Leicester City’s Premier League title has set a new standard for the whole of football and provided “inspiration for the whole world”, says the club’s vice-chairman.
In a rare interview with BBC sports editor Dan Roan, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha – the son of billionaire club owner and chairman Vichai – also talked about his family’s future plans for the club.
He also spoke of his relationship with “special” manager Claudio Ranieri and striker Jamie Vardy.
Srivaddhanaprabha Sr owns the King Power duty free chain which lends its name to the club’s stadium. The family have rarely spoken publicly since taking over the club in 2010.
In the wide-ranging BBC Sport interview, his son reveals:
- Ranieri was the first choice for the job;
- He thought it was “funny” when scouts asked for permission to sign Vardy from a non-league club;
- Next season’s first target remains Premier League survival, despite going into it as champions;
- He never believed they would win the league – but hoped to one day reach Champions League;
- Promises to add “quality players”;
- Says the aim is now “to stay in Premier League as long as we can”;
- Questions why any player would now want to leave the club.
Leicester won the Premier League title on Monday despite being 5,000-1 outsiders and tipped for relegation at the start of the season.
On ‘brilliant’ Ranieri
Ranieri was a surprise choice as manager, with many pundits tipping him for the sack at the start of the season.
The 64-year-old Italian lost his previous job as head coach of Greece after a defeat by the Faroe Islands – but Srivaddhanaprabha said he was struck by the former Chelsea boss.
“Claudio is a brilliant manager. The way he managed the media with the pressure of the team, he has so much experience with football,” he said.
“The way he managed the players and put them out on the field was something special. We saw that when we interviewed him. He has something special inside and has all the plans in his head.
“We interviewed quite a number of managers and he was the one I chose the first time. When I met him, he was the first choice for me.”
On signing Vardy
England striker Jamie Vardy, 29, is the top flight’s second-top scorer and found the net 11 games in a row earlier in the season – a Premier League record. He is now one of the most sought after strikers in Europe – but was signed for £1m from the then non-league Fleetwood Town in 2012.
“Steve Walsh [assistant manager] asked me to buy non-league players and I thought it was funny. Then when he showed me all the information about him, it was amazing. He scores 29 or 30 goals a year so we can see he can score and has a record.
“When I met him, he was quite a special character. He wanted success, he had the hunger to be the best striker in the team, even though he came from non-league.
“He talked to me openly about wanting to be in the Premier League and he said he will try anything to take the club to the Premier League. He said to me on the first day he wants to play for England, I said to him, ‘I will help you. Anything you want, I will do it’.”
On being an inspiration
The story of Leicester’s unlikely Premier League title win has made headlines around the world.
“Is it a miracle? It is. It is inspirational and people talk about it. We set the standard of the sport and inspiration for the whole world.
“It is not just for the sport, it is life. If people use Leicester as the standard now, if they fight, they try – then they can achieve one day. Everything has to be right as well.
“It is a miracle for the city, it is a miracle for the players but we have a job to do. They worked hard to be in this position. It is not just lucky.
“All the middle clubs in the team will try now as they are inspired by Leicester. They will believe so it will be more difficult for the big clubs and for Leicester to try again.”
On the players’ futures
Earlier on Thursday, the agent of Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez – a £400,000 buy from French side Le Havre – said it was “50/50” whether the Algeria forward would be at the club next season.
Other players have also been linked with moves to more established clubs. That prompted Ranieri to speak about his desire to keep the team together at his Thursday news conference – and his vice-chairman echoed that sentiment.
“We will play in the Champions League next season, why would they want to move? I don’t see the reason,” said Srivaddhanaprabha.
“We will try to keep them but it depends on the players as well. If they want to move, we will talk to them and ask why they have to move.”
On Leicester’s achievement
“Everything has turned to Leicester over the past seven months of the season.
“Every team is doing well which is why the league has been so strange. All the teams try so hard to win every match so the big teams slip sometimes and we kept the momentum from last season. We tried to survive in the first half of the season and we achieved it earlier than we thought.
“It was so nice to see the players try and the fans trying to support them and we have had the success now and it makes us so happy. It is difficult to say how we are feeling now to be the champions of the Premier League.
“We have been in the first position from Christmas and New Year’s Day and people were doubting, they thought we would slip to the middle of the table. We kept belief and dreaming.
“There is no special secret but the team spirit is so great. They fight for each other and try to cover the mistakes for each other. They never stop and they kept believing. They are a special group of players and love each other.
“When we bought the club, we said we love football and we will try everything to make the club successful. If you asked to if I believe can we win the league? Maybe not realistically. My father said he wanted the team to be in the Champions League one day, and we set the plan with all the staff.
On future plans
“We will build the team to compete in the Premier League. We will compete in the Champions League next season and I am not saying we will win the big cup, but we will try. We want to keep our best players and we will add some quality players with the right people. I am not sure where we will finish next season.
“We will try to win the league again. The target is the same, we want to build the squad and we try to stay in the Premier League as long as we can. To win the title again is so difficult. It will be super difficult from now. If we win, we win.
“We are scouting for players now, we will see when we finish the season. We will talk with Claudio about how many players we want and in which position. I support everything they say.
“If the scouting team ask me to spend, they need to have some reason. Claudio needs to support it as well. I can’t as an owner say, ‘you can go out and spend whatever you want. We are going to buy Ronaldo and Messi’.
“As a club, we have to manage for the long term. Not just next season, but we need to build. The players have to be for the right position. We have to buy quality to add more for next season. Then we already have young players that we have bought like Demarai Gray and many others.
On foreign ownership
Twelve of the 20 Premier League clubs are now in the hands of foreign owners – and not all are seen as beneficial.
While investment in Manchester City and Chelsea has been welcomed for bringing success, the Glazer family’s handling of Manchester United has not always gone down well with fans despite some big money signings, while Randy Lerner’s stewardship of Aston Villa has grown toxic at the relegated club.
Srivaddhanaprabha, however, believes his family are doing “the right thing” – and the club’s Thai fan base will grow as a result.
“Thai people love football and the Premier League interests them the most. To be part of the owners, the Thai people are proud. They are waiting for the players to go to see them because they want to welcome and thank them. If Manchester United and Leicester play at the same time now, they will be switching the television. They want to see the team owned by Thais playing and they love it.
“If you do the right thing, something good will come. We did last season and the season we got promoted. We supported the players, the staff, the fans. We do everything on and off the pitch.
“If you have the foundation right, you can be good. Every owner tries to be successful in everything they do. They are devoted people and love sport.
“We love football, we love sport and we know how important the fans are. I just need them to support the team. If they [the players] play at home, they feel safe – the support is there. Now even away, they feel the same. It is important for the performance. Now they play for the fans, for the support.”