Leicester City: The unlikely EPL champions

Football: Faith pays off for Leicester City's Thai chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha

Leicester City's Thai chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha (in dark jacket) celebrating the club's title win with coaching staff and players during a training session yesterday. The billionaire has left a distinctly Thai mark on the team.
Leicester City's Thai chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha (in dark jacket) celebrating the club's title win with coaching staff and players during a training session yesterday. The billionaire has left a distinctly Thai mark on the team.PHOTO: REUTERS
The Leicester-supporting Thai monk Phra Prommangkalachan with the Foxes' banners. He believes the team will do well in next season's Champions League.
The Leicester-supporting Thai monk Phra Prommangkalachan with the Foxes' banners. He believes the team will do well in next season's Champions League.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Thai tycoon Vichai had given the team three years to make EPL's top five after promotion

When Leicester City were promoted to the English Premier League two years ago, their Thai chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha gave the team three years to make it to the top five.

"I am asking for three years, and we'll be there," he was quoted by the BBC as saying. The team, he said, had a chance to beat the league's top five teams.

"But I think we need to establish our foothold in the league first and then we think about our next step."

Fast forward two years and the team have claimed the league title, repaying the cautious faith the Thai billionaire has put in the football underdog since buying the club in 2010.

Vichai, 58, used to go by the surname of Raksriaksorn until his family was granted a new surname by King Bhumibol Adulyadej about three years ago - an honour given to those who have made significant contributions to the country.

He is the chairman of the King Power group, which holds the concession as the sole duty-free retailer in Thailand's main airports, including Suvarnabhumi, Don Muang, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Hat Yai. According to Forbes, the businessman is the fourth-richest person in Thailand, with a net worth of US$2.9 billion (S$3.9 billion) this year.

UNCLUTTERED THOUGHTS

With their clear minds, it has brought concentration, ability, and determination for them to go to the international arena.

PHRA PROMMANGKALACHAN, monk from Bangkok's Traimit Withayaram Temple, on how Leicester managed to reach European football next season.

An avid polo player, he is passionate about football. In an interview aired on Thailand's Matichon TV station two years ago, he explained his decision to buy Leicester City: "I was looking at many teams for years, and then I fell in love with this team."

He is not the first Thai billionaire to buy a British football club. Fugitive former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra owned Manchester City briefly in 2007, before selling it to Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi.

Unlike Thaksin, however, Vichai has steered clear of the kingdom's divisive political scene, now dominated by the Thai military which staged a coup in 2014.

Vichai, who gave Leicester City fans in Britain free beer and doughnuts to celebrate his birthday this year and travels to matches in his personal helicopter, has left a distinctly Thai mark on the team.

Thai monks bless the players as well as the football pitch before matches. Phra Prommangkalachan, a monk from Bangkok's Traimit Withayaram Temple, has become somewhat of a celebrity in the kingdom as the key monk sponsored by Vichai to travel to Britain and meditate for the team during games.

In March, just before the Thai national team played in a World Cup Asian qualifier against Iraq, Leicester City players sent messages of support. "Team chart thai su su (Thai national team, fight!)," they said in online video clips.

Leicester City's meteoric rise through the league has earned them a growing legion of fans, many of whom crowded King Power's Bangkok headquarters on Sunday night for a free buffet spread during the team's draw with Manchester United.

One of those present was American expatriate Benjamin Tuffnel, 41, whose Thai-language video congratulating the team was uploaded to the fan club's Facebook page yesterday.

"I was quite choked up to be honest," he told The Straits Times. "It shows that with hard work and by staying together, you can accomplish nearly anything."

When The Straits Times tried to contact Vichai yesterday, his staff said he was still in Britain.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2016, with the headline 'Faith in lil' club that could'. Print Edition | Subscribe