As the blue open-top bus crawled down the closed streets, Leicester City’s captain Wes Morgan and his teammates lifted the Premier League trophy aloft to the sound of cheers from the thousands lining the parade’s route. This wasn’t in the newly crowned champions’ East Midlands backyard, though—that happened two days before. Instead, it was 6,000 miles away on the other side of the world.
Incredible scenes in Thailand! 1 million people out to cheer us. We are all so humbled & grateful for your support. pic.twitter.com/uCttuKyM6x
— Kasper schmeichel (@kschmeichel1) May 19, 2016
The two-day whistle-stop tour of Bangkok was organized by the club’s Thai owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha (or Vichai, as he’s known to fans), who wanted his team to thank the Thai devotees who have cheered on every kick—despite the six-hour time difference.
THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM
Since Vichai’s acquisition of the club in 2010, there have been changes on and off the pitch at Leicester. In his first season as chairman, the club finished 10th in England’s second tier, the Football League Championship. Fast-forward six years and the team is now preparing for its first season in Europe’s elite competition, the Champions League.
But Leicester City’s unexpected success might not come as a surprise to Vichai. After the team’s promotion to the Premier League in 2014, the billionaire chairman outlined to reporters in Bangkok that he wanted it to be challenging for the top five within three years, and he was willing to pump up to 10 billion Thai baht ($282 million) into the club to get there. Despite only just surviving the drop last season, the team has already exceeded Vichai’s goal a year early and for almost a third of the cost at that. So what is he doing right?
THE CULTURE OF VICHAI
There are a number of things that set Leicester’s owner apart from his peers—most notably in how his Thai heritage has influenced the club. This has particularly been seen in the form of Buddhist monks. It is reported that Vichai flies around 10 monks over to England from the Wat Traimit Withayaram Woraviharn (Golden Buddha) Temple, in Bangkok, for most home games; with their blessings for the players before kick-off and a specially designated room at King Power stadium for meditation during the match.
Not only has Vichai secured spiritual backing, on top of bankrolling transfers and wages, but he also looks to give something back to the fans for their continued support—whether it’s capping coach travel to away games at £10 (around $14.50), no matter the distance; or giving fans free beer and donuts before kick-off.
Vichai’s generosity isn’t limited to the fans who follow the team up and down England each week. Since he took control of the club, he has flown the whole team out to his home country at the end of each season.
The latest of these tours came at the climax of an amazing 12 months for Leicester—or the ‘Siamese’ Foxes, as they are better known in the Thai capital. Thousands dressed in blue and yellow lined the streets to congratulate their team on its momentous achievements.
Most of the players now have a summer off to recharge their batteries—or, in the cases of star players Jamie Vardy, Danny Drinkwater and N’Golo Kanté, more football at the Euro 2016 championship in France. But what’s facing them on their return is the biggest season ever for Leicester.
INTO THE UNKNOWN
Not only will the club be attempting to sustain the success of last season and defend its Premier League crown, but it will also be taking on the additional task of Europe’s elite in the Champions League. Their first test, though, is to keep the players who got them there in the first place—with not a day passing without reported interest from big clubs for Leicester’s star players.
Speaking to Sky Sports, the club’s vice-chairman and Vichai’s son Aiyawatt said that he hoped that the lure of playing Champions League football will help keep those players who have had standout seasons, as well as help in recruiting new players to deal with the increase in games the club will be playing. ‘They have learned to play with each other—cover, attack, defense, everything is connected with them,’ he explained. ‘So, I’ll try my best and the club is not going to say that we are going to sell the players to survive or to get the money. I can say that is not in the plan.’
Although the futures of the likes of Kanté and Riyad Mahrez are still unknown, and will probably only become clearer toward the end of the summer, what is a certainty for next season is that, as long as Vichai is in charge, every kick and every goal will be cheered on 6,000 miles away in the streets of Bangkok.
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