Splash the cash, Lim

Splash the cash, Lim
(From left) Mr Koh Kim Huat, Valencia’s club president Amadeo Salvo, Mr Peter Lim and his wife Cherie, and Ms Chan Lay Hoon outside Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium on October 25, 2014. Mr Lim was attending his first game after winning the bid to take over the Spanish football club.
PHOTO: Lazaro De La Peña, Valencia CF

Singapore's remisier king needs to pick a couple of winners to keep his Champions League dream alive.

Peter Lim achieved a football ambition yesterday morning (Singapore time), when Valencia qualified for the tournament's group stage.

But if the club owner seeks further returns on his colossal investment, he must spend again.

Valencia's commitment cannot be faulted, but their backline is brittle.

The handicapped Spanish side held on at Monaco for a 4-3 aggregate victory, but may struggle to progress any further if today's draw proves unkind.

Understandably, their elevation to the group stages has switched emphasis to Spain becoming the first nation to have five teams qualify, with Valencia joining Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla in the main draw.

Commentators who specialise in the bleeding obvious are using the magic number as proof that La Liga now trumps the English Premier League in terms of pedigree and quality.

This is hardly a Eureka moment for European football.

The world's best go to Spain. The rest go to England - until they improve enough to go to Spain. Nothing has changed. It's the same old song, the soundtrack of the modern footballer. It's Status Quo.

The more pressing concern for the Spaniards is how long the famous five can endure, with Valencia the obvious candidates to fall by the wayside.

FRAYING

Alvaro Negredo's deft chip was exquisite, but his side frayed at the edges in the closing stages, struggling to hold on after conceding two soft, avoidable goals.

In goal, Mathew Ryan represents a real football success story for Australia, the kid from a small town who succeeded his childhood idol Mark Schwarzer for the Socceroos before earning a dream move to Valencia.

He's the little A-League goalkeeper who could.

But the 23-year-old struggled against Monaco, flapping at a routine cross to set up an unnecessary goalmouth scramble that led to Andrea Raggi's opener in the 18th minute.

He hardly redeemed himself for the second in the 75th, pushing a comfortable free-kick towards Elderson Echiejile.

Monaco's substitute was offside and the goal should never have stood, but he was presented the opportunity nonetheless.

In front of Ryan, Ruben Vezo, 21, and Shkodran Mustafi, 23, were the centre-back pairing after Nicolas Otamendi left to join Manchester City.

But the youthful duo wobbled as Monaco hunted in packs in the final 15 minutes.

On the flanks, Daniel Parejo and Enzo Perez set the tempo in their opponents' half, but didn't backtrack with quite the same urgency, occasionally exposing Jose Gaya and Antonio Barragan at fullback.

Valencia held on, but fortune certainly favoured the brave.

Of course, coach Nuno Espirito Santo deserves credit for turning the club around, capitalising on Lim's huge cash injection to bring in Rodrigo Moreno and Andre Gomes and sign Negredo in a permanent deal.

Gomes is still injured, but Rodrigo was a thorn in Monaco's left side, pinning back their fullback and reducing the threat of a third, killer goal.

But Negredo made the real difference.

Beauty and The Beast came together in a moment of balletic grace that defied the striker's hulking physique. His fourth-minute finish made a statement to all the relevant parties.

The Spaniard began the first leg on the bench. He ended the second unbowed. It's much harder to drop a hero.

Lim got an immediate reward for his investment - believed to be around 27 million euros ($43.6m) - and Man City got an impertinent reminder of what might have been.

This was the one that got away; The Beast unleashed somewhere else. He showed glimpses of his undoubted calibre at City, but not enough.

BE CONSISTENT

Negredo's ongoing search for consistency is essential if Valencia are to overcome their defensive jitters.

Santos has so far spent wisely, establishing a compact 4-3-3 that allows Javi Fuego to play the industrious fulcrum for the likes of Rodrigo and the excellent Sofiane Feghouli on the right flank. Valencia's progress has been steady.

But slow and steady has never won Lim's race.

Just a year after buying the club, the Singaporean has overseen the Spanish side's qualification to the Champions League group stages for the first time since 2012.

The first flush of European success must be invigorating. It's also fleeting.

Valencia are back among the big boys, proud members of Spain's famous five in the Champions League. Their place at the top table is thoroughly deserved.

But they'll probably need Lim's cash to stay there.


This article was first published on August 27, 2015.
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