Leicester City owner Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha says he needed convincing before gambling on Jamie Vardy but was happy to be proven wrong about the non-league journeyman turned Premier League title-winner.
The Foxes sealed a remarkable league championship triumph when Tottenham failed to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Monday.
Leicester’s march to glory has been full of improbable individual success stories, but none more captivating than that of Vardy, who was signed from Fleetwood Town for £1million in 2012.
The 29-year-old was this week named Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year for 2015-16, having set a new record for scoring in 11 consecutive Premier League matches early in the remarkable campaign.
And while he may have been instrumental to one of the greatest surprises in the history of football, there was a time when Srivaddhanaprabha was far less certain about Vardy’s value.
“I actually questioned the signing at the first,” he told Thai publication A Day Magazine.
“I asked [then manager] Nigel Pearson and [head scout] Steve Walsh about this guy, checking the report for a week, and started feeling this could be okay, but I have to answer those supporters [who would say] ‘how come [we bought] a non-league [player] for £1million?’ It could turn out that I’m the dumbest club owner in the world for them.
“So I asked both, if I have a transfer budget of only £1million for the next season, who would you buy? And they say ‘Vardy’. Then I said ‘Go’.
“All the fans were outraged. Some just called to say ‘Are you nuts? Why spend this much on a non-league player?'”
“Back then, I thought he doesn’t even have what it takes to play in EPL. The day we bought him, he came to me and said ‘thank you for changing [my] life’.”
Vardy, who played for Stocksbridge Park Steels and Halifax Town before joining Fleetwood, is effectively assured of a place in Roy Hodgson’s England squad and in contention to start at Euro 2016 next month.
The lightning-fast striker made his international debut in June 2015, fulfilling an ambitious goal he confided to Srivaddhanaprabha.
“When we extended his contract, the day we were promoted to the Premier League, I remember that he came to me, sentimentally saying he will never forget how we invested in him [and how] he’ll do everything to bring success to the club, to get call-ups for England,” he said.
“I looked into his face, and asked him “What? England call ups? Are you out of your mind?’ He said ‘we’ll see. One day I’ll play for England’.”
With that impossible dream realised and now a Premier League winner’s medal in his pocket, the European Championship and the Champions League awaits for a player who has defied all expectations.