S'pore link opens up Salford options

S'pore link opens up Salford options
Class of 92 & Friends English former defender Gary Neville warms-up with teammates before the pre-season friendly football match between Class of 92 & Friends and Salford City at the AJ Stadium in Salford, north west England on August 7, 2014.

Do not rule out Manchester United stalwart Gary Neville coaching Salford City one day - or a possibility of a Singaporean playing for the team.

Such intriguing options arose after the unheralded semi-professional outfit - in the eighth tier of English football - got a boost when Singapore billionaire Peter Lim bought a 50 per cent stake last week. Earlier, in March, Neville and fellow United luminaries Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt as well as his brother Philip had purchased their north-west England hometown club for an undisclosed fee.

Last week, they inked a deal with Lim whom Neville called a "close friend" and an "incredible" businessman. Lim also became a joint partner in a £20 million (S$41.3 million) Hotel Football project owned by Giggs and Neville, which will open next to Old Trafford in December.

Currently, Salford City play at the decrepit Moor Lane field that barely holds 1,500 fans. If Neville and his fellow high-profile owners have their way - in the next five to 10 years - the outfit will boast a world-class academy and a larger stadium.

Longer- term aspirations include reaching the second-tier Championship within 15 years. As Salford - who sit atop the Evo-Stik League Division One North - inch their way up the English football pyramid, Neville hinted that he and his former United team-mates could be roped in as coaches.

For now, the priority lies in attracting top youth talent but this is no easy task considering that the area is also scouted by United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton.

Neville, who had his first United trial in Salford at 11, told The Sunday Times in an exclusive interview,

"We may not have the big brand name now but if kids see that this is a team worth playing, one that is clear and authentic about their vision, we can be recognised as a good team to play for in the north-west.

"Of course, it'd be great to see a Singaporean wearing or playing in a Salford jersey too."

"It's a big, big challenge but we want to do something for our community, playing football the right way by giving youngsters a chance."

He noted that "Peter has a proven track record with inspiring young sportsmen; we want to promote grassroots football in Salford so it's a great fit".

Lim has donated $10 million to the Singapore Olympic Foundation to help fund the sporting dreams of young athletes and used his football connections to fly in La Liga side Atletico Madrid for a charity match last year. 

The 61-year-old, who is estimated to be worth £1.5 billion (S$3.1 billion) by Forbes, is also acquiring top-tier Spanish side Valencia.

This article was first published on September 28, 2014.
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