Leicester City, the football club owned by Thai duty-free giants King Power, have created one of the biggest sporting shocks of all time by winning the English Premier League title.
The East Midlands team, which started the season as 5,000-1 outsiders for the title, celebrated their first ever top flight win after their nearest challengers, Tottenham Hotspur, failed to beat Chelsea on Monday.
The result led to mass celebrations across the UK, and while it was only revealed in Thailand in the early hours of Tuesday morning, Leicester City’s growing legion of Thai fans will have woken up to the news they’d all been hoping for.
King Power, which owns duty-free shops at airports and in cities across Thailand, bought a struggling Leicester City side in 2010. Under their control, the team was promoted to the Premier League by winning the Championship in 2014, and avoided relegation in the famous “great escape” of 2015.
But the company, owned by Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, shocked Leicester’s supporters shortly after securing their Premier League survival by sacking popular manager Nigel Pearson and replacing him with Italian veteran Claudio Ranieri.
And while the decision was criticised by many pundits and fans at the time, it turned out to be a masterstroke. The likeable Ranieri, who joined Leicester after being sacked as head coach of Greece, has now guided his new team to their first top flight title since the club was founded in 1884.
True to King Power’s duty-free roots, this title-winning Leicester City side has been a relative bargain to assemble. Top goalscorer Jamie Vardy cost just GBP1 million (US$1.5m) from lowly Fleetwood Town, and Riyad Mahrez, the skillful Algerian playmaker, was purchased for just GBP400,000. Other players, like Christian Fuchs and Marc Albrighton, arrived on free transfers.
In fact, it has been revealed that Manchester United, who are struggling to finish in the top five this season, have spent more on player transfers in the last two years than Leicester City have in their entire 132-year history.
All of which makes Leicester’s success this year even more remarkable. Unheralded, unfashionable and unfancied, this team of bargain buys and beaten-up old pros has now pulled off arguably the most remarkable story in the history of this – an perhaps any – sport.