Leicester City’s Thai owners are investing in the future as they continue with their aspirations to challenge the “Big Six” in the Premier League.
The Foxes are often considered as the best-run club in England, with the King Power ownership praised for turning the club’s fortunes since taking over in 2010. The club have prided themselves on a highly sustainable model which has so far allowed them to keep pace with the traditional “Big Six.” Their maiden FA Cup victory last month is a testament to a thoughtful owner, an excellent recruitment team and a very capable manager in Brendan Rodgers.
And how fitting it was when club captain Kasper Schmeichel went straight to Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha to reel him into the trophy celebrations. The owner, fully aware of the sanctity of the gesture, clasped his hands together in gratitude and bowed in acknowledgement before duly lifting the FA Cup above his head, as the players hopped with him singing, ‘Campiones, Campiones.’
One for the books
The 2008/09 season was Leicester’s first season outside of the top two tiers of English football, but they hit this nadir just seven years before being crowned the Premier League champions – the fastest seven-year rise to the top of the English pyramid since Ipswich Town back in 1962.
In August 2010, following a three-year agreement deal with King Power Group as a shirt sponsor, Milan Mandarić sold the club to the Thai-led consortium Asian Football Investments (AFI), led by King Power Group’s Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. The takeover was estimated to have cost the Thai billionaire just over £39 million and involved former chairman Milan Mandarić staying on in that role until the transition to full ownership can be made.
Vichai was formally appointed as the chairman in 2011 and immediately pledged to the Leicester faithful that the club would return to the Premier League and break the monopoly of the traditional “Big Six” which had taken a stranglehold of the league since its inception in 1992.
The Foxes were promoted to the Premier League in 2014 but were immediately pegged back with fears of relegation. A 5-3 win against giants Manchester United featuring a masterclass from Jamie Vardy was a particular highlight of the season. Manager Nigel Pearson managed to survive the scars of relegation by winning seven out of the last nine games – a gargantuan effort – but issues off the pitch meant he was sacked before the start of the next season.
In came Italian veteran Claudio Ranieri, a left field and mysterious appointment at the time for many, with bookmakers touting the Italian to get the sack first and Leicester’s odds of winning Premier League famously set at 5000-1. However, the season went down as the most memorable of the century, with the Foxes losing just three games and finishing 10 points clear of their nearest challengers Arsenal.
Claudio Ranieri and his men defied all odds and lifted the Premier League title at the end of the 2015/16 season. The city of Leicester is still reeling from the achievements of the “Unbelievables” and Ranieri.
Generosity and service to the Community
It is often the little touches of generosity and gratitude that endeared the current chairman Aiwayatt Srivaddhanaprabha, and his late – and much loved – father Vichai, to the Leicester faithful and the wider community.
A free match day pint and pie or complimentary scarfs or free beanies were never going to break the bank for the Thai billionaires, but it is those little tokens of generosity, kindness and a sense of giving that has made the family behind Leicester’s surge to the top of English football all the more endearing.
West Ham United fans said that the Leicester City owners showed “real class” in May 2018 after the club agreed to donate to the online fund trying to raise £400,000 to help a three-year-old Hammers supporter Isla Caton, who had neuroblastoma – a cancer of the nerve tissue – to get treatment in the United States. Later that year in September, the Vichai Foundation donated £800,000 towards the restoration costs of Leicester Cathedral.
On October 27, 2018, Kun Vichai’s AgustaWestland AW169 helicopter crashed shortly after taking off from the pitch of Leicester’s King Power Stadium. Several eyewitnesses described seeing the helicopter spinning out of control before crashing and creating a giant fireball. The following day, it was confirmed that Vichai, along with four others, tragically died in the crash. Vichai was 60 years old at the time of his death, and his death was mourned by many across the football community.
When the Foxes welcomed Watford to the King Power Stadium in December 2019, Aiyawatt was so moved by the giant banner tributed by the Watford fans to his late father, reading “Thank you Vichai for allowing us all to dream. Rest in Peace.” He decided on the spot that every visiting supporter should have a pint and other half-time refreshments on him. A token of respect that everybody can understand.
To mark what would have been Vichai’s 61st birthday, in April 2020, the club offered £610,000 to worthwhile charities and organisations in the city. The Leicester City owners are renowned for going out of their way to help not only the players and fans but the city and community at large.
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Few clubs in the world football have operated more efficiently in the transfer market than Leicester City over the last few seasons. Persisting with the ethos of data-driven recruitment by former managers Nigel Pearson and Steve Walsh, Leicester have consistently sold their players over the odds and signed replacements, if not improvements, for a fraction of that price.
After their title winning season, when Chelsea triggered the release clause for N’Golo Kanté, Leicester snapped up Wilfried Ndidi for a relatively cheaper price to fill the void. The following year, they managed to recoup £35m from Chelsea for Danny Drinkwater – an absolute steal in today’s market – money they reinvested to sign Harry Maguire from Hull City, who would later go on to become the most expensive defender in the history of football.
Similarly, after Riyad Mahrez was (finally) sold to Manchester City in a deal worth £60m in 2018, the fee was spent on securing James Maddison, Çağlar Söyüncü and Ricardo Pereira, all three of whom are now among Premier League’s best in their respective positions.
The following season, Leicester robbed Manchester United, who paid £80m plus add-ons to take Maguire from East Midlands to the red half of Manchester. The Foxes smartly used that intake of money to bring in Youri Tielemans, James Justin, Ayoze Pérez and Dennis Praet, all of whom are now regulars in the Leicester first team.
Further evidence of Leicester’s Midas touch in the transfer market was seen last summer. After selling one of their academy prospects Ben Chilwell to Chelsea for a reported £45m fee, the club were quick to sign a more versatile fullback in Timothy Castagne, while the extra funds allowed them to look for an additional centre-back signing.
Leicester’s advances to sign a Premier League-proven centre-back were thwarted when Burnley quoted an obscene £50m for James Tarkowski. After a laboured effort, the club were able to secure the services of a young 19-year-old Wesley Fofana from Saint-Étienne. With the former manager, Claude Puel, at the helm of Les Verts, many expected a deal would be difficult to push through. Puel wanted to keep the French under-21 International, but he accepted the youngster’s decision. In the end, a fee in excess of £30m was agreed for the highly rated centre-back, but still hefty for a 19-year-old unproven talent.
Any concerns of Fofana not being able to fit into the Premier League were soon put to bed after his first few appearances for the Foxes. In his debut, in a narrow 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa, his first touch on the ball was a picture-perfect Cruyff turn. Nonetheless, Wesley Fofana, along with Rúben Dias, were two of the best centre-back signings last season.
During his Liverpool days, Brendan Rodgers was heavily involved in player identification and transfer-policy discussions, which went horribly wrong for him. He has since learned when to take a step back. Rodgers plays his part in that he knows the positions he wants to strengthen, the specific qualities he wants in the player, but then rests his trust in Lee Congerton – his recruitment chief from Celtic – and director of football Jon Rudkin to get the deals done.
Brendan Rodgers: The architect
Since taking over mid-way through the 2018/19 season, Brendan Rodgers has made tremendous strides with his Leicester side over the past 24 months. No other team in the Premier League have spent more days sitting inside the Top 4 than Rodgers’ men. Despite the pandemic increasing the unpredictability of the league, Leicester have been remarkably consistent – not the miracle of the title-winning campaign, but still mightily impressive.
When Rodgers arrived at the King Power Stadium, he made it clear that he was determined to disrupt the established order of the traditional “Big Six”. Not only has he done that already within two seasons, but he’s also done it to the extent that the “Big Six” are now coming to terms that Leicester City are not going away anytime soon.
Their success on the pitch has been down to many factors, most importantly player development, simplified roles for players on the pitch and adaptable systems.
Teams are often found out if they play only one system, in part because it’s easier for the opposition to eventually suss out their approach. Also, when injuries pile up, there’s no way of coping without a proper backup plan. And Leicester City were stretched to the limits last campaign with their horrendous injury list.
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Marred by injuries, Rodgers altered his style of play, often switching from a back-three to a back-four midway through games, and yet managed to pick up results consistently. But they have approached games differently too. They would sit back and soak up the pressure before hitting some teams on the counter, while against others they’d keep squeezing them until they buckled under pressure.
It takes not only a malleable squad to pull this off, but also a manager who is tactically astute and gets his message across in an easily understandable way.
But this consistency has been stained by their ineptitude at sealing off a Top 4 finish. Project Restart saw Leicester take just 9 points from as many games as they relinquished the final Champions League spot with a 2-0 defeat at home to Manchester United on the final day of the season. This year, too, after spending the entire campaign inside the Top 4, defeats in both of their final league games saw Liverpool and Chelsea pip the Foxes to the Champions League places on the final day of the season.
This is a pattern we are slowly becoming accustomed to under Brendan Rodgers. From his time at Liverpool to his two full seasons at Leicester City, Brendan Rodgers’ teams seem to run out of gas by the end of the season with many factors at play, from the ferocious high-pressing taking its toll to the lack of experienced heads within the dressing room. Brendan Rodgers needs to sort out this final piece of his jigsaw, the only blot on an otherwise fantastic tenure at the King Power.