Football: Former Valencia president Anil Murthy on his exit, Peter Lim and 'audio leaks'

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Former Valencia president Anil Murthy tells The Straits Times that despite reports, he was not sacked by the Spanish La Liga club and that he had resigned over fears for his family's safety.

SINGAPORE - "I am not insane," former Valencia president Anil Murthy told The Straits Times on Friday (June 24) as he defended his record at the Spanish La Liga club and insisted that he had not been sacked.

Widespread media reports earlier this month had claimed that he had been axed by the club following the release of audio recordings in which he allegedly made unsavoury remarks about Valencia owner Peter Lim, players and English cities Liverpool and Newcastle.

But Murthy told ST that he had resigned over fears for his family's safety, and that the "audio leaks" had nothing to do with the decision.

On May 16, Spanish newspaper Superdeporte published the recordings from a dinner attended by Murthy and a few businessmen to discuss fundraising for charities. In the clips, he apparently labelled Liverpool and Newcastle "s***" cities, called Lim an "amateur", and threatened to kill Carlos Soler and Jose Gaya if they ever wanted to leave the club.

Claiming he was set up, he called the leak a "hack job" and insisted the recordings were "edited, re-arranged and taken out of context".

Murthy said: "I am not insane. What I said was that if cities like Liverpool and Newcastle, which are cold and grey, can have such fervent support and be a global brand, why can't a sunny city like Valencia be the same? We have to build on our advantage to become a true football destination."

Asked why he did not take his case to the courts to clear his name, he said he had sought legal advice but was told he had no recourse under Spanish law.
 

Lost in translation

He added that the remarks about Lim were misinterpreted as he used the Spanish term "un aficionado" which can be taken to mean amateur, when what he meant to say was that Lim was a big football fan.

He also maintained that he never threatened to kill his players and they are still on talking terms.

Death threats

The 49-year-old former diplomat said that he had decided to step down in January and return home with his wife and youngest son after a five-year tenure.

He had received his first death threat three years ago but soldiered on by employing an armed guard. But the final straw was when he received similar messages directed at his youngest son, who is nine, through his mailbox this year. There were also posters with his son’s image in the lift lobby of his condominium which threatened to kill the boy.

"I made police reports, and they told me these are empty threats. I can accept them as empty threats for myself, but I cannot take the same risk for my family," he said.

"People know where I live, and while I can rationalise that most adults are sane, there's nothing to stop a less reasonable teenager from doing something irreversible. I started having nightmares that something bad was going to happen to my son, and enough was enough."

His eldest son, 18, is in Singapore, but his second son, 15, was sent to a boarding school in Scotland following harassment at a Valencia school because of Murthy's role at the La Liga club.

His decision was reaffirmed by another incident in March when his car was mobbed by fans and denied entry into the Mestalla Stadium ahead of the second leg of the King's Cup semi-final against Athletic Bilbao.

Former Valencia president Anil Murthy defended his record at the club and insisted that he had not been sacked. ST PHOTO: SYAMIL SAPARI

No hard feelings

Despite his troubles, Murthy does not regret accepting Lim’s invitation in 2017.

He pointed out: "How many Singaporeans can claim to have run a top European club?"

He admitted his lack of football experience put him at a “natural disadvantage” and also acknowledged that the fans had a right to be apprehensive.

He said: “What you need to have around you are professionals with the right experience to recommend the correct decisions to you, so you can approve or not approve.

“Where it got tricky is when we lost our CEO and sports director, and I assumed those functions as well. 

“That I can understand from the fans’ perspective: How is this guy who is relatively new to football supposed to build a team that competes?”

While maintaining that he was “not trying to belittle the issue”, he also argued: “Everybody’s an expert in football, be it fans, players, coaches, owners, everybody’s an expert. But does anybody really know everything? I don’t think so.”

Still he also took the effort to learn and communicate in Spanish, and felt he had contributed to the modernisation of the 103- year-old club, the reduction of bank debts and team costs to achieve better financial stability, and noted how its academy is ranked sixth in Europe by the CIES Football Observatory.

He admitted that he “definitely made mistakes” but had learnt from them and moved on.

 

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Anil Murthy with Valencia owner Peter Lim and Lim's wife, former actress Cherie Lim, at a match between PSG and Toulouse at the Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris in 2017. PHOTO: AFP

On criticisms over the high turnover of coaches - Valencia had five managers in Murthy's five seasons at the helm - and players, he felt the player transfers were necessary business dealings, but that they had bad luck with managers, even Marcelino, who was regarded as the most successful of the lot.

"Marcelino delivered the King's Cup, but ultimately, he over-reached by criticising the management, something he has had a history of doing at his previous clubs, and we had to let him go," he said.

But why do Valencianistas harbour so much animosity towards Lim and his Singaporean leadership given his takeover in 2014 saved the club from bankruptcy?

Murthy felt that Valencians are "more fiery than most by nature". He added: "They are happy when the team win, and upset when the ball doesn't go in. Jaime Orti was the Valencia president when they won two league titles, and still there were people who protested against him."

Valencia's Hugo Duro (left) celebrates after scoring a goal against Atletico Madrid at the Mestalla stadium on Nov 7, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

Murthy said he has no hard feelings towards the club and will remember how hundreds of thousands of fans lined the streets to celebrate the 2019 King’s Cup win.

When asked about the state of his relationship with Lim, it is clear he has not spoken to the tycoon since his exit.

But he said: “I’m 100 per cent sure he knows this is all untrue. I’m sure he’s focused now on managing the transition and I’m sure we will speak at some point. I worked for him for six years and I’m sure the relationship is unbroken. 

“I’m sure he is disappointed with how sensational this has become, how things have developed from these fake audio leaks... but when the time comes, we will all sit down and have a big laugh.”

But he reserved fiery words for the “vocal minority who have specific interests”.

He said: “These people deserve the exactly the club they have. I just feel sad for the real fans because they just want to watch and enjoy football, but now they are suffering.”
 

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