In Good Conscience

Traditional bugle echoes Leicester owners' adherence to goodwill hunting

The Chinese New Year is still a month away, but Leicester City have been making monkeys out of the forecasters throughout the old year.

The story isn't just that Leicester turned the form book completely on its head by starting 2015 dead last in the English Premier League (EPL) and ending it joint top with Arsenal.

It is the arithmetic that just doesn't add up.

The City "Foxes" who lined up against Manchester City on Tuesday cost, in entirety, £18 million (S$37.5 million) in transfer fees, compared to the Manchester side's S$620 million.

Eight of the Man City players - Nicolas Otamendi, Eliaquim Mangala, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero - each cost more than the whole Leicester squad.

One key element is the Thai family's respect for Leicester's roots. The players emerge, as they always have, to a rousing blast of the Post Horn Gallop, a bugle call heard at local fox hunts for many decades.

And very probably Man City have half a dozen more in reserve or injured whose value each amounts to more than Leicester paid for their players combined.

Salaries would be similarly ridiculous in disproportion. And the month of January is going to test Leicester's resolve to hold onto Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante, the three men who have starred this season.

It is easy to see Chelsea or Manchester United trying to buy a finisher of Vardy's quality, and though anyone with an ounce of sporting sense would love to see Vardy at least see out this season at Leicester, how could he not be tempted if a move quadrupled his salary?

Vardy, who was playing non-league football three seasons ago, is reportedly getting approximately £40,000 a week. United and Chelsea have strikers on £250,000 a week who have scored nothing like the number of goals that Vardy, and his team-mate Mahrez, have done this season.

As for Kante, the £5.6 million that Leicester paid to Caen in France for him six months ago now looks very cheap. Arsenal could cement their attempt to win the EPL for the first time since 2004 if they had a ball winner, a passer, an energiser like Kante in midfield.

Of course, Claudio Ranieri, the wily old Italian who took charge of the Foxes last summer, insists nobody is for sale. Indeed, he wants to buy players to turn this, the best season in Leicester's 130-year history, into a real chance of going all the way.

You doubt that can happen?

Why the devil would you? This time last year, the Midlands club were seven points adrift at the bottom and could barely remember how to win a game.

That continued until April, but by winning seven of the last nine games of the 2014-15 season, Leicester pulled off the great escape. Add that form to the way that they have played from August until now, and you have the equivalent of a title-winning achievement.

We cannot make that assumption because it has to be won over a single season - and it involves the strength of nerve and the depths of player reserves that Leicester have never been tested over at both ends of one season.

But look at the table. Leicester have lost twice, matched in that department only by Tottenham Hotspur. One of those defeats was by Arsenal, the other by Liverpool.

Look at the goals-for column: Leicester are joint top scorers, on 37 goals, with Man City.

Attend any match at the King Power Stadium in Filbert Street, Leicester, and it sounds like double the 32,000 seated there. That's because the Foxes management hands out cardboard "clappers" that, when waved in the air, make a cracking sound.

The club have recently also doled out hog roast and free beers to supporters. Leicester can afford these Yuletide gifts because the club are now owned by the Thai billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and his family.

The King Power brand on the shirts and on the stadium name relates to the tax-free shopping business that he built from scratch.

Leicester is close to where I was born and raised and played my first football; today, more than half its population are of Indian or Pakistani origin. You can be a Hindu, a Muslim or a Christian and follow Leicester City.

But whatever your background, you will never have seen the Foxes run quite like they do now.

One aspect of the rise and rise is the way in which Vichai and his son Aiyawatt respect the traditions of the club they took ownership of in 2010.

"We have a lot of culture and history in Thailand," said Aiyawatt. "We don't want to change the history or the culture of the club."

They already have. Leicester, in my time, were a yo-yo club - up one season, down the next. They benefit now from the TV deal that gives £60 million a season to each club (more when the new broadcast deal kicks in next June).

And they benefit from the smart talent search in recent years.

The older Srivaddhanaprabha and the club's Irish chief executive Susan Whelan have overseen a transformation that is putting Leicester on the global map.

One key element is the Thai family's respect for Leicester's roots. The players emerge, as they always have, to a rousing blast of the Post Horn Gallop, a bugle call heard at local fox hunts for many decades.

On cold and frosty days, it sets the feet tapping. That might amuse, or bemuse the owners. But the tradition plays on.

All rather different to Vincent Tan's attempt to change Cardiff City after he sank many Malaysian ringgit into the Welsh club.

Tan tried to tamper with the one thing that identifies a club to its supporters - he changed the shirts from blue to red.

Cardiff's fans rebelled and it took his mother, Low Siew Beng, to persuade him that a century-old tradition, like the colour, had to be observed.

Tan reversed his error last January. But it was too late. Cardiff dropped a division, and look a long way off rising again to the Premier League of milk and money. A League which, against all the odds, Leicester City seek to win.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2016, with the headline 'Traditional bugle echoes Leicester owners' adherence to goodwill hunting'. Print Edition | Subscribe