BANGKOK (AFP) – Leicester City s billionaire owners say they hope to use the Premier League winners to nurture young football talent with the aim of Thailand qualifying for the World Cup within a decade.
The newly crowned English champions are on a celebratory post-season tour of Thailand, home of publicity-shy billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and his son Aiyawatt — better known as Top .
The two men, alongside manager Claudio Ranieri, are credited with steering the club to one of football s greatest fairytale wins.
Vichai now hopes some of that success will rub off on his homeland, a nation mad about football but with little international success to boast of.
“I d like to see Thailand secure their first ever World Cup berth in 10 years,” he told reporters in Bangkok on Wednesday during the first day of a publicity tour.
The Midlands club is already hosting 16 young Thai players who are studying and training there, with plans to send more in the coming years.
“We have a plan,” Top told reporters, adding that the trainees “will eat at the same canteen” as players such as Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater.
“It s up to the Thai kids, whether they can absorb the English tradition, the professionalism,” he added.
The Thai national team has a tough road ahead to qualify for Russia 2018 — they face Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iraq in their group.
Football-mad Thailand has belatedly fallen for Leicester after the astonishing success story of a club with deep links to the kingdom.
Vichai s duty-free King Power brand is emblazoned across the shirts of the team, whose home ground 90 miles (145 kilometres) north of London named the King Power Stadium.
His family s shrewd investment in players and club facilities has already brought a massive return on their $57 million initial outlay.
Now they can look forward to global visibility for a duty-free brand little-known outside of Thailand.
King Power have also launched a reality television show in Thailand to scout for fresh talent.
Following the club s success Thais are readily changing — or at least doubling-up — their allegiances from perennial English favourites Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea.
Ahead of this year s publicity tour, Top has warned his players to be on their best behaviour in a kingdom whose wild nightlife belies a deep-seated social conservatism.
A tour last summer ended in a public relations disaster for the King Power family.
Then, three young players including the son of former manager Nigel Pearson, were sacked after a racially charged sex tape featuring local women was leaked to British media.
Manager Pearson was quietly dismissed a few weeks later in an apparent dispute over his handling of the scandal, paving the way for the avuncular Ranieri to take charge and steer the club towards sporting legend.