Hasan Nagoor: I work to increase the blues fan base in the Arab world and my heart belongs to Al Hilal
by Raneem Hannoush
If you are ever lucky enough to attend a Chelsea game in their home, Stamford Bridge, look up to the Millennium quarter and search for suite box number 18. There he will be, surrounded by his family and friends, young Saudi businessman and football lover Hasan Al Nagoor watching the game closely and keeping a hawk’s eye on the ball every time it is dribbled and passed.
Known as “King of the League” by over half a million Twitter followers, a term earned by Nagoor because both of the teams he supports - London’s Chelsea and Riyadh’s Al Hilal, al Nagoor managed to channel his love for football into a viable business. Investor in Chelsea FC, creator of the CFC supporters club in Saudi Arabia, and owner of box 18, Nagoor’s aspirations do not stop there.
As we sipped our morning coffees in central London last week, he expressed to me his real dream of further investing in his two favourite clubs, and perhaps owning them one day. What do Chelsea and Al Hilal have in common, I ask.. “The colour as face value, but essentially, the main thing they share is a hunger to be the winning champions, even though Hilal has a greater legacy”, he passionately replies.
FROM FAN TO SHAREHOLDER
Al Nagoor first lived in the London’s west borough of Chelsea in 1999 during his years as a student. He also made sure to spend his summers there. He got closer to the club and became a fan gradually after joining his neighbours to games in Stamford Bridge. After moving to the States for further studies, he remained a true fan, and never missed a televised game. Born with a love of football and a true Hilal fan, Nagoor put his sights on Europe and decided to channel his love for the Blues into a business investment. “Chelsea is a team that creates wins and makes the dreams of its fans come true in front of their eyes, it is certainly not a team that revels in nostalgia and previous legacies,” Nagoor comments.
“My philosophy in life is either to be a front runner, or not to be at all,” Says Nagoor. He explains that he aims to be one of the largest investors in Chelsea. “I started off as a fan, but had bigger plans, and now I am a shareholder with my own box in Stamford Bridge stadium, and every year we have a vision to expand, and we will sign a new contract with the club at the end of this year to increase cooperation”, “But my ultimate dream is to be the owner of Chelsea one day,” he adds.
However, the young Saudi businessman confirms that he shares a great relationship with Chelsea’s current owner Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, especially because they share the same vision on making its fan base more international.
He explains that Chelsea’s initial focus was on the Asian and American markets, neglecting the Middle Eastern region, but the vision has changed since Abramovich took over in 2004. “The Arab Chelsea fan base has expanded greatly since then, and Chelsea started to dominate in the Middle East, and hopefully they will have proper presence there with training sessions in the near future”, says Nagoor.
Nagoor further reveals that Abramovich is a football lover and never misses a game for prominent leagues and championships, “he chooses managers and players carefully and relies on the best scouts in the business to ensure that he only gets the best for Chelsea”. He adds, “He loves the team, maybe it started off as an investment to him, but now it is way more than that. The proof is the money being spent at the moment to expand Stamford Bridge”.
Furthermore, Chelsea has become very big in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the recent years, owed mainly to Nagoor’s enthusiasm and vision of setting up a Chelsea Fan Club in the Kingdom and opening two coffee shops in Riyadh where fans can watch all the games and buy merchandise. It has become the most successful fan club in Saudi, and Nagoor’s goal is to further expand in the Gulf and other Arab countries. “We have successfully moved “the bridge” to Riyadh we pay the national anthem before each game and aim to provide the authentic “Blues” experience” he enthusiastically assures.
ON MOURINHO AND CONTE
Being a key investor, a box owner and a real fan, Nagoor gets closely involved with players and managers, and when asked about the former manager Jose Mourinho he says, “I think he is one of the best football managers in the world, and his bad season with the Blues does not mean that he is a bad manager”. He explains, “Mourinho tried to change his strategy with the team, and it did not go down well. Also, the controversy surrounding the issue with the doctor could have also indirectly affected the players”.
“I always say if a manager loses the locker room, he loses the pitch. He tried to control it, but it was too late, but despite all that, Chelsea fans are still respect him and I wish him the best of luck and all the respect”, he adds.
However, the hearts of Chelsea players and fans belong to new manager Antonio Conte who has managed to spice up game strategy to a 3-4-3 formation, bank several wins and put Chelsea back at the top of the Premier League. Nagoor agrees and adds, “Conte is very calm and collected even at times of pressure. He is a very confident and smart manager and always keeps a smile on his face. All the players are very happy to be working with him as he knows how to treat them and how to make the most out of their talents and abilities allowing each and every player some time on the pitch”.
He further recalls a special one on one moment with him; “I predicted a 2-0 win before a game against Swansea, and we were in the locker room, I told Conte about the score prediction and wished him luck. We actually won 2-0, so right after the match, he immediately came to see me and said “you are after this game”.
AL HILAL AND PRIVATISATION
Football has always been a huge part of Hasan Nagoor’s life, he started playing from the age of 6 and was even awarded a scholarship to play for his university team during his studies. His dream was indeed to be a professional footballer, but the more viable option was to further expand the family business. “Football is much more than kicking a ball, it is a culture, and a business and it intertwines with politics and many aspects of life,” Hasan expresses. “Football players can be role models and have an opportunity to promote awareness on various issues,” he elaborates.
Even though the young entrepreneur is a Chelsea investor and fan, his heart is owned by Al Hilal Saudi football club, it is his big love since he can remember and he spent four years investing in it. “I owe it to HRH Prince Abdulrahman bin Musaed, he felt my enthusiasm and gave me the opportunity to spend the best four years of my life with “Al-Zaeem” –the nickname given to Saudi’s longest standing title winning team in the Kingdom and the Asian continent,” He further reveals that his utter ambition is to be an owner to Al Hilal, especially after the Saudi government has presented future plans to privatise football teams.
Will we see Saudi players in the Premier league? Nagoor does not see why not, he recalls that the Saudi star Sami Al Jaber qualified in the English league in Wolverhampton, but also notes that contracts in the Saudi league are very tempting keeping players inside the Kingdom. “I believe that players should not just aim to make more money, and rather focus on developing themselves, the premier league is the best in the world in terms of technique, business, competition and excitement,” Nagoor says.
He also thinks that Saudi players like Yasser Al Shahrani, Salman Al Faraj and Nawwaf Al Abed have international quality and could excel in Europe.
I finally ask Nagoor where he sees himself in ten years, and he says “My goals are really high and I work so hard to reach them”. “In ten years I want to be bigger and better and I believe that it is not how big you are, it is how big you want to be”.
The Saudi businessman even asks me for a follow up interview in a decade to see for myself what he has been able to achieve…