Football: Experience has been very good so far, says Lim

Football: Experience has been very good so far, says Lim

They call him the white knight, the lucky charm or simply the man who saved Valencia Football Club.

When Peter Lim stepped inside the Mestalla Stadium on Monday night, he commanded attention.

His three Israeli bodyguards scanned the terraces as a precaution. His wife, former actress Cherie Lim, smiled and waved at the crowd as the couple entered the ground through a private side entrance.

The fans immediately stood up and applauded. Some chanted his name. Famously media-shy, the billionaire made his first comments on Monday since forking out €420 million (S$605 million) last October to take over Valencia, and praised the fans for their devotion.

"As you saw for yourself from this game alone, the Valencian fans are very different. They are really very passionate," he told The Straits Times after watching his team beat city rivals Levante 3-0 to stay fourth in the Spanish La Liga.

"All our goals tonight were the result of excellent teamwork.

"The entire team played very well, putting the episode in Bilbao behind them."

Valencia had drawn 1-1 with Athletic Bilbao four days earlier.

Club employees were abuzz all week after hearing that the owner was attending the city derby, especially with the club in contention for a Champions League place next season, the first time since the 2012-13 season.

They believe that not only has Lim brought financial stability but he has also brought luck onto the pitch whenever he drops by to watch a home match.

In his previous visits, the team recorded 3-1 victories over Elche, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla, while European champions Real Madrid were beaten 2-1 in January.

Lim pointed out that league leaders Barcelona managed to break that lucky streak with a 1-0 win in November but was smiling widely when talking about Monday's victory.

He praised striker Alvaro Negredo who netted the third goal with a spectacular volley into the top corner, sparking off unbridled joy among the 53,000 fans.

Sharing his thoughts of his time as a football club owner, he said: "The experience has been very good so far. We took over a club with very positive people willing to work hard together to move the club to the top.

"As far as football is concerned, I'm enjoying the games very much. Spanish football is in a league of its own and highly competitive."

Valencia, who last won the Spanish Primera Liga in 2004 and reached the Champions League final in 2000 and 2001, are dreaming of a return to glory days under Lim.

With his investment, the club managed to clear a €200 million debt, invested £170 million to complete the construction of a new stadium and also splashed €45 million to recruit players.

Former Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo, a personal friend of Lim's who was invited to watch the match from the VIP box, said: "As a fellow Singaporean, I feel proud of him.

"In a way no one could have expected, through Peter Lim's investment, Singapore has become entwined with Valencia.

"Peter Lim was brought in as a white knight and his rescue of the club has reinvigorated it and given the players, coaches and managers a new spirit.

"This is felt by the people of Valencia. I am sure other good things will follow and we may see greater co-operation between the two cities in the future."

A reason for the warm reception has been the sound management and big ambitions from him and his team on the club's board of directors.

Valencia have stayed away from big-money signings, focusing on building a team of talented youngsters led by current coach Nuno Espirito Santo.

Chan Lay Hoon, the club's first woman president, said of Lim's vision: "He wants Valencia to stay competitive and sustainable.

"That means to play consistently at the highest level (in the Champions League). Peter is very passionate about football and he is very excited about the opportunity to own a club."

This article was first published on April 15, 2015.
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