SINGAPORE - With a desire to "expand my empire, open my wings and seek new challenges'', could the Crown Prince of Johor soon be taking over Spanish football club Valencia from his friend, Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim?
On Tuesday (March 2), Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, who also owns Malaysian Super League champions Johor Darul Ta'zim, set tongues wagging with a series of stories on his Instagram account @hrhcrownprinceofjohor.
Following a few screenshots that included the history of the La Liga club and its estimated value - €408 million (S$654 million) according to consultancy.eu - the 36-year-old wrote: "I'm not someone who will change your club logo or tradition... I'm here for glory, success and history.
"What does Valencia need? You need someone who knows about football, hungry for success, passionate and understands how big Valencia is as a club.
"The first step. We need soccer people at the club. Final point".
The posts were picked up by Spanish and Malaysian media and stirred debate on social media. The Johor Southern Tigers Facebook page posted Spanish sports daily Marca's coverage and received 6,600 likes on Tuesday.
On Reddit, Affectionate_Steak47 commented: "Would say that he (Tunku Ismail) is passionate and did invest a lot of money, time and effort into his team.
"He's basically pumped so much money into his football team and has been able to hire so many foreign coaches and players that the league is no longer competitive. Also quite good at the commercial aspect of the business, especially in terms of marketing and branding.
"Valencia will have a much better owner than Peter Lim definitely but also, he's only owned a team in a small league and I don't know whether he would be able to manage a team in the La Liga just as well."
While Valencia and JDT did not respond to The Straits Times’ queries, a source close to the club said Lim had no intentions to sell.
Lim’s Meriton Holdings bought Valencia for €420 million in 2014 to become the first foreign owner in the club’s history, and since, they qualified for the Champions League three times, reached the Europa League semi-final and won the King’s Cup last year.
In this period, they also have had eight different coaches at the helm.
Valencia are currently 14th in the 20-team league with 27 points from 25 matches, five points clear of the relegation zone with 13 games to play.
While Tunku Ismail stopped short of explicitly declaring his interest in making a bid for Valencia, he visited the Mestalla to watch matches against Atletico Madrid and Barcelona in 2016, and then against Getafe in 2018.
In 2017, Valencia announced a three-year partnership to help shape programmes in JDT’s academy across various age groups, based on Valencia’s methodologies and development philosophies, and guide JDT’s academy coaches.