Nuno Espirito Santo knows talent when he sees it.
If Hariss Harun had signed for Rio Ave last year, Santo, then-coach of the Portuguese top-tier club, would have regularly fielded the Singaporean midfielder in his first 11.
Hariss turned down the offer because of personal reasons, but Santo, now coach of La Liga side Valencia, sees no reason why other Singaporean footballers cannot make the grade in Europe. "I saw Hariss in action (when I was coach of Rio Ave) and was very impressed with him," Santo told The New Paper at Brewerkz at Riverside Point yesterday.
"I was on the phone with him, and everything was ready for him to sign. He had the chance, but he chose not to.
"I believe if a player from Singapore has enough quality, he can have the same opportunity - hopefully with Valencia, in the future."
Santo, along with Valencia team captain Dani Parejo and striker Rodrigo Moreno, were in Singapore the past two days to meet Singaporean businessman Peter Lim, who is close to buying over the club.
The 40-year-old Portuguese coach took over the La Liga club in July, after two years at Rio Ave, where he led the club to two domestic cup finals last season.
Santo's comments were in response to TNP's question at a media session on the chances of young Singaporean footballers earning a trial and maybe a playing contract at the Valencia academy.
Valencia's GloVal Academy is reputed for its training programmes which target children between the ages of 4 and 18.
It has an enrolment of 620 youngsters in 38 teams from more than 13 nationalities, including China, South Korea, Cameroon, England and Argentina.
Its Wanda project, a joint venture with Dalian Wanda group of China, has already trained 30 Chinese footballers from 13-15 years old.
"We aim to have a physical presence in some of the key Asian cities where we have a substantial fan base, and we are also on the lookout for Asian players with potential," said Santo.
"One of our big projects is to expand our scouting network in this part of the world, and that includes Singapore, of course."
Santo added that one of the aims of his Singapore trip is to recce some of the football facilities on offer here.
He said: "If possible, we want to come here next season to play a few matches, and also to promote the club more in Singapore."
Just three years ago, Valencia - the third most supported club in Spain behind heavyweights Real Madrid and Barcelona - were mired in financial woes and were forced to sell their stars to pay off debts.
But, with Lim on the verge of completing a takeover, they are hoping to repeat their success at the turn of the century, when they reached two successive Champions League finals in a row, in 2000 and 2001.
The new project is gaining momentum, and Valencia are starting to attract talent again.
Shkodran Mustafi, a member of Germany's World Cup-winning squad, rising midfield star Andre Gomes and Argentine Rodrigo de Paul are among a group of players who joined the club recently.
Spain striker Alvaro Negredo is the latest addition on transfer deadline day, joining on a season-loan from Manchester City.
Santo is confident that prospective new owner Lim will take Valencia back to where they belong - at the top.
"I've known Peter for a long time. He's a fantastic guy and we know we have a big responsibility because Peter wants the club to succeed," he said.
"He will give us time to bring the club up the right way.
"With Peter, I know we will be stronger not just for one or two years, but also for a long period."
This article was first published on September 03, 2014.
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