First it was shock, then sheer bewilderment. When sports media rights giant MP & Silva inked a $25 million sponsorship deal with the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) in February, many were simply left scratching their heads.
What was even more puzzling was that the biggest commercial deal in Singapore sports' history came amid one of the lowest points in the sport - with the national teams, at all levels, struggling with poor results and performances.
Yet while many may baulk at the investment, MP & Silva's founding partner Andrea Radrizzani believes he managed to score a bargain.
"This is an under-valued project with a lot of potential," the 40-year-old told The Straits Times.
GOAL: TO MAKE FANS HAPPY
It may not seem like it but this is an exciting time for football fans in Singapore. We will do our best to ensure they have more reason to smile and cheer.
Founding partner of sports media rights giant MP & Silva
"With fantastic facilities and a passionate public, there's an opportunity to create a platform to engage fans and sponsors."
And he is more than willing to put his money where his mouth is. In the works are friendlies involving elite national sides like Argentina and Germany, a tournament hosted by the Lions against regional opponents and a merchandise store that caters to Singapore fans.
It is a bold move to engage a public fast becoming disenchanted with local football but Radrizzani - a Milan native who has since become a Singapore permanent resident - has never shied away from making tough decisions.
In 2007, he chose the Republic ahead of established sporting metropolises like London and New York as the base of MP & Silva's global expansion efforts, banking on the country's international standing and ease of doing business.
He had set up the company three years earlier with Italian Riccardo Silva, first acquiring the global rights distribution of selected football sides in the Italian Serie A.
"We worked very hard in the first five to seven years to build our reputation and look for the right deals and partners to work with," said Radrizzani, who had previously worked in Shanghai and Tokyo.
The Juventus fan was involved in most of the company's rights acquisition of major sporting properties .
Today, its heavyweight portfolio includes territorial rights to the 2018 and 2022 Fifa World Cup Finals, football's English Premier League, the French Open tennis tournament and the National Basketball Association.
The good news for Singapore is that Radrizzani hardly loses when he bets.
According to its website, MP & Silva has an annual turnover in excess of US$700 million (S$944 million).
"In the next fiscal year (2015-16), we will be close to US$1 billion," Radrizzani said proudly.
Headquartered in London and Singapore, the company runs 16 other regional offices worldwide, providing programming to over 200 broadcasters in 215 countries.
Radrizzani gave up the chief executive role in 2013 to oversee operations and pursue side projects, such as setting up a sports channel and opening a bar in Duxton Hill.
MP & Silva staff - who total nearly 100 globally - describe him as a passionate boss with purpose and panache, one committed to marketing Singapore football captain Shahril Ishak as he is with former Liverpool great Steven Gerrard.
It is no mere pandering. While some local football fans may have given up hope, Radrizzani sees a bright future in South-east Asia and its population of 600 million.
Similar to its link-up with the FAS, the company recently inked a 15-year, RM1.26 billion (S$452 million) deal with the Football Association of Malaysia.
Just as importantly, in his eyes, it also acquired the right to represent the United States' hugely-popular National Football League in 42 territories across Europe.
Radrizzani, who is married to South African model Nedine Vos with no children, splits time between the continents.
The summer months are spent in London, with the posh Reflections at Keppel Bay condominium serving as home for the rest of the year.
He and Silva each own a 43.6 per cent stake in the company but they have no plans to cash out or launch an initial public offering (IPO).
"We are open to considering new partners but not an IPO," he noted.
"The business we're in requires quick decisions and a deep knowledge of the industry."
And what a lucrative industry it is. According to consulting firm A.T. Kearney, football's global revenue increased from US$25.1 billion in 2009 to US$35.3 billion in 2013.
While media rights accounted for 40 per cent of sports event revenues, Radrizzani wants his company to go beyond its core business to include events management, sponsorship and content production.
The ultimate goal is to conquer the world of sports but Radrizzani will not forget his adopted home.
He said: "It may not seem like it but this is an exciting time for football fans in Singapore. We will do our best to ensure they have more reason to smile and cheer."