Few ex­ec­u­tives have sparked such af­fec­tion in their own sup­port­ers

Sri­vad­dhanaprabha fam­ily are lauded for help­ing to write Le­ices­ter’s ti­tle fairy tale, says Sam Wal­lace

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Premier League -

The Agusta he­li­copter land­ing on the Le­ices­ter City pitch at the King Power is as reg­u­lar a tra­di­tion at home matches as the pre-game Foxes bu­gler, one of the few ob­vi­ous re­minders that the Sri­vad­dhanaprabha fam­ily who own the club are ex­tremely wealthy peo­ple.

The own­ers of Le­ices­ter bought the club in 2010, al­though it was never en­tirely clear why. Their for­tune was in the King Power duty free chain, which had a mo­nop­oly on the air­ports of their na­tive Thai­land. They built up ar­guably the big­gest polo es­tate in the UK, and cre­ated the King Power team, sign­ing the best Ar­gen­tine play­ers and tak­ing the coun­try’s lead­ing team man­ager from their ri­vals.

Polo bought the Sri­vad­dhanaprabha fam­ily, and the pa­tri­arch Vichai, an en­tree into the British es­tab­lish­ment. Their King Power teams won the Gold Cup and Queen’s Cup, and the fam­ily rubbed shoul­ders with mem­bers of the British royal fam­ily. Polo was their pas­sion and Vichai’s son Aiyawatt, known as “Top”, played in the team along­side Fa­cundo Pieres, the Lionel Messi of polo.

But it was foot­ball that truly cat­a­pulted the Sri­vad­dhanaprabha fam­ily into the na­tional con­scious­ness. Their club’s re­mark­able 2016 Pre­mier League ti­tle vic­tory, in just the sec­ond sea­son af­ter their pro­mo­tion from the Cham­pi­onship, changed the no­tion of what was pos­si­ble for teams out­side the elite. While Top, the club’s vice-chair­man, gave some in­ter­views in the af­ter­math, Vichai stayed out of the spot­light. He re­mained the reclu­sive bil­lion­aire.

Vichai was known for his close links to the Thai es­tab­lish­ment and also for his re­li­gious faith. The Bud­dhist monks from the Wat Traimit Witha­yaram Wo­rav­i­harn (Golden Bud­dha) Tem­ple, in Bangkok, are flown in by Vichai for many of the home games to bless the team.

Vichai is known sim­ply as “the boss” at Le­ices­ter and at his Berk­shire base, which en­com­passes 100 acres, 60 staff and the sta­bling of around 80 ponies at an an­nual cost of around £8mil­lion to run the two teams. Dom­i­nat­ing that

world of ded­i­cated am­a­teurs and the coun­try set was rel­a­tively straight­for­ward once the level of in­vest­ment was set. Vichai signed man­ager Pe­ter McCor­mack from ri­vals Dubai, owned by Sheikh Ali Alb­wardy, who had pre­vi­ously won seven Gold Cups and seven Queen’s Cups, to run the teams.

Get­ting to the top of English foot­ball was quite an­other propo­si­tion.

The de­ci­sions made by the Sri­vad­dhanaprab­has, and Vichai in par­tic­u­lar, have not al­ways been easy to read. The first in­ter­est the fam­ily had in foot­ball was an ex­ec­u­tive box in the west stand at Stam­ford Bridge, which they took in 2006.

In Au­gust 2010, they bought Le­ices­ter from Mi­lan Man­daric when the club were in the Cham­pi­onship, tak­ing four years to get pro­moted.

Their eight years in charge were first char­ac­terised by a loy­alty to man­agers, even Clau­dio Ranieri, who lasted longer than many would have given him when the team bombed in the sea­son fol­low­ing the 2015-2016 ti­tle-win­ning sea­son. Pre­vi­ously, they stuck with Nigel Pear­son through that dif­fi­cult first year in the Pre­mier League and only even­tu­ally parted with him when Pear­son’s son, James, was in­volved in a sex scan­dal in a post­sea­son tour of Thai­land.

The fam­ily take ad­vice on the big foot­ball de­ci­sions from Jon Rud­kin, the for­mer academy di­rec­tor and now di­rec­tor of foot­ball, who has their full trust and can of­ten be seen ac­com­pa­ny­ing them across the pitch to the he­li­copter when they leave the sta­dium. They also place great store in Su­san Whe­lan, the Ir­ish chief ex­ec­u­tive of Le­ices­ter and King Power. Since win­ning the league, the club have con­tin­ued to in­vest but strug­gled with man­age­rial ap­point­ments, re­plac­ing Ranieri with his as­sis­tant Craig Shake­speare, then Claude Puel.

In Le­ices­ter, the Sri­vad­dhanaprab­has are re­garded as model own­ers. They de­liv­ered the great­est sea­son in the club’s his­tory and, by and large, the Le­ices­ter faith­ful also agreed with the de­ci­sion to sack Ranieri. The Sri­vad­dhanaprab­has do­nated £2mil­lion to­wards build­ing a new chil­dren’s hos­pi­tal in the city; £100,000 to the fund to re­bury Richard III and £23,000 to a fan who was rais­ing money for re­search into his son’s rare ge­netic disor­der. Few own­ers gen­er­ate such af­fec­tion in their own sup­port, al­though for all that they re­main a very pri­vate fam­ily.

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