Garlands and crowds greet Leicester team in Thailand

Garlands and crowds greet Leicester team in Thailand
Leicester City's manager Claudio Ranieri (C) and players Kasper Schmeichel (L) and Shinji Okazaki (R) gesture in a traditional greeting as they arrive with the team at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok.
PHOTO: Reuters

BANGKOK - Newly-crowned English Premier League champions Leicester City arrived in Thailand Wednesday on a publicity blitz, hoping to tap into euphoria over their unlikely triumph.

They also hoped to banish the memory of a sex tape scandal that marred a visit to the homeland of their billionaire owner a year ago.

Scores of Thai fans -- dubbed the "Siamese Foxes" -- and a frenzied local media pack mobbed the champions at Bangkok's main airport on Wednesday morning, greeting them with requests for selfies and chants of "Leicester City, Leicester City".

Manager Claudio Ranieri, captain Wes Morgan, goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and forward Shinji Okazaki led the team, beaming as they gave a choreographed Thai bow -- or 'wai' -- with garlands of jasmine hung around their necks.

But star players Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and Danny Drinkwater were not among the Wednesday morning arrivals and it was unclear if they would be joining the official two-day tour at a later stage.

Football-mad Thailand has fallen for the once little-known champions with fans keen to jump on the remarkable success story of a club with deep links to the kingdom.

The Foxes are owned by well-connected, but publicity-shy, Thai billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.

His duty-free King Power brand is emblazoned across the shirts of the team whose home ground in the English Midlands is named the King Power Stadium.

The devout Vichai has also repeatedly flown Buddhist monks to the UK to bless the players and stadium.

"I want to be part of Leicester City... I am so glad because they are owned by Thais," Somchai Sripumma, a fan at the airport, told Thai television.

Most Thais knew little about the one-time minnows, from the city 90 miles (145 kilometres) north of London, before Vichai bought the club in 2010.

But Thais are readily changing -- or at least doubling-up -- their allegiances from perennial English favourites Manchester United and Liverpool in step with Leicester's stunning rise.

Ahead of the tour, club vice-chairman Aiyawatt 'Top' Srivaddhanaprabha, Vichai's son, 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 usher the club towards sporting history.

"They (the players) are massive now and they want to say thank you to the Thai fans," Top recently told reporters.

"The players need privacy as well, but I've talked to them and they know they need to treat everything well," he said.

Leicester were 5,000-1 outsiders to win the title at the start of their campaign.

The team will carry out two days of press and publicity duties in Thailand.

The highlight of the trip will be an open-top bus tour of Bangkok on Thursday, although it was unclear how many fans will brave the searing afternoon sun to cheer the team on -- or if the city's notoriously gridlocked roads will allow smooth passage for the team bus.

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