Singaporeans in venture with Manchester United stars

TWO Singaporeans have thrown their financial might behind two Manchester United greats, aiming to build a worldwide football-themed hotel and restaurant empire.

Businessmen Andy Yun and Ho Kiam Kheong have teamed up with Red Devil luminaries Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville to open a niche restaurant in London called Cafe Football, as well as a £20 million (S$38.5 million) hotel in Manchester, within the next two years.

In the long term, there are plans to expand the restaurants and hotels across Asia, including to Singapore, under the GG Hospitality brand, named after the two players' common initial.

Mr Yun told The Straits Times yesterday: "We're passive investors for the moment; Ryan and Gary are leading the project, and rightly so, with their names and connections in the UK. When the time comes to expand to Asia, they can use our business expertise to succeed in the region."

The 43-year-old declined, however, to reveal how much money he and Mr Ho were committing to GG Hospitality, the parent company developed by Giggs and Neville.

It is understood that during their visit to Singapore last month, the two footballers met their Singaporean investors to finalise the venture.

Mr Yun has long had links with European football, having been involved in setting up Man United-branded restaurants and bars in Asia, including one at Boat Quay that has since shut down. In May, he spearheaded the project that brought Spanish football club Atletico Madrid here for a charity match.

Mr Ho is chief development officer of Abu Dhabi-based Reem Investments, which signed a joint venture in 2011 to develop United Soccer Schools in the Gulf region.

GG Hospitality's 120-seat Cafe Football will open in November in east London, next to the Olympic Park.

The hotel in Manchester, called Hotel Football, is set to welcome guests in October 2014, and will include a five-a-side football pitch on its roof. Despite initial reservations by Man United, the hotel was reportedly about to be given building permission near the football club's famous Old Trafford ground.

Giggs, 39, told the UK-based Caterer and Hotelkeeper magazine: "We have lived and breathed every element of this for a considerable time now and have been involved in every detail, every step of the way.

"We've stayed in lots of hotels as footballers and often felt that we could do a better job."

The 10-storey, 139-bed hotel will reportedly be charging between £80 and £150 per night.

Giggs, who is entering a record 23rd season with Man United's first team, also confirmed that minor investments in the company have been made by friends and fellow football players.

Neville, who retired two years ago after making 400 appearances for Man United, knows that public expectations for the project will be high.

Said the 38-year-old: "That is why we have left nothing to chance and are working with some of the best people in the business to achieve our vision."