence,BET9JA.
Many believe that betting on football games influence match results. Well, this may not be 100% true but does it worry you that perhaps some heavy stakes could go to any length just to make outcomes favourable to them?
This happens all over the world ,but FIFA is doing its best to eradicate it. There are so many tools developed to spot match fixing too. Behind most games are highly trained traders to spot unusual patterns in betting.
We are also watching out for NPFL, Do teams enlisted for betting benefit from the monies generated by the various betting outfits?
No. That is not possible as hundreds of sporting activities are traded daily. Also, fixtures and results which are the only needed are in public domain.It is like asking you to pay for materials that are readily posted on the net.
Do you think the club will lift the trophy next season? Remo Stars can they win the NPFL?
Noooo. We are here to maintain our NPFL status for now. If we get that, we are champions as far as we are concerned.But if LMC does not allow teams to play without paying their staff then we can compete.This is a major reason business men will not come into this business for now.You owe players or officials and lose 15 points.
Corporate social responsibility, how has BET9JA faired when it comes to developing grassroots and also developing the aspect of sport other than football?
We sponsor quite a number of sporting activities all around the nation. Amputee football, female marathon, open marathon, indoor sports.