How much is too much? Peter Lim and UEFA Champions League group H

Singapore, often referred to as the “small red dot”, is a wealthy city at the bottom of the Malaya Peninsula. It is located roughly 10,000km from Europe and has a largely unsuccessful footballing history on both a club and international level. So why does one of its most famous residents have such a big interest in this year’s Champions League?

Peter Lim came to global public attention at the end of 2014 after acquiring 82.3% of the controlling stake at Valencia CF. As the owner of one of Spain’s biggest football teams one would have a natural interest in the success of their team. This year however, Peter Lim finds himself at somewhat of a crossroad.

After a hugely successful La Liga campaign, Valencia qualified for the Champions League for the first time in since 2015-2016. Lim’s brand will receive more attention and stands to gain a portion (results dependent) of the €2.04bn that UEFA has declared it will be distributing to the clubs competing in this years competition.

However, Champions League qualification has not only brought brand and monetary gain for Mr. Lim simply through his stake in Valencia. Los Che were drawn in Group H of the competition alongside Manchester United, Juventus and Young Boys.

At first glance this group offers up some great fixtures and it already has. However, Peter Lim stands to gain from three, not just one of these teams and this is where questions of conflicts of interest and integrity have been raised.

Manchester United

Mr. Lim is a passionate fan of Manchester United, which in itself isn’t that surprising, support for ‘the Red Devils’ is very common amongst Singaporeans. Owning a team and supporting another is a conflict of passions and can be viewed as a minor one. The issue becomes more convoluted when money is thrown into the equation. Lim owns a variety of businesses in South East Asia and one of them is a chain of sports bars. The theme of these sports bars? Manchester United, of course.

This investment pales in comparison to his investment in “Hotel Football” located in the shadow of Old Trafford. Earlier this year The Guardian reported that Lim’s company Orchid Leisure owns 75% worth of the hotel for €39.7m. The hotel’s business model heavily relies on visitors off the back of the success and support for Manchester United FC.

A conflict of interest occurs as United take on Lim’s Valencian investment just meters away from his property investment. This has only strengthened the ties between Lim and Manchester United’s “Class of ’92” who have a partnership in the form of Salford City FC as joint owners. His presence in Manchester cannot be understated.

Juventus and Ronaldo

The question here in not so much Juventus as it is Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese international’s highly publicised move to Italy will see him take to the field in Group H and two of Peter Lim’s investments will again go head to head.

Lim and Ronaldo’s friendship is widely noted in Singapore where footballing figures often dwarf football clubs. Singapore’s national newspaper, The Straits Times reported that in 2017 Ronaldo had flown into the country to welcome Peter Lim’s grandchild into the world. The two are often photographed together at the Marina Bay Sands and Ronaldo again visited in 2018 to congratulate Lim on his acquisition of Thomson Medical Centre.

Similar to the support for Manchester United there is nothing inherently controversial about personal alliances, but when money again becomes part of the alliance, lines become blurred. In 2015 Hong Kong based company Mint Media owned by Lim, bought and now owns all of Ronaldo’s image rights, excluding those that Ronaldo’s former club Real Madrid owned until 2021.

As of 2018 Forbes listed Ronaldo’s endorsement deals to total $47 billion (USD), all of which are managed by Peter Lim. In simple terms this means that Peter Lim gains a substantial profit from all adverts and media campaigns that Ronaldo is a part of. When Ronaldo stars, he accumulates more adverts and Peter Lim accumulates more money.

During Ronaldo’s time at Madrid this conflict of interest was questioned by fan groups and the media within Spain. The question raised was how ethical is it that an owner of one of La Liga’s teams is profiting from their successes and also from the success of a rival team’s player?

The conflict of interest is plain to see. Who would Lim prefer to succeed? Would he rather three points for Valencia or a hat-trick for Ronaldo? Many other questions can be asked of this fixture and has made it a difficult field to navigate. El País contacted the PFL during Ronaldo’s time at Madrid and its general director Javier Gómez stated that there was “no problem”, however there appear to be a number.

At this present time, it is unclear of the what the exact split in image rights for Mint Media and Juventus is in regard to Ronaldo, what is clear however is that when Ronaldo takes on Valencia in the Champions League, Peter Lim will be profiting regardless.

The house of money and mirrors

Foreign businesses and owners are common place in most of Europe’s biggest teams, this is easily seen when you go through the list of team owners in this year’s Champions League. They bring with them the means to buy entertainment and success, and have undoubtedly revolutionised the modern footballing landscape. This is all well and good from an entertainment perspective but in cases such as Peter Lim’s heavy conflict of interests, more questions need to be asked.

Around the Mestalla before Valencia’s game against Juventus the tension surrounding the issue could be felt. Many fans voiced what they think about Peter Lim’s conundrum and said it was just another mark against Lim’s tenure as owner.

A large portion of Valencia fans were and are distrusting towards the Lim dynasty due to their decision-making process. One fan listed Lim’s long absences from the club, his appointment of friend and business partner Gary Neville as head coach and now his deep conflict of interests as something of a deterrent to attending matchdays, and who could disagree?

Although, football has undoubtedly become a means for some to profit, how many avenues should one be able to generate revenue through? If you asked Peter Lim I think his honest response would be “endlessly”.

From a financial perspective this is sound, and it makes for a sustainable business model – have your eggs in more baskets than one and see larger and more numerous returns on your investments. However, is it a sustainable model for the fans of Valencia? Lim’s financial dealings now see their team take on two of his other sources of revenue and therein lies the issue.

When Lim’s investments in Valencia, Manchester and Ronaldo are put into the same pot only one can come out on top in each fixture, Lim however, will come out on top in every one of them and be better off for it. This raises numerous questions – How does he prioritise each investment? And if he does, does that change what happens on the field? Although no rules are broken in Lim’s scenario it poses an ethical and moral conundrum in regard to football ownership and the extent to which an owner can be involved in dealings outside of one single club.

While Lim’s investments have been spread throughout Europe they have collided together it’s biggest competition for all to see in plain view leaving many Valencianistas to wonder if it is their team, Ronaldo’s adverts or a luxurious hotel in Manchester that will take preference come kick off.

The Author

Zach Rees

From New Zealand and Malaysia. Passionate supporter of both Cardiff City and Melbourne Victory. Love to read, write and discuss the social and political aspects that surround football. Currently living in Valencia, Spain.

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