LEICESTER, England – Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha has achieved what seemed impossible in modern football: get promoted with a modest club and win the English Premier League title in two years.
By investing in Leicester City, but without the lavish spending of the big clubs, the Thai billionaire oversaw one of the biggest successes of the sporting oppressed when the 5,000 outsiders won the richest football competition in 2016.
In an era of foreign owners often absent from the Premier League, Vichai also broke the mold by forging close ties with his supporters and the local community.
While Vichai was not looking for the spotlight and was far from flamboyant, the grand mode of transportation of the wealthy entrepreneur at King Power Stadium, named in honor of his duty-free empire, became the status symbol. newly acquired by the club. A helicopter would land on the field after the games and take the owner.
Saturday night was the last trip for Vichai.
Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel was seen crying while he was staring at a fireball in a parking lot outside the stadium about an hour after a 1-1 draw against West Ham. Moments earlier, the AW129 AgustaWestland had moved away from the central circle and cleared the roof of the stadium before it went out of control and collapsed into a nearby burning car park.
Leicester announced Sunday that Vichai, 60, and the other four people on board did not survive the hell.
"I am so devastated. I just can not believe what I saw last night, "Schmeichel said. In an emotional tribute to Vichai, the club's seven-year-old veteran said, "You've changed football. Forever. You have given everyone the hope that the impossible was possible, not just for our fans, but for fans around the world, in all sports. "
At the place where the fans danced in the night after the unlikely win in the title two years ago, people gathered all day to mourn. A few hours before Sunday night, confirming that Vichai had not survived the crash, scarves, sweaters and flowers had been deposited in a constantly expanding memorial in front of the stadium.
"Without you," reads a message on a club flag, "the dream would not have come true".
The next Leicester match, which was scheduled Tuesday against Southampton in the League Cup, has been postponed.
"We now have the responsibility, as a club, as players and supporters to honor you," said Schmeichel.
Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, Vichai staff members, also died, along with pilot Eric Swaffer and passenger Izabela Roza Lechowicz. Fears of family members aboard were eased all day, with son of his son Vichai, Aiyawatt, now expected to step down as vice-president.
"The world has lost a great man," said the Leicester club in a statement. "A man of kindness, generosity and a man whose life was defined by the love he has devoted to his family and those whom he has directed so successfully."
Vichai, who started with a store and developed the towering Thai chain King Power, bought Leicester for £ 39m ($ 50m) in 2010, while in the second-tier competition. Avoiding relegation in his first season in the Premier League was quite remarkable in 2015 after spending a lot of time in last place. But this was eclipsed in 2016 by the team that won the highest level title for the first time since its founding in 1884.
"I've always believed in the power of our mind," Vichai said at the time. "That led us to the Premier League, that gave us the strength to stay in the Premier League and now it inspired us to win the Premier League.
"It's a spirit that has spread beyond Leicester, bringing our story to the heart of the world. Our spirit exists thanks to the love we share and the energy that it helps to create, on and off the field, and in the coming years, it will continue to be our biggest asset. "
Vichai was ridiculed for hiring the manager who organized the title's success. Claudio Ranieri was unemployed since his dismissal by the weak national team of Greece and his only work in the Premier League in Chelsea ended eleven years earlier. But it turned out to be an inspired recruitment, which turned a group of mundane comrades and modestly-bought recruits into an alignment that dominated the mega-giants of the Premier League.
"It was a dream," longtime supporter Ian Hubber told the stadium on Sunday. "It's a nightmare."
The emotion that reigned Sunday in the stadium reflected the importance given to the property in the city, which only has one professional football team. Vichai has built close ties with fans, sometimes mingling with them in games.
Mr. Vichai was commended for his charity work by donating £ 2 million ($ 2.5 million) to a new local children's hospital. He often provided free beer and food to fans outside of games.
"He's an owner with a lot of interest in a club," said 19-year-old Rikesh Vaja. "It's not just the club. He touched the whole city.
He also won for the club of new fans in Thailand, where they mourned the sudden death of Vichai.
"It's the Thai team," said Bangkok football fan Chatworachet Sae-Kow in Bangkok. "It made Thailand famous when they won (the title). He wore the Thai flag with him and urged people to learn more about Thailand. "
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