Leicester City the Kings of English Football
By Kevin Cain
Last month's coronation of Leicester City Football Club as Premier League Champions shocked and delighted a nation, if not the world. Leicester to be kind was considered a fairly average team with a fairly average pedigree, so in these times of mega rich clubs the question arose; How was it all possible?
Obviously the appointment of Claudio Ranieri as manager was one of the most inspired decisions in football history. He inherited a team of journeymen and youth, there were no star household names in the squad and consequently no big attitudes. He molded this eclectic mix of mostly Championship level players into a formidable unit that would die for each other on the pitch.But to actually understand the reasoning behind his appointment it is necessary to turn the clock back five years.
In 2010 Khun Vichai, the man behind the King Power Duty Free Empire, purchased Leicester City for around $150 million to extinguish all their debts. He began to start to assemble a young team under the stewardship of manager Nigel Pearson.Khun Vichai was no stranger to adversity and had fought hard to build and keep his business. Even despite an attempt in 2008 by the post-coup government to revoke King Powers licenses he prevailed and in 2013 he attained his reward when King Bhumibol Adulyadej granted Vichai's family with a new surname, Srivaddhanaprabha, meaning Light of Progressive Glory.
Khun Vichai has proven himself to be a most philanthropic owner with his guidance and leadership being cited as a contributing factor to the club’s success. Arriving for every home game by landing his favourite blue helicopter on the pitch, he had clappers attached to the seats for the fans to urge his team on and even gave away free Singha beer to the home faithful to celebrate their team’s success. Most unusually he flew ten buddhist monks to the UK from Thailand to bless the players and spend time in meditation within the specially designed prayer room in the King Power stadium.
He immediately set about to turn the club around and under the leadership of King Power’s senior executive, Vice President Susan Whelan and the newly appointed manager, Claudio Ranieri, Leicester improved far faster than anybody had anticipated. We all now know the rest of the story. But what are the consequences of Khun Vichai's success? It has meant two things, firstly that there has been a wave of Thai investment in English football and secondly the Thai nation have embraced the English Premiership and football in general.
It all started back in 2007 when former Prime Minister of Thailand Thaksin Shinawatra bought Manchester City for $85 million and sold it a year later for $200 million proving there was good money to be made in the EPL and the investment was sound. Since then King Power bought Leicester City, and last year the Thai Union Frozen Group bought 100% of Sheffield Wednesday and the Thai shopping magnate Khunying Sasima purchased Reading.Beer giants Chang have been the shirt sponsors of Everton for ten years and their competitors Singha have close associations with Chelsea and Manchester United.So Thai love for English football is firmly underway, but is it purely for investment purposes?
It is a well known fact that owning a football club does not always make sound business sense or guarantee a return on investment. Under half of all Premier League clubs actually turn a profit and the figures are even more stark as you progress down the leagues. However it is also true that due to the massive global following of the EPL, the rights for sponsorship have risen to astronomical proportions.
But what else does owning a Premiership Club bring? It is a unique opportunity for self promotion back in Thailand, raising profile whilst promoting the game to a country that until a few years ago had little interest in English football. Powerful Thai businessmen are completely aware that their association with the glamour and prestige of the Premiership significantly raises their profile worldwide and especially back at home in their beloved Kingdom of Thailand.
Thailand is a very unique place in that there is a definite kudos of being a celebrity or a success in any business, the Thai nation will respect you greatly and lift your status to almost superstar level.The pecking order of where you sit in the community is taken very seriously in the Kingdom and obviously the higher up you are on the ladder the more you will be respected and adored. Unlike back in the UK when it is very common for the media and press to knock any celebrity or businessman trying to achieve. So the prospect of owning a prestigious, glamorous Premiership team offers the prospect of great recognition and status within the Thai population, the more glamorous the club the more adoration will be bestowed.
The flip side of all this is that the Premiership benefits, not only with the expert business knowledge and money of the Thai tycoons but also with the rapid growth of the sport in Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia.The revolution does not stop here, on a recent report on the health of Baseball in the USA it was found that fans were leaving the national sport in their droves. And what were they turning to? Soccer, the English Premiership and the Champions League.
The governing body of football, FIFA, may be in turmoil but the actual sport has never been more popular. More fans across the globe are cheering on their favourite teams than ever. This fervor off the pitch in Thailand for football is also encouraging more Thai's to play the sport and to follow their local teams. This was amplified with the recent success of the Thai national football team, the War Elephants. The draw with Iraq means they have topped their qualifying group to go into the final round of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Leicester City's triumph against adversity to reach the pinnacle of English football proves that Thailand has embraced the beautiful game with two huge welcoming arms, long may it continue.