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Peter Lim faces uphill battle for Valencia

Friday, January 17, 2014 - 06:00

[SINGAPORE] Former remisier king Peter Lim must be feeling a sense of deja vu. Football may be his passion, but it seems owning a European league club may again elude the Singapore tycoon for the third time.

Yesterday, Bankia, the principle creditor and de facto owner of Mr Lim's takeover target, said that it has received "multiple" offers for Valencia, a two-time Champions League finalist.

Mr Lim, who has previously failed in his takeover of England's Liverpool FC and Spain's Atletico Madrid, will have to confront a bidding war if he remains keen on Valencia.

He is now in Spain and was not immediately available to comment.

Bankia disclosed that it has received "more than one bid" even though barely 20 minutes before Mr Lim's Jan 15 deadline for the bank to accept his offer, Valencia's president Amadeo Salvo claimed Mr Lim's was the only official bid received.

Bankia declined to disclose the number and identity of buyers. But serious rivals are reported to be heavyweights including Abu Dhabi's Mubadala (a main source of funding for the English side), Qatari Investment Authority and the American investment fund TPG (formerly known as Texas Pacific Group). The latter is rumoured to have the most attractive offer so far.

American fund GEM and Costa Rican mystery man Mario Alvarado are also rumoured to be interested.

Mr Lim's attempt to own a league club has been well reported. His £360 million (S$749.2 million) attempt to buy Liverpool was rejected in 2010 by club figures sceptical about his intentions. The English club was eventually sold for £300 million to New England Sports Ventures (NESV), which owns the Boston Red Sox baseball team.

The self-made billionaire has also been linked with moves to invest in Rangers, Atletico Madrid and Middlesbrough - all of which led to nothing in the end. He was reportedly put in touch with Mr Salvo by Portuguese "super-agent" Jorge Mendes.

In December, Mr Lim offered to spend between 30 million euro (S$52 million) and 50 million euro on players in January and assume the majority of its debt in the region of 354 million euro. His offer, which is backed by Mr Salvo, includes the significant sums the club owe for the building of the Nou Mestalla stadium - the 250-300 million euro white elephant that has dogged Valencia since its construction began in 2007.

But the sale of Valencia is anything but straightforward. The club requires Bankia to approve Mr Lim's offer. Mr Lim has given Bankia until Jan 15 to accept the offer.

According to reports from Spanish daily paper AS, Mr Lim has been turned off by Bankia who have been giving him the silent treatment for quite some time and is very unhappy with the purchase process as a whole.

Mr Lim has even reportedly instructed his team to begin searching for clubs in the English Premier League that he could potentially invest in.

However, Mr Lim recently reiterated his interest in completing the Valencia investment. He even promised a bigger war chest than had originally been suggested for transfer spending.

"I hope my offer is accepted. 40 million euro for signings is too little I feel. I have 50 million euro available to spend this month," said the man whose net worth is US$2 billion according to Forbes.

Valencia, 11th in Spain's La Liga, has struggled with its finances amid a six-year real-estate slump that has roiled its plans to sell its Mestalla stadium and complete a new arena.

On Nov 26, 2013, Bankia rejected a plan by the club to repay debt of as much as 250 million euro over 18 years.

Yet in many ways, troubled Valencia can be an attractive proposition for potential investors.

With a half-finished, 75,000-plus capacity modern stadium on its doorstep and a dedicated fan base ready to fill it, they are often described as the third biggest club in La Liga in terms of support.

Along with Atletico Madrid, Valencia also shares the biggest slice of the TV revenue pie outside of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

As one Spanish football commentator noted: "If the sheen of their name has been removed somewhat by their very public struggle with debt and subsequent sale of superstar players over the last seven years or so, they still remain, in principle, a club with significant potential both in a sporting and marketing capacity."