Frenzied fans and media mob Leicester City players in Bangkok
The newly crowned Premier League champions – owned by a Thailand billionaire – touch down for a publicity blitz in the football-mad kingdom
Newly crowned English Premier League champions Leicester City arrived in Thailand on Wednesday on a publicity blitz, hoping to tap into euphoria over their unlikely triumph.
They also hoped to banish the memory of a sex-tape scandal that marred a visit to the homeland of their billionaire owner a year ago.
Scores of Thai fans – the “Siamese Foxes” – and a frenzied local media pack mobbed the champions at Bangkok’s main airport, greeting them with requests for selfies and chants of “Leicester City, Leicester City”.
Manager Claudio Ranieri, captain Wes Morgan, goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and forward Shinji Okazaki led the team, beaming as they gave a choreographed Thai bow – or wai – with garlands of jasmine hung around their necks.
Star players Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and Danny Drinkwater were not among the arrivals yesterday morning and it was unclear if they would join the two-day tour at a later stage.
Football-mad Thailand has fallen for the once little-known champions with fans keen to jump on the remarkable success story of a club with deep links to the kingdom.
The Foxes are owned by well-connected, but publicity-shy, Thai billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.
His duty-free King Power brand is emblazoned across the shirts of the team whose home ground in the English Midlands is named the King Power Stadium.
The devout Vichai has also repeatedly flown Buddhist monks to the UK to bless the players and stadium.
“I want to be part of Leicester City ... I am so glad because they are owned by Thais,” said Somchai Sripumma, a fan at the airport.
Most Thais knew little about the one-time minnows, from the East Midlands city, before Vichai bought the club in 2010.
But Thais are readily changing – or at least doubling-up – their allegiances from perennial English favourites Manchester United and Liverpool in step with Leicester’s stunning rise.
At a later media conference, Vichai’s son, Aiyawatt – known as “Top” – who is Leicester vice-chairman, vowed to make “amazing” signings in the close season as the Foxes prepare to defend their title and tackle the rigours of Champions League football.
But he later explained his billionaire family were not about to depart from the smart-spending formula that has served them well so far. “We’re not going to spend crazy money and ruin everything we have created,” he said.
And Ranieri made it clear he was ready to put aside the “fairy-tale” title win and focus on bargain-hunting in the frenzied summer transfer market.
“We want to continue doing this because if we go the other side [expensive signings], I lose the team,” he said.
“The team is very close. It’s a family and it’s important to bring into this family other brothers.”
The family’s shrewd investment in players and club facilities has already brought a massive return on their US$57 million initial outlay. Now they can look forward to global visibility for a duty-free brand little-known outside of Thailand.
A tour last summer by the Liecester club ended in a public relations disaster for the King Power family.
Then, three young players, including the son of former manager Nigel Pearson, were sacked after a racially charged sex tape featuring local women was leaked to British media.
Pearson was dismissed a few weeks later in an apparent dispute over his handling of the scandal, paving the way for Ranieri to take charge and usher the club towards sporting history.
The highlight of the team’s two-day trip will be an open-top bus tour of Bangkok on Thursday which will have to defy searing heat and the capital’s gridlock.