Can SA pro­duce lead­ers of Vichai’s cal­i­bre?

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THE owner of Le­ices­ter City Foot­ball Club in Eng­land, Vichai Sri­vad­dhanaprabha, trag­i­cally passed away last week when his pri­vate he­li­copter spun out of con­trol after leav­ing the King Power Sta­dium. It crashed in an open park­ing lot ad­ja­cent to the fa­mous venue. Along with him, an­other three pas­sen­gers and the pi­lot died.

A self-made busi­ness­man, Sri­vad­dhanaprabha started a duty-free com­pany in Thai­land and over time he es­tab­lished him­self as the fifth rich­est man in that coun­try.

In 2010 he de­cided to buy Le­ices­ter City for £39 mil­lion (R729.2m) and at the same time he wiped clear the club’s £103m debt, and pur­chased the sta­dium out­right on be­half of the club.

At the time Le­ices­ter City were floun­der­ing in Di­vi­sion One and in dire straits.

On his ar­rival at Le­ices­ter, Sri­vad­dhanaprabha boldly pro­nounced that in a few years’ time he wanted to take Le­ices­ter City to the Cham­pi­ons League.

Nat­u­rally, the me­dia scoffed and chuck­led at this state­ment and thought “here is an­other rich man with wild dreams and no sense of re­al­ity”.

Sri­vad­dhanaprabha had the courage and con­vic­tion to buy a lan­guish­ing foot­ball club fac­ing liq­ui­da­tion and backed them to the hilt. Win­ning pro­mo­tion from the lower leagues un­til against al­most in­cred­i­ble odds, Le­ices­ter City be­came cham­pi­ons of Eng­land by win­ning the Premier League in 2016.

The odds on them win­ning the league were at an as­ton­ish­ing 5000-1 with only one per­son in the en­tire world hav­ing the foresight to place a £50 bet on that out­come.

But the owner of the foot­ball club achieved his dream, and in 2017 Le­ices­ter City were play­ing in the Cham­pi­ons League for the first time in their his­tory.

De­spite be­ing one of the rich­est men in the world, Sri­vad­dhanaprabha did not go out to try to “buy” the league ti­tle by sign­ing all the best avail­able play­ers in the world. He had a hard-work­ing coach­ing staff and a good scout­ing sys­tem in place, which lo­cated two of the best “finds” in foot­ball in re­cent years in the form of Jamie Vardy and Ngolo Kante, among oth­ers.

One of the main at­trac­tions that the owner of King Power must have had to foot­ball in Eng­land was the fact that there is so much pride and his­tory in the game in that coun­try. Ev­ery lit­tle town has a team and vir­tu­ally all those clubs are named after their re­gion or town.

And most likely, be­cause of this, there is a very strong com­mu­nity bond with the teams.

In the English Premier League ev­ery week, you will see packed sta­di­ums at places like St Mary’s where Southamp­ton play, and St James’s Park, New­cas­tle United’s base, each hav­ing a ca­pac­ity of around 32 000 and 52 000 re­spec­tively. The fans are not there to shout for vis­it­ing teams. They shout vo­cif­er­ously for their home team and are proud of them – even in the face of poor per­for­mances and the threat of rel­e­ga­tion.

This is be­cause the his­tory is spe­cial and par­tic­u­lar to each club and the com­mu­nity is ex­tremely proud of her­itage.

Add to this rich ta­pes­try of tra­di­tion the fact that the en­tire league struc­ture in the English Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion is stream­lined and well-struc­tured from the bot­tom up to the high-pro­file Premier League, with clear-cut pro­mo­tion and rel­e­ga­tion cri­te­ria among other at­tributes.

The league af­fairs are trans­par­ent with trans­par­ent and fair man­age­ment, and one can see why Sri­vad­dhanaprabha saw the mas­sive po­ten­tial and in­vested so much money in or­der to pur­sue his dream.

Le­ices­ter City are now re­put­edly worth around £350m, but the legacy that this man has left be­hind is im­mea­sur­able. In terms of the ef­fect he has had not only on the peo­ple of Le­ices­ter, but also on ev­ery sin­gle club around the world that no mat­ter how small you are, you can make your dreams come true.

All you need is a sound, hon­est, trans­par­ent and stream­lined league sys­tem in your coun­try and you will at­tract in­vest­ment, and your lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties will unite and grow, and the game of foot­ball can flour­ish.

There are lessons all around us ev­ery day where we can make the game of foot­ball great again in this amaz­ing coun­try, of South Africa. But do we have lead­ers who can iden­tify these op­por­tu­ni­ties? More im­por­tantly, can plans be put in place to achieve them? Let the South African foot­ball dream again.

Coppola is a foot­ball coach, ad­min­is­tra­tor and for­mer pro­fes­sional player

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