There’s a lot of concern at the moment about foreign investors buying up English football clubs, with no regard for their history and traditions. While these worries aren’t unfounded (see: Cardiff City, the bluebirds, playing in red), recent events in the NFL have shown that nationality has nothing to do with it.
Second generation owners Mark Davis of the Oakland Raiders and Dean Spanos of the San Diego Chargers, both born and raised in California, in the last week announced their attention to rip the teams away from the cities that have supported them, in the search for (even more) money.
Meanwhile, Leicester City’s foreign owners might just be the best in the world, even if they’re not the easiest to write songs about.
Thai businessman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and his son Aiyawatt first took ownership of Leicester City in 2010, at the beginning of a new era in English football. Roman Abramovich had opened the floodgates, with the purchase of Chelsea (and the great success he’d had there) to a huge influx of mega rich investors buying up football clubs which they had no connection to.
The announcement was certainly met with suspicion, as the Foxes themselves had sunk to their lowest ever position under the rule of another foreign owner, Milan Mandaric, while the country’s only previous Thai owner, Thaksin Shinawatra at Manchester City, had been one of the least stable regimes by far.
Their start was rocky at best, as well, changing the name of the stadium in a purely financially driven move. Although it was also a sponsorship deal, the Walkers Stadium evoked the history of club and city combined, while King Power was merely the owners other company. They then compounded the problem by repeating the (football) mistakes of Shinawatra, overpaying for average players and hiring of Sven-Goran Eriksson.
You couldn’t blame us for being wary, but the truth is we couldn’t have been more wrong.
They learned from their mistakes. Instead of trying to buy their way straight to the top, the strategy was changed and the Srivaddhanaprabha’s showed a quality not often seen in billionaire sports team owners: patience.
Instead of transfer fees, the money was invested in scouting, in the right people to run the club and in sports science and medical facilities that are the envy of the footballing world.
#LCFC put an incredible amount of time, research and money into their medical/physio/sports science departments.— James Sharpe (@TheSharpeEnd) December 21, 2015
It. Is. Not. Luck.
It worked and Leicester was eventually promoted to the Premier League. The owners celebrated with a ludicrous statement. They were to invest £180m over three years and expected the club to achieve a top 5 position in the that time. How we laughed. Leicester City, near the top of the league? Clearly they weren’t as smart or patient as it seemed.
I am asking for three years, and we'll be there - hilariously wrong. Nearly three years later and we’re still 15th. Smdh.
Again though, they were given the opportunity to show off their patience and again it paid off. How many owners would have sacked Nigel Pearson, with his side bottom of the league, before he could pull off the greatest escape, generating momentum that eventually brought a league title?
In much the same situation the following year, Aston Villa sacked their manager twice. Neither dismissal helped as the team was relegated and currently sits in the bottom half of the Championship.
Not only was Pearson given the time needed, but there appeared to be no pressure on his job all season. Even as his list of insane antics grew and grew, the owners stayed out of the spotlight, and his position was never even questioned.
Yet, when the situation became untenable that summer, and in hindsight it certainly did, they stepped in and made a swift decision, sacking him with little drama or drawn out discussions, and the club moved on. They hired some guy called Ranieri.
Claudio Ranieri? Really?— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) July 13, 2015
Success has come off the pitch too, with the Foxes announced by Deloitte to have joined the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal amongst the 20 highest earning teams in the world.
Success is and always will be the most important things to fans, whatever they might say. Keep winning and you can get away with almost anything. It’s not just that with the Srivaddhanaprabha’s, though. They seem like genuinely nice people (and, honestly, that image matters more to the club and us than whatever the reality is) and they’re running the club the right way.
Even as they arrive at the stadium in a helicopter, they don’t forget the little details that make people happy: a free mince pie on Boxing Day, or a treat to celebrate the owner’s birthday.
Of course not!— Leicester City (@LCFC) April 1, 2016
The Chairman really is buying 30,000 beers and doughnuts to celebrate his birthday https://t.co/cszRccCILk
(I’m sure we’ve all occasionally over-indulged in celebration, but 30,000 pints is some way beyond my record).
Yes, they might just be marketing gimmicks, a small outlay here and there to keep us all coming back for more, but honestly, at least they're showing that they want us to keep coming back. TV revenue is most important to Premier League teams these days, the majority of which comes from overseas, and more people turned up for a victory parade in Thailand than Leicester and yet the club keeps tickets relatively affordable, while affirming that they still care about the people of Leicester.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming that fans living there are more important than fans elsewhere. I don’t live there anymore, and I’m sure most people reading this probably don’t either. But just think how much fans in Oakland or San Diego might have appreciated any sign that their continued support meant anything to the team’s owners and be thankful that we, little old Leicester, might just have the best owners in the world.
In thanks for all they’ve given us, I think they’ve earned this. Say it with me know: Sri-vadd(h)-a-na-pra-b(h)a. We’ll learn it eventually.