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Sanjay Nair
Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sports

Peter Lim buys Valencia: All abuzz over possible tie-ups

The Straits Times | Sanjay Nair | Wednesday, May 21, 2014

SINGAPORE - Billionaire Peter Lim's takeover of Spanish club Valencia has stirred up excitement from the football fraternity here for possible tie-ups - from playing attachments to branding opportunities for Singapore firms - but they also caution against his rocking the boat too much there.

Players, officials and fans who spoke to The Straits Times agree that his $720 million takeover of the La Liga outfit last Saturday has propelled the former remisier king into the role of Singapore's most high-profile football ambassador.

Besides the possibility of having Singapore branding on the iconic white shirt of the club, there is the tantalising prospect of the country's top players and coaches being sent on training attachments.

National vice-captain Hariss Harun, 23, who had a one-week stint with Barcelona in 2007, said: "Regardless of age and experience, any Singapore player can learn so much in a professional environment with coaches who live and breathe the game.

"I'll be the first to sign up if our national team gets to train regularly in Valencia," added the midfielder who is now with Malaysian Super League team Johor Darul Takzim.

S-League side Hougang United chairman Bill Ng, 53, who made an unsuccessful $20 million bid for Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers in 2012, said Mr Lim's success "captures the imagination of our dynamic nation". The private banker added: "This could be the platform for our youngsters with sporting aspirations on the world stage.

"The passion of our football fans has grown steadily over the years and, now, we have one of our own helming a world-famous club."

But as the first Singaporean to own a top European football side, the 60-year-old Mr Lim's every move will also be scrutinised and measured against those of other prominent club owners from Asia.

Malaysian tycoon Vincent Tan came under heavy fire from Cardiff City fans for sacking manager Malky Mackay and changing the home colours and logo of the storied Welsh outfit.

Egyptian businessman Assem Allam upset Hull City supporters but eventually failed in his quest to add the word Tigers to the English club's name.

Former national player R. Sasikumar, who heads integrated sports marketing company The Red Card, does not expect Mr Lim to do too much tinkering. "Peter is a smart guy surrounded by good advisers so he knows when he's going into someone else's house, he needs their permission to redecorate... There's a fair few examples of how not to run a football club for him to learn from."

Valencia are the third-most successful side in Spain, with six La Liga titles and seven Spanish Cup victories. In the early 2000s, they were twice runners-up in elite European-club competition Champions League and won the Uefa Cup - now known as the Europa League - in 2004. But the club in later years was saddled with a €200 million (S$343 million) debt, which Mr Lim has pledged to clear, and top talents were sold, while its famed academy was left to flounder. Their eighth-spot La Liga finish this season also means they will miss out on European football for the first time in 16 years.

Accountant Edmund Teo, 31, who studied in Valencia, said: "I've spoken to some Valencians and they sincerely hope Peter Lim will be their saviour to topple Barcelona and Real Madrid once again and become a force to be reckoned with in Europe."

Mr Lim - estimated to be worth $2.6 billion by Forbes Singapore - is expected to pump in €170 million to complete work on Valencia's new stadium. He has also set up a €50 million transfer kitty, of which €45 million is likely to be spent on striker Rodrigo Moreno, 22, and midfielder Andre Gomes, 20 - both from Portuguese side Benfica.

nsanjay@sph.com.sg

This article was published on May 19 in The Straits Times.

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