Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha: author of Leicester's football fairytale

Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha: author of Leicester's football fairytale

Chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha watches during the Uefa Champions League group G football match between Leicester City and Club Brugge at the King Power Stadium in Leicester on Nov 22, 2016. (AFP photo)
Chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha watches during the Uefa Champions League group G football match between Leicester City and Club Brugge at the King Power Stadium in Leicester on Nov 22, 2016. (AFP photo)

LONDON: Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the billionaire owner of Leicester City, whose helicopter crashed Saturday outside the Premier League club's stadium, is the author of one of football's greatest fairytales.

Polo-loving Vichai, 61, endeared himself forever to Leicester fans when the unfashionable club broke the grip of England's giants to win the Premier League in 2016 -- the first top-flight title in their history.

The title win, against overwhelming odds, put the city in England's Midlands on the global sporting map and brought glory to generations of long-suffering fans.

Leicester have been unable to reach the same meteoric heights since, finishing 12th in the following season and ninth in 2017-18 but are now firmly established as a Premier League club.

Forward Jamie Vardy, the talisman during Leicester's glory season, on Saturday tweeted a message that simply showed eight hands held together in prayer.

Bespectacled tycoon Vichai is known for his unerring common touch, dishing out free beer and doughnuts at Leicester's King Power Stadium, where he often lands his helicopter in the centre circle.

It was from there that his helicopter took off after Saturday's 1-1 draw with West Ham before crashing in the car park directly outside the stadium.

Despite his popularity, Mr Vichai remains an enigmatic figure and rarely gives interviews, preferring to let his son Aiyawatt, known as "Top", act as the family frontman.

He also rubs shoulders with celebrities and his surname, meaning "light of progressive glory," was bestowed by the late King Bhumibol.

"He (Vichai) is a successful businessman and he tried to challenge himself to get something done," Top, Leicester's vice-chairman, told AFP in Bangkok in 2016.

"He said, I think two or three years before, that he wants the team to be a success in the Premier League, and now we are."

Power of karma

The avuncular Vichai has carefully navigated Thailand's treacherous political waters of recent years, while taking his King Power empire from strength to strength.

He established the company in 1989, starting with a single shop in Bangkok and building a multi-billion-dollar empire.

Leicester supporters quickly warmed to him after he bought the then second-tier Championship strugglers for an estimated £40 million in 2010.

The devout Buddhist is a firm believer in the power of karma, flying in monks to bless Leicester's pitch and give their players lucky amulets.

And while pumping tens of millions of pounds into the team, club debt and infrastructure, Mr Vichai has spent judiciously.

Leicester's success was crafted from teamwork, endeavour, and hard work.

Duty-free

Mr Vichai rose from relative obscurity, flourishing during the recent years of political upheaval in Thailand, a country where big contracts follow political loyalties.

King Power hit the jackpot in 2006 when it won the duty-free concession at Suvarnabhumi airport, and with it a captive market of tens of millions of travellers.

In 2007, a year after ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Manchester City's former owner, was dumped from office in a coup, Mr Vichai saw off legal moves to break his duty-free monopoly.

Before football, his first sporting love was polo, the sport beloved of the international elite, and both he and Top are accomplished players.

Mr Vichai boasts a lifetime membership at London's Ham Polo Club, frequented by the British royals, and has a stable of horses and players on retainer in Bangkok.


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