London (AFP) – Jamie Vardy, a hero of Leicester’s remarkable Premier League title triumph two years ago, led tributes to the club’s owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who died when his helicopter crashed shortly after take-off just outside the team’s stadium.
Thai billionaire Vichai, 60, was one of five people killed in Saturday’s crash, and is credited with leading Leicester’s meteoric rise from English football’s second tier when he took over in 2010 to champions for the first time.
“Struggling to find the right words,” Vardy posted on Instagram alongside a picture of him and Vichai smiling.
“But to me you are legend, an incredible man who had the biggest heart, the soul of Leicester City Football Club.
“Thank you for everything you did for me, my family and our club. I will truly miss you…. may you rest in peace… #theboss.”
Vardy, plucked from the obscurity of non-league side Fleetwood Town in 2012, represented the shrewd investment that characterised Vichai’s ownership.
Another impressive signing Harry Maguire, bought from second-division Hull less than a year before starring for England at this summer’s World Cup, thanked Vichai for his support during his time in Russia with the Three Lions.
“Words can’t describe how I feel. A truly great, kind, loving man who will be missed so much by everyone,” Maguire wrote on Twitter.
“I will never forget the Chairman’s support, not only during my time @LCFC but also during the World Cup.”
– ‘Sad and tragic time’ –
Vichai had attended Leicester’s 1-1 draw with West Ham on Saturday and departed as was common in his helicopter from the centre-circle of the club’s King Power stadium pitch.
However, the aircraft soon encountered difficulties and crashed into a car park outside the ground, with a huge fireball seen to engulf the wreckage.
“We would like to send our sincere condolences to the family of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha at this sad and tragic time,” said West Ham in a statement.
“His immense contribution to Leicester City FC, the city of Leicester and English football will never be forgotten. Our condolences also go to the other families affected by the tragedy.
“We would also like to express our admiration for the emergency services who responded so swiftly and with such bravery, and offer our support to anyone, including any West Ham United supporters, who may have witnessed the tragedy.”
Manchester United, a club touched by an air-accident tragedy when eight players and three club staff were killed among 23 victims in a plane crash in Munich 60 years ago, expressed their sorrow at Vichai’s passing.
“Everyone at #MUFC is deeply saddened to learn that the Leicester City chairman and four fellow passengers have lost their lives following last night’s tragic incident,” the 20-time English champions said via Twitter.
“Our deepest condolences are with their families, friends and those connected to the club.”
Tributes also poured in from around the world of football.
Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid expressed their condolences just hours after Barca beat their rivals 5-1 in El Clasico.
“The club wants to show their condolences to his family, his friends and all the Leicester fans,” said European champions Madrid in a statement.
“Our thoughts are with the whole @lcfc family. Rest in peace,” Barca posted on Twitter.