Football: Thai vice-chairman reveals secret to Foxes' title success

Leicester City's Thai owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha (centre) and his son Aiyawatt (right) acknowledging the club's fans at Old Trafford earlier this month.
Leicester City's Thai owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha (centre) and his son Aiyawatt (right) acknowledging the club's fans at Old Trafford earlier this month.PHOTO: REUTERS

Vice-chairman reveals family atmosphere at the club strengthened the team's spirit

Besides defying odds and logic with their English Premier League title win, Leicester City want you to believe that their unlikely triumph is rooted in how the club is run by a genial and benign management.

After Tottenham Hotspur's 2-2 draw at Chelsea handed the championship to the Foxes, club vice-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha is still trying to soak in the surreal.

"We just hoped to maintain our status in the Premier League," he told Thailand English broadsheet The Nation.

"The season is not over but it's unbelievable that there's a phenomenon all over the world.

"We have become an inspiration for people to believe that a small team can become a champion."

But key to the win, characterised by the team spirit and jovial manager Claudio Ranieri, is to treat club employees, from players to backroom staff, as members of the same household.

A FAMILY AFFAIR

We manage the team like running a family. It has been this way right from start. We are more like friends, no gap between the boss (and others).

AIYAWATT SRIVADDHANAPRABHA, Leicester City vice-chairman, on the owners' management style.

Aiyawatt said: "We manage the team like running a family. It has been this way right from start. We are more like friends, no gap between the boss (and others).

"Everyone respects each other. If there's a problem, we talk... we have done that since the first day until today. It will never change even after (winning) the EPL."

The inclusiveness has extended to the fans. To Aiyawatt, whose father Vichai has been the club owner since August 2010 and who built a fortune worth US$2.9 billion (S$4 billion) through the King Power duty-free shops, a family atmosphere has helped send positive vibes around the club.

The Thai owners have bought at least three rounds of beers for the capacity crowd of 30,000 at the King Power Stadium this season.

Branded as relegation certainties at the start of the season, Leicester staged one of sport's greatest upsets by winning the title at 5,000-1 odds.

Aiyawatt, who plays polo for the kingdom, said there are four other factors to Leicester's success - team spirit, the blend of new and old players, the desire to beat the big clubs, and the underdog status that won over neutral fans.

"We haven't changed the main players but recruited just a few to fill in what we are missing. And all players we recruited are hungry for victory and success," said the 30-year-old.

"The bigger teams are under pressure all the time - they have to become the champion and finish in the top four. But we didn't expect that from the beginning. So our players played without pressure and all our players want to prove how far they can go.

"Fans all over the world want us to win and it becomes a morale booster, not pressure."

But with every match that Leicester won this season, the club garnered some unwelcome attention, as big clubs and agents circled their stars.

Midfielders Riyad Mahrez (Barcelona), N'Golo Kante (Arsenal) and Danny Drinkwater (Chelsea and Liverpool) are just three Foxes on the shopping lists of the rich and powerful.

But Aiyawatt insists the club is not cashing in.

"We are not selling anyone. We are not the team who produce players to be developed later by other teams," he said. "We like to focus on building the foundation of the team, the players grew up together and today we are Premier League champions together.

"We are playing in the Champions League next season. If you ask me at this moment, all players want to stay and keep on fighting together to see how far they can go.

"So selling players is not on our agenda. We just want to fill in what we are missing. Anything to make the team improve, we are going to do it for sure. Besides, players should stay to play the Champions League."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2016, with the headline 'Secret is revealed in Foxes' title success'. Print Edition | Subscribe