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From The Archive: Leicester City's New Owners Speak To fcbusiness (2011)

Thu 26th May 2016 | Clubs Ownership

We dig deep into our archive and head back to June 2011 (issue 53) when then Editor, Ryan McKnight, spoke exclusively to Leicester City’s new owners and management team.  

 

Fact or Fiction? Will the next chapter of Leicester City’s story turn out to be the real deal?

Few could argue if Leicester City picked up the Bafta Award for ‘Football’s Best Soap Opera’.

Fifteen managers since 2004, debts of nearly £30million, annual losses of over £5million for each of the last four accounting periods, a brief visit to the third tier of English football (for the first time in their history) and a wages to turnover ratio of nearly 90% leave the Foxes, on the face of it, in a bit of a hole.

FC 53 (FC 1.jpg)Yet, despite the challenges of recent years, there appears to be genuine optimism around the club. This, of course, is all down to the new owners, the Thai duty free giant, King Power. English football’s last experience with a Thai owner (Manchester City’s Thaksin Shinawatra) didn’t start or end well and very much aided the ill feeling towards foreign owners in our game.

Undeterred, the Raksriaksorn family made up of twenty five year old Vice-Chairman Aiyawatt (or Top as he is known at the club) and his father Vichai, Chairman, have put their millions where their mouths are in buying the club from Milan Mandaric and investing many more millions, including becoming the club’s shirt sponsor.

Is this just another Coronation Street like sub plot or have we switched over to Newsnight? Are Leicester about to get back into the real world?

I spoke to the three men with the leading roles; Vice Chairman, Top Raksriaksorn, Chief Executive Lee Hoos and Manager, Sven- Göran Eriksson.

The energetic and hugely likeable, Hoos (formerly at Southampton), was quick to lay his cards on the desk. “I’m in no doubt that these guys are the real deal. They have bought the club and invested in all parts of it, not just the playing squad.”

Ian Beale, they are not. Separate to financing the managerial change from Paulo Sousa to Sven-Göran Eriksson, the likes of Yakubu (Everton), Kamara (Fulham) and Darius Vassell have all come in to what was a struggling Championship side. Away from the playing squad the ground has received two massive video walls, the pitch was re-laid half way through the season and the green light has been pressed for major redevelopments to the club’s megastore.

Hoos recognises though that the business is setup for Premier League football and income. “Of course, we can’t sustain a business with losses like this forever but we’re trying to get to the Premier League. To sustain a challenge against clubs with bigger revenues and parachute payments you need to push the boat sometimes.

“You have to use the money as wisely as you can and try and get the best value.” But with the wealth of the new owners so vast (anything up to £150million depending on what you read) Hoos also accepts that getting that value might prove a challenge.

“I have experienced it before. When other clubs think you have loads to spend then the price of players goes up. We will not be paying over the odds for any player - that is for sure.”

Whilst Hoos talks of plans to grow the commercial arms of the business, a quick glance at the figures show that only Premier League television incomes can quench the thirst of the profit and loss to come up as black rather than red. He accepts the possibilities that may lie in Thailand as well but confidently persuades me that Thailand is “one of” but not the principle area for commercial growth.

“The biggest growth any club in the Championship will ever have is to get promoted to the Premier League. It is going to be very difficult next year with the sides relegated receiving the new parachute payment amounts but we have a great squad already, a top class manager and brilliant owners that will back us into the Premier League.”

Is it all about the financial muscle though? Blackpool and Norwich have refreshingly shown in the past two seasons that it isn’t all about the money, money, money.

Hoos is adamant that the club breaking even (regardless of Premier League status) is realistic.

“It is realistic. We would need to have massive success in our commercial operations. You have to decide how much is a ‘one-off’ versus sustainability.”

One man not afraid to spend a few quid offered to him is Sven-Göran Eriksson. Who would have thought he would have ended up at Leicester? Yet, here he is lock, stock and two smoking barrels. Sven told me that the new governors have, “so far been very very good Ryan”.

In fact, it appears that Sven is enjoying his time at Leicester far more than his previous jobs to the extent of almost hounding Top to come and watch training as often as possible. Top telling me that; “sometimes I have to tell Sven that I have meetings and can’t come to all the training sessions.”

How bizarre! The happiness I believe is born out of the total freedom he appears to have at Leicester.

“If you work in England as a manager you have much more power than you do working in a country like Italy. That is why I like managing in England; I can get on with my job.”

There is no job in English football without expectation and pressure though, something Sven revels in, apparently.

“There is pressure, but that is lovely, no problem for me. It is more or less a must that we get promoted next season and I believe we will - even if the current squad stayed the same.”

Confident words indeed. But he quickly made a cute caveat in that “the owners know it costs money to get good players and you need good players to be successful.”

Sven, who was refreshingly open, complimented the owners for only giving him a two year contract.

“I think it is right that they don’t give me a longer contract. They want Premier League. If yes, then great, if not then we’ll see.”

And the man who would need to make that decision is Vice-Chairman, Aiyawatt (Top) Raksriaksorn. Upon meeting him at the ground, Top arrived in the most outrageous Rolls Royce I have ever seen, rivalling any Jaguar of Phil Mitchell’s.

“We love sport and we love football,” he told me. Ironically, the first game Top ever watched in England was a Leicester City versus Middlesbrough game. Now he is running the club and charged with its return to the top tier of the English game.

He tells me that the deal to buy the club came about through a “mutual friend” of his father’s and Milan.

“The deal to buy the club took no more than thirty minutes to conclude.”

Although only twenty five this young man is experienced beyond his years and genuinely seems like a nice guy. He has been working at his father’s side since he was twelve, in one of the biggest companies in Thailand. He has plans and it seems he is intent on making them happen.

The club will open an Academy near Bangkok in the next few months with the aim of bringing the best Thailand has to offer to Leicester.

“The players will come to us, they will pay, it will work in its own right and hopefully we will find a few great players.”

His plans for the business aren’t anything new to football but then they won’t need to be if he can finance the club back into the Premier League.

“We know we need to improve many things at the business. I try and make the brand bigger, take Leicester to Asia, improve the Academy, get fans in the ground earlier and improve non-matchday income.

“I understand that the biggest cost is wages but sometimes we will have to lose money to bring in good players. At the same time we want to work towards balance. Don’t forget that we (King Power) are retailers - we know how to grow revenues.

“There are many good staff members here at Leicester already. I want to tell them my vision and then we’ll develop it together.”

The news so far appears encouraging. The Leicester City shops opened up in Thailand are doing a roaring trade with the streets of Bangkok “full of Leicester City shirts”, Top tells me.

The Asia connection is already showing its colours at the Walkers Stadium with AirAsia and Singha Beer already signing on as sponsors. Top is also negotiating for the right to show Leicester City games in Thailand next year. Something he believes “could be very good for us indeed.”

But (there is always a but in soap operas), where the disappointment of not reaching the play-offs was quelled by the fact the club had such a poor start to the season, you have to ask yourself whether the novelty factor of writing off debts of £5 million plus per season will wear off quickly, if the club fails to get promoted at the next time of asking.

“I view this as a long-term project. I know we can bring a lot of success. To achieve what we want to achieve will take a long time.”

Top is definitely more vision than detail on how exactly Leicester are going to be successful on and off the pitch. But perhaps that is how Chairman and Vice-Chairman should be?

“I want to be calm, quietly build and be successful. Not loud, brash and deliver nothing.”

Leicester is a club either on the verge of the good times or on the brink of an even deeper continuation of their soap opera.

The club will no doubt push the boat financially again in the pre-season in their quest for Premier League status. The question of whether that is right or wrong depends on if it’s successful or not. But with at least half the league in with a realistic chance of promotion, it is a financial risk.

And with the spending unlikely to stop if they reach the Premier League it will be interesting to see how Top and Co. attempt to deliver financial and playing success - presuming they matter equally?

Dum Dum Dum Der Der Der Der. . . . . .

Taken from fcbusiness Issue 53 (June 2011)

Read how Leicester City's Premeir League win has gven the City of Leicester global appeal in the latest edition of fcbusiness: http://bit.ly/FCBusiness93 FC93 (FC93.P01.jpg)

 

Posted by: Aaron Gourley 

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