Foxes set to spur Thais

Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha during the parade to celebrate the club's league title in Bangkok.
Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha during the parade to celebrate the club's league title in Bangkok. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK • Leicester City's billionaire owners say they hope to use the Premier League winners to nurture young football talent, with the aim of Thailand qualifying for the World Cup within a decade.

The newly crowned English champions are on a celebratory post-season tour of Thailand, home of billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and his son Aiyawatt.

The two men, alongside manager Claudio Ranieri, are credited with steering the club to one of football's greatest fairy-tale wins.

Vichai now hopes some of that success will rub off on his homeland, a nation mad about football but with little international success to boast of. "I'd like to see Thailand secure their first-ever World Cup berth in 10 years," he told reporters in Bangkok.

The Midlands club are already hosting 16 young Thai players who are studying and training there, with plans to send more in the coming years.

"We have a plan," said Vichai, adding that the trainees "will eat at the same canteen" as players such as Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater. "It's up to the Thai kids, whether they can absorb the English tradition, the professionalism," he added.

The Thai national team have a tough road ahead to qualify for Russia 2018 - they face Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq in their group.

Football-mad Thailand has belatedly fallen for Leicester after the astonishing success story of a club with deep links to the kingdom.

Vichai's duty-free King Power brand is emblazoned across the shirts of the team, whose home ground is named the King Power Stadium.

Day 2 of the Foxes' victory tour yesterday focused on Thailand's top institution, with a visit to the sprawling Bangkok palace complex of the revered but ailing 88-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has been hospitalised for most of the last two years.

Local television showed Vichai, Aiyawatt and Ranieri presenting the trophy to a portrait of the king as they, and the team, then took a deep bow.

The team later went on an open-top bus parade through the capital's notoriously gridlocked streets that were briefly cleared of traffic thanks to a police escort.

In scorching conditions - with the mercury hovering around 37 deg C - key players including captain Wes Morgan and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel waved Thai flags and snapped pictures of each other on their phones as crowds cheered them on.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 20, 2016, with the headline 'Foxes set to spur Thais'. Print Edition | Subscribe