Who is Simon Nainggolan and why is he linked to Tranmere Rovers?
Simon Nainggolan, an Indonesian entrepreneur, has been the subject of a lengthy courtship by Mark and Nicola Palios, owners of the club, and Internet forums are awash with speculation linking Nainggolan to an imminent investment. Some unconfirmed rumours suggest a 25% stake in the club is presently being negotiated.
Such a move would coalesce with the Tranmere regeneration plan, which has always coveted secondary investment as an accelerator to sustainability. After exorcising the poisonous culture that drove Rovers to capitulation, the Palioses have rejuvenated the club’s commercial operation, resulting in successive promotions. Tranmere now find themselves in the third division, but external investment is required to fuel any designs on further improvement.
Who is Simon Nainggolan?
Known as Simon N on social media, Nainggolan has stoked intrigue among Tranmere fans in recent months. The businessman, who describes himself as a ‘football lover’ on Instagram, regularly posts photos from around the world adorned in Tranmere merchandise. He seems to have a genuine passion for the sport and for our club, but who exactly is he?
A brief trawl through Twitter, Instagram and Facebook allows us to build an overview of Nainggolan, who spearheads several brands in the hospitality sector. Nainggolan is linked with Sere Manis Resto and Sarimande Metropolitan, thriving restaurants in central Jakarta, while he seems to have a recurring interest in the booming coffee trade.
Nainggolan is a fanatical supporter of Liverpool FC, and he is pictured regularly wearing the garb of Rovers’ Merseyside rivals. A brisk skim through Instagram showcases Nainggolan sporting more than 30 different football shirts, while he is a prolific groundhopper, enjoying matches in England, Scotland, Germany, Spain, France and beyond.
Through Instagram, Nainggolan has also demonstrated his passion for sportscars and luxury travel. He once attended the Formula 1 grand prix in Monaco, that jamboree of opulence, and he has travelled far and wide, including trips to New York and other headline locales, regularly flying first class.
Simon is also integral to Jebreet Media, an Indonesian news agency that appears to have a popular eSports wing, while his role with the Indonesian Professional Players’ Association (IPPA) has burnished influence in the Asian football market.
Nainggolan obviously has access to high-flyers within the sporting sphere. On Instagram, he is pictured with stars such as David Beckham, Michael Owen, Philippe Coutinho and Robbie Fowler, along with key executives at a slew of European clubs. Whether he has genuine interest in owning a football club, or at least contributing to the growth of one, remains to be seen, but the guy certainly loves the sport.
Tranmere Rovers’ international development
The creation of an international Tranmere Rovers academy was a flagship project steered by the Palioses early in their tenure. Providing football training camps in Asia and the USA allowed Rovers to develop ties with municipal authorities around the world. This served two purposes: allowing Tranmere to deliver on their corporate social responsibility aims, but also enabling it to home in on the kind of secondary investment, increasingly found in foreign locales, that has transformed English football.
Interestingly, the international academy welcomed a team of under-14s from Surabaya City, Indonesia, in December 2018. A club press release cited the “Surabaya-Liverpool City Region relationship,” as a motivating factor in the football tour.
Indeed, Tranmere were involved in meetings and events when Tri Rismaharini, mayor of Surabaya, visited Merseyside in 2017. Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson co-signed a letter of intent to strengthen cooperation between the two cities, with particular focus on the economy, port management, human resources and creative industry. One wonders whether Simon Nainggolan has any connection to Surabaya or Indonesian politics more generally, hence the gateway to Tranmere.
Simon Nainggolan and Tranmere Rovers
According to social media posts, Nainggolan first visited Tranmere in December 2018. He was photographed in the club shop with a group including Emma Palios, who served as the club’s International Development Manager before switching roles to focus on Growth Implementation this summer.
Nainggolan also took photographs on the Prenton Park pitch, including one Instagram snap captioned ‘done deal,’ in which Simon shakes hands with Tranmere representatives. This was likely some kind of partnership relating to Jebreet Media, specifically the eSports division. Tranmere launched their own eSports team a few weeks before the photo was posted, and that likely formed the base of further developments.
When Tranmere played Tottenham in January 2019, Nainggolan was a spectator at Prenton Park. He also attended the home leg against Forest Green in the 2018-19 playoffs, plus a handful of other events on Wirral. Jebreet reported on Rovers’ triumph over Newport at Wembley, and the Palioses then embarked on a summer holiday in Bali, an Indonesian island, where Nainggolan was their host.
One Twitter post from Nainggolan shows him and Mark Palios toasting drinks under the caption 'relax negotiating.' Another, from Instragram, shows the pair embracing in the stadium of Bali United, a club in the top flight of Indonesian football.
Bali once played Tampines Rovers, a team from Singapore, in the AFC Champions League. So in a strange quirk of fate, there was an earlier link between Indonesia and TRFC. Somewhat prescient, you might say.
Perhaps encouraged by Nainggolan’s globetrotting crusade, the IPPA brokered a program to send their best players to Europe for trials with established clubs, hoping to raise the profile of football in their homeland. Ezra Walian, an Indonesian striker with a Dutch mother, wound up in Birkenhead for a trial with Tranmere during pre-season. Again, Jebreet chronicled his exploits, but little came of his time on Merseyside.
The Palios plan
From the earliest days of their premiership, the Palioses have been fairly open about the need for secondary investment to help Tranmere break through the glass ceiling that separates League One from the Championship and Premier League. Such is the prevailing trend of modern football, the second tier has become an elite division in its own right with vast amounts of money flowing through the pipeline. In order to seriously challenge any further up the pyramid than they currently are, Tranmere need to get extremely lucky or extremely rich. That’s just the nature of what we are dealing with.
In May, Mark Palios told the Independent of his desire to establish a travel company under the Tranmere umbrella, leveraging new connections to expand the club into a new space. Rovers have dabbled in the education, hospitality and futsal markets, and travel seemed like a natural compliment. Perhaps Nainggolan’s jet-setting interests are also involved here. Who knows?
Just last week, Nicola Palios said that plans for a new stadium are ‘on the drawing board,’ driven by the desire to extract more non-matchday revenue from Rovers’ resources. Interviewed by Business Live, Nicola spoke of a ‘modern, state-of-the-art facility’ that would ‘make Wirral a more attractive place to live and visit.’
Whether Tranmere actually need a new stadium is a different topic entirely. We will address that another day. However, what is clear, reading between the lines, is that Rovers have become increasingly involved with local and international politics, pushing for some kind of game-changing deal, investment or infrastructure upgrade. Such interviews are essentially data-gathering exercises, strategically placed to gauge fan opinion. Tranmere have played the long game in this regard. We could be about to see the plan bloom to fruition.
For more than a generation, we have talked in exasperated cynicism about the monumental project to regenerate Wirral’s valuable waterfront. A tangible scheme was first announced in 2006, but the project has suffered more false starts than can be concisely described. Nevertheless, the idea of a new football stadium acting as the centrepiece of a revived waterfront has long captivated Tranmere fans, even in the absence of any solid inclination to that end. It just seems so romantic, and it’s not hard to join the dots.
However, quite frankly, the whole Wirral Waters project has become a draining soap opera. Fatigued with half-baked announcements and overly adventurous renderings, Wirral residents now affect a believe it when we see it attitude towards such things. Forgive us if we don’t get carried away; we have been let down too many times before.
Simon Nainggolan is in Birkenhead this week
Regardless of how, why or when, the Palioses seem to have identified Simon Nainggolan as their preferred investor. I could be wrong, but why else would they travel around the world to meet him? Why else would the guy have such extraordinary access to Prenton Park, Solar Campus and a vast array of Tranmere merchandise?
Nainggolan is currently in Birkenhead. Today, he posted photos from a meeting with the Palioses and videos from a first team training session. Nainggolan and the Palioses even met the mayor of Wirral this afternoon, shortly before Simon posted a photo of himself in the centre circle at Prenton Park captioned 'The Ambassador..."
Such treatment is not afforded to your run-of-the-mill fan. There is something else at work here, and the time has come for information to be released.
The future of Tranmere Rovers
I have worked to corroborate a link between Nainggolan, Wirral Waters and Tranmere, but have thus far been unsuccessful. However, the nexus of peninsula politics, international collaboration, local regeneration and modern football’s rampant commercialisation leads me to believe something is happening at Prenton Park and on Wirral. Quite what, I’m not entirely sure, but Rovers fans deserve some transparency on the people penetrating its managerial nucleus. We deserve to know what the plan entails and where our future lies.