S'pore firm makes foray into Portuguese football
Algarve CF looking to grow with Singaporean footballers in tow
A Singapore company has embarked on a football journey into Portugal, one that promises excitement and possibility.
In April this year, AbeoGlobal Pte Ltd started Algarve Clube de Futbol in Portugal, building from scratch what could well be a doorway for Singaporean footballers into Europe, and the company is already achieving results.
The club play in the second tier of the Algarve District League and, under the guidance of coach Eduardo Maciel, are perched atop the 17-team standings with five wins in their first five games.
But they will not be mixing it up with Portugal's big boys - the likes of Benfica, Porto and Sporting Lisbon - at least not yet.
Portugal has three district leagues - Algarve is in the southern league - with the winners of the district league earning promotion into the Portuguese third division, before having to rise through the second division to play in the Primeira Liga.
Clubs in the district league may have a chance of facing the big teams in the Portuguese Cup but, for Algarve CF, entry into that tourney will be earned only if they win the Algarve District Cup tournament.
It does seem like a long way from the big time, but AbeoGlobal is not cowed.
Indeed, there is palpable excitement among its directors, Kenneth Lim, and former Fifa players' agent, Marco Guimaraes.
AbeoGlobal Pte Ltd is a company set up for the club and academy.
"Just about every single Singaporean kid dreams about playing in Europe, and it would be brilliant if we are able to give a Singaporean boy his first step into Europe, and see him succeed and open doors for others to follow in his footsteps," said Lim.
"But our reasons for setting up a club are not entirely altruistic, there is of course a business angle," added the 35-year-old former lawyer, pointing to the Algarve academy and rules in Portugal that make it possible for clubs to profit off player sales.
Algarve have on their books, players from across the globe from France to Trinidad and Tobago, Spain and even 20-year-old South African Mpumelelo Setshedi.
The club play their home games at Salir, Loule.
"There are no restrictions on foreign players in the Portuguese league, and this allows us to take players from anywhere, give them a chance to be tested, and maybe sell them on in the future," said Guimaraes, a Portuguese-born Singapore permanent resident.
"But we have focused on building an academy from the ground up to train kids, while also giving them the opportunity to rise up into the first team, if they prove that they are good enough."
Among them is one Singaporean boy (see report on facing page), former Singapore Sports School winger Raiyan Firraz, who spent five months there to give himself a shot at a professional career.
"Algarve is a great place to set up, it has great weather, a popular destination for clubs who come here to play friendlies in the winter," added Guimaraes.
With blue waters and matching skies, Algarve is located on the southern-most tip of Portugal.
It is a popular tourist destination, with an average temperature of about 12 deg C in the winter, and 24 deg C in the summer.
But it has not been all blue skies for Lim and Guimaraes.
"It is like playing (computer simulation game) Championship Manager in real life, but there are several issues that arise when you're building something from scratch, and that can really be stressful," said Lim, who declined to reveal how much his company has poured into the club.
Guimaraes is AbeoGlobal's man on the ground, and the Algarve CF president has had to leave his Singaporean wife and two children in the Republic while taking care of business in Portugal.
"It hasn't been easy being here without my family, but we have a dream to take Algarve into Portugal's big leagues," said Guimaraes.
"While it is hard work, it was good to be able to implement systems and processes from the start, so we make sure our structures are right before we start to grow.
"And we will grow, hopefully taking some Singaporean boys along with us for the ride."