Victory at Man Utd on Sunday will secure Leicester City's first Premier League title
Buddhist monks in Thailand believe they have helped the team's remarkable run
Owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha has sought spiritual guidance since buying Leicester
Leicester City stand on the brink of footballing and sporting history.
Victory at Manchester United on Sunday will secure the Foxes’ first English Premier League title – a result that would leave fans, pundits and even fellow professionals in a state of wondrous disbelief.
Many have sought the secret to the team’s shock success over the last year, with teamwork, tactics, togetherness and inspirational manager Claudio Ranieri among the more plausible reasons.
Meanwhile, the reburial of Richard III - which took place in March 2015 and which coincided with the team’s dramatic rise from the relegation zone – often gets a mention too.
But in Thailand, the home of the club’s owners, there’s a belief that one of sports’ most unlikely triumphs has more to do with spirituality.
Over the last three years, Buddhist monks have been visiting the club to bless the pitch, bestow special sacred cloths on the players and spread karma.
And chief monk Phra Prommangkalachan is in little doubt that his unseen powers are propelling Leicester’s unforeseen rise.
As dawn breaks over the Golden Buddha temple in central Bangkok, the city bustles into life.
You need to be up early to catch a meeting with the monk who some say is central to Leicester’s extraordinary fortunes this season.
Not many temples in the Thai capital are adorned with soccer shirts, but this one is festooned with Leicester City ones.
Perhaps appropriately, a distinctive flash of blue is worn by the assistants of Phra Prommangkalachan – the monk who has made over a dozen trips to the King Power stadium at the request of Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.
His presence along with seven other monks at Leicester City’s football ground, coupled with the club’s astonishing rise from relegation zone to league leaders in just one season, has stirred up curiosity about the performance-driven world of the Premier League.
Phra Prommangkalachan, perched on his platform above us and with a twinkle in his eye, says Leicester’s achievements have everything to do with the owner’s pursuit of confidence-boosting karma.
“When they (Leicester City) were at the bottom of the Premier League, Mr Vichai said ‘we do not have enough merit,’” Phra Prommangkalachan told CNN.
“He is a Buddhist who truly believes in good and bad karma.
“So he set about making good karma by building temples and supporting ordained monks both in and out of the country. He was determined to make good karma, and he has become successful.”
Karma is not the only thing that is said to have boosted the players’ performance.
Amulets such as the “unbeatable fabric” – which Phra Prommangkalachan brandished with a flourish, and which resembles a club flag save for the Buddhist inscriptions that decorate it – has also apparently played its part.
While these beliefs may be common practice in Buddhist-worshiping Thailand, Phra Prommangkalachan admits the players were somewhat skeptical at first.
“Well, they’re from a different religion. They’re not Buddhists, therefore for our first meeting they were a bit indifferent.
“But Mr Vichai wanted blessings made for the club and each individual player, so we did the water-blessing with them.
“After a while they conformed to what the club wanted and they liked to perform the blessings which were auspicious and morale-boosting for them.”
‘A question of reality’
Away from the inner sanctum of the temple, Bangkok’s pride in Leicester’s achievements is obvious.
Fans chat enthusiastically about Jamie Vardy’s speed and N’Golo Kanté’s work-rate as well as their delight that Thailand is finally gaining recognition in the upper echelons of one of the world’s top leagues.
“I am so proud of them (the club),” says one fan. “They show that Thais are able to succeed at anything if they put their mind to it – and are not inferior to anyone.”
It’s a morale-boosting sentiment that comes at the right time for this football-loving nation.
In March, Thailand finished top of their Asian Football Confederation group to progress to the final round of World Cup qualifiers for only the second time in their history.
In August they face a group of death against top seeds Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia.
But this time they won’t be doing it alone.
Leicester City’s academy has committed to sending a small team of experts to assist the “War Elephants” in analyzing their opposition.
In the same month, the academy will be working alongside Thai broadcaster “Workpoint TV” to begin the search for Leicester’s first Thai Premier League star, as part of a new reality TV series.
Thousands of children aged between 13 and 15 are expected to apply.
Thailand’s top sports broadcaster – Peerapol “Champ” Euariyakul, who has close links with the owners – says the ambitions of Vichai and his son Aiyawatt are inspiring Thai people to dream big.
“They’ve shown that fame and salary isn’t important,” he said.
“What matters more is the heart, the unity and the belief. It’s inspired people to think if Leicester can do it – even if I’m a small guy, even if I’m a small team, we can accomplish anything.”
If Leicester fail to beat United on Sunday, they could still be crowned champions the following day – providing Tottenham fail to win at Chelsea on Monday.
Should that scenario not come about, the Foxes will be champions if they beat Everton at home on May 7 or Chelsea away on Sunday May 15, the final day of the season.
If karma does take Leicester all the way to the Premier League title, one wonders what it will do next season when the Foxes step up to take their place among Europe’s elite in the Champions League.
Back in the Golden Buddha temple, Phra Prommangkalachan’s reply sounds ominous for Europe’s top clubs.
“If they continue to uphold the law of karma, it will be their power,” said Prommangkalachan. “If they still have consciousness and good intention and determination to do good deeds – power will remain with them forever.”
Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich – you have been warned.