JANUARY 10 ― Dear Mr Lim,
This really has nothing to do with me, but I would just like to offer you some well-intentioned advice concerning your ownership of one of the most successful clubs in Spanish football history, Valencia.
Did you watch last night’s game? I suspect not, due to the 3.45am kick-off (Singapore time). Well, I’m afraid it wasn’t good.
Playing against the bottom club, Osasuna, who have only won once in the league all season and had lost their last six games in a row, you could only draw 3-3 after missing a penalty and conceding an equaliser in the 93rd minute, leaving you just one point outside the relegation zone.
Now, you are an extremely successful man, earning a fortune with a wide range of investments. Last year you were ranked by Forbes as the 11th richest person in Singapore, with an estimated worth of US$2.4 billion (RM10.74 billion), so you don’t need me to tell you how to run a successful business.
But football is not like any other business, and in this regard I think you need some help. Perhaps you need to listen to some advice, because ― let’s be blunt ― your time in charge of Valencia has been nothing short of a complete disaster.
It all started so well, back in October 2014, when you were given a hero’s welcome by Valencia fans who were joyous to see their club’s dire financial problems ended by the arrival of a wealthy investor with plans to restore the club to its former greatness.
At first, everything went swimmingly. The Portuguese coach you had arranged to be hired before your takeover had been completed, Nuno Espirito Santo, secured a fourth-placed finish and a return to the Champions League, partly through the arrival of several new players belonging to the stable of your close associate, the renowned agent Jorge Mendes.
But the wheels came off in the summer of 2015, when a handful of well-respected backroom staff members resigned in protest at the growing influence of Nuno and Mendes, who also quickly became highly unpopular with supporters after arranging the sale of several key players.
The new season started badly, and the hostility of the fans towards Nuno ― who was by then viewed as nothing more than Mendes’s puppet ― forced you to part ways with the coach.
Your next decision was very strange, as you broke away from Mendes by appointing former Manchester United defender Gary Neville, who had never managed before, had no experience of Spanish football and did not speak a word of Spanish.
I know you have a close relationship with Neville, with whom you jointly own the English non-league team Salford City, alongside other former United players Ryan Giggs, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt.
But no matter how highly you regard Gary, I think you must accept that putting him in such a position, where he was more or less set up to fail, was a major error. Well… I guess you do accept that, because you fired him after just four months.
Since then, you have continued to go through managers at a rate of knots. Neville’s successor Pako Ayestaran started well but only lasted 12 games before you fired him.
Then you turned to former Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, who stayed for less than three months before resigning a couple of weeks ago after disagreeing with you about the club’s policy in this month’s transfer market.
And a few days later, the director of football Suso also resigned, leaving you with temporary appointments in the two most important footballing positions in the club.
Meanwhile, the team is desperately struggling and the fans have turned against you en masse, reacting to last week’s 4-1 cup defeat at home to Celta Vigo by chanting, long and loud: “Lim go home.” In English, just to make sure you understood.
You may think that’s unfair, and to an extent you would be right. After all, there’s no way of knowing where the club would be now if you hadn’t paid off all that debt a couple of years ago. It might not even exist at all.
But that’s the way of football fans. They are fickle, they have short memories, and they expect constant investment and improvement. And during your time in charge, they have only seen the club go backwards.
It’s not too late, though, because that fickleness can quickly turn the fans’ affections back in your favour if you do a few simple things.
Firstly and most importantly, show them that you care. I assume you do care ― why else would you have bothered to buy the club in the first place? ― but it often appears that you don’t.
For starters, try going to Valencia occasionally. It’s a great city, with sunshine, beaches, culture and history, and the sight of you in the directors’ box, happily celebrating a Valencia goal, would really help convince the fans that you are actually interested in the team’s fate. You might even enjoy the football.
While you’re in Valencia, you should speak in public. A press conference would be ideal, or maybe an interview with the city’s main sports newspaper, Superdeporte. A few words about your plans for the club would help your cause inordinately. I assume you do have plans, don’t you?
Oh… while we’re on the subject of speaking in public, someone who should avoid doing that ― or at least avoid doing so in the way she has been recently ― is your daughter, Kim. I know some of the criticism you’ve received has been nasty, especially the vile racist stuff. But Kim’s willingness to mock and argue with Valencia fans on social media really doesn’t help.
So, Mr Lim, in conclusion: you should spend time in Valencia, go to some matches, talk about your long-term objectives, explain how you intend to achieve them, and tell your daughter to stop picking fights with fans on Instagram.
You also need to appoint an experienced, hard-working director of football, and an experienced, hard-working coach. (Preferably not an agent or one of your friends). And then you need to back them in the transfer market, stop selling your best players, and leave them alone. Let the specialists get on with their jobs.
Alternatively, you could just carry on down your current path, running the risk of ending up with a reputation as one of the worst and most unpopular owners in European football’s modern history. And I’m sure you wouldn’t want that, would you?
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.