'Lim knows his football'

'Lim knows his football'
Valencia president Amadeo Salvo

Never did he imagine Valencia would one day be owned by a Singaporean.

Not that Valencia president Amadeo Salvo minds it one bit.

In fact, he is thankful that Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim came to the Spanish club's rescue.

"Did I think of Singapore when I looked for a buyer? Never," Salvo, 47, told The New Paper on Sunday in an exclusive interview at the Mestalla Stadium on Friday.

"All my life, and I am a Valencia fan, I never thought a Singaporean would own this club. This tells you that you can't be too sure about what is going to happen in life.

"What Lim has done to this club is incredible. He has given us a new dream."

Riddled with debts since the financial crisis in 2008, Valencia were on the verge of collapse.

They were selling their star players season after season just to pay off their loans but, in effect, they were only delaying a meltdown.

But Lim's takeover, which will see him wipe off Valencia's debts of about 200 million euros (S$328 million), turned out to be the kiss of life for a club destined for big things not too long ago.

The complex deal - negotiations for which began late last year - is expected to be completed next month.

Born and bred in Valencia, lifelong fan Salvo was pained by Los Che's predicament.

When he took over as Valencia president in June last year, his first objective was to "reconnect" the club with the fans.

Then he embarked on a search for investors to complete a project that had became symbolic of Valencia's fall from grace - the Nou Mestalla.

Work on the club's new 61,500-seater stadium began in earnest in 2007 and was initially due to be completed in two years.

But because of financial difficulties, construction was halted and it remains uncompleted.

That was when Lim entered the fray.

Salvo said: " It happened in November, when I was in Asia, including countries such as Japan and China, looking for investors for the club.

"We needed money to finish the new stadium, and it was going to cost 100 to 120 million euros.

"We were looking for someone to do a joint-venture with Valencia.

"Then I met Lim, and he was interested. He asked for finance, technical and commercial information about us.

"In the meantime, while we were preparing the information, Bankia (the club's main creditor) decided not to refinance us and forced the club to sell.

"That was when Lim proposed that he could be an option."

It didn't take much convincing.

The people, the management, the creditors and the government of Valencia were "100 per cent sure" Lim was the right man, said Salvo.

He added that Lim's personality won him over. "He is very quiet, relaxed, friendly and humble. His personality is such that he is close to people. He is a good man, you can feel it.

"What is most important is that he absolutely loves and knows his football, everything about football. He watches all games and knows everybody in football. He is a worldwide football fan.

"He is buying Valencia because this is a dream to him, a personal challenge.

"But, of course, he knows that European football has good potential, so this is good business for him, too."

Salvo dreads to think what would have happened to one of Spain's most successful clubs had Lim not come along.

He reckons that the club would have ultimately ended up with a football team that would never compete at the top as they needed to pay off their debts first.

Now, they dare to dream again.

Salvo said that the fans are eagerly waiting for Lim to finally make his first appearance at the Mestalla Stadium.

"They are very happy. Finally, they can relax. They are happy that the club are no longer in financial trouble and can continue to be one of the biggest clubs in the world.

"Now, we have a strong owner and they can sense a promising future.

"They believe in the new project. They believe in Lim. He has brought back hope to the fans."

garylim@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Aug 31, 2014.
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