By Andres Ugarte Larrain
Last year King Power Foxes claimed the two most important titles in British polo: The Queen’s Cup and the Gold Cup. It seemed that the organisation’s great sporting challenge would come once again with the polo season, but it was their football team that took everyone by surprise as the humble Leicester City, owned by Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha of King Power, were crowned premiership champions. A historic event; King Power have reached impressive heights in both sports.
During the All Asia Cup held in January at the VR Sports Club, Top Srivaddhanaprabha, Vice Presidente of Leicester and member of the winning King Power team, spoke to PoloLine about the upcoming polo season. “We will only have one team this year. Nero is amazing off nine goals; for sure it will be tough,” says Top. “Nero playing with Cambiaso… I don’t know what happened, but rules are rules. It was difficult to win last year. The high-goal season in the UK is tough; teams invest a lot of money so as to have a chance of winning. I still have a slightly bitter feeling about the Gold Cup final; I fell and had to leave the field in the fourth chukker. I didn’t play the last two, so I feel like the chapter was not closed. We started planning the 2016 season as soon as the last one finished. I need to be well prepared. Obviously, Facu and Gonza will be ready. I started getting in shape by played the season in Thailand, I keep the body fit to be ready for the Uk season.”
-How have you evolved in terms of polo over the last couple of years?
-I think I have improved in terms of the game. Polo is not only about hitting the ball and scoring goals. Facu and Gonza have taught me a lot about how to manage a match, how to attack and many other facets of the game. I learnt a lot with them but I also learn playing this polo [in Thailand].
-What do you feel when you represent your country in tournaments such as the All Asia Cup?
-It is always an honour to play for my country, and I see that many players feel the same way. We have made a huge effort to have these kinds of tournaments. We had the SEA Games. We try to host these types of tournaments so that polo in Asia can continue developing. First we had the SEA Games and now we have the All Asia Cup.
-And you played with your brother, Tal…
-I love playing with Tal. I know what he is going to do every time he gets the ball. And when I have the ball, he knows what I am going to do. Not the same skill, but similar as with Gonza and Facu: same connection, communication.
Now football has moved into the foreground for King Power organisation. Recalling the time when they decided to get involved with the sport, Top states: “I have enjoyed every minute of it, since the first day when I went to the stadium with my father. We walked around and less than thirty minutes later he said he wanted to buy the club. I asked him who was going to mange it and he said, ‘You’. I was twenty-five years old then [now thirty]. It was a great challenge, but I love sports – football, and everything else that we are involved in. We worked at it for three years, then we made it to the Premier League. I enjoy it very much, we are there for success now.”
-How do you feel about how Leicester is doing at the moment?
-Now that Leicester is doing better, I think we can say we were proud that we can we say that we can achieve the title when we were half-season. It is good for the players to see that a team like Leicester can be successful if we all work together. That is the message we are trying to put across. I want to see how far we can go.
-How special was it to host some of the games during the Rugby World Cup?
-We are very happy. The size of the stadium is good; it has a capacity of 32 thousand people. Geographically, we are in a great location, so they know it will never be empty. It was chosen for all these reasons. Leicester is also a rugby city, thanks to the Leicester Tigers. It was special to see Diego Maradona at one of the games. All the players were asking why nobody told them that Maradona was going to be there; they all wanted to meet him! It’s always a big moment for us when one of the greats comes over.
-Much money has been invested in English teams after they have been bought. Are you planning something similar?
-The truth is that we are not planning to be like the other teams. It’s a long road; I don’t want this to be a team that has short term success. They all have a lot of money to invest, and so do we, but why should we follow in their footsteps? I think we are running the business in the right way. It’s not about spending and spending. We are able to demonstrate that we can spend less than them and do better this season.
Once the Premier League title was won, Leicester City’s Vice President declared on the official Foxes Player HD channel: “The match at Old Trafford [vs Manchester United] was a special one. It was our last match against a big team and we know how important it was. It was incredible for me. I watched the how the fans supported us; I can see how much this team means to them. We drew with United and we didn’t win the title that day, but I will never forget it. As owners of the club, we run it with the manager, the staff and the players. We have been a family from the first day. We have given our all, listened to every problem the players, staff, or fans, might have had. I remember my first press conference, where the fans could not understand why we wanted to buy the club. We told them, ‘we love sports, we love football, and we aim to make this a successful club.’ There is a connection between the fans and the players, and that is why I tried to listen to the fans. I wanted to know what they expected from the club in the future. We had a meeting with them and we tried to improve on and off the pitch. We are setting everything up for the long run.”
Throughout the All Asia Cup, comments were made about the high level of play and the great horses, but also about the service offered by the club during the tournament. “I have played polo in many places and we have been treated very well, but Thai culture has a lot to do with being attentive,” explains Top. “We want them to come and enjoy not just polo, everything else as well: hotel, food, everything. We know players enjoy doing other things, too. We love playing polo, but we want people to have a good time off the field. I have travelled a lot and I have seen how big tournaments are organised. I try to adapt those ideas and transmit them to the TPA [Thailand Polo Association] so that we can improve year after year. Polo is about socialising, too; we want everyone to enjoy themselves.”
-Do you plan on playing the medium or high goal in places like the US or Argentina?
-I would love to but I don’t have time at the moment. I am also focusing on our business in Thailand; I spend most of my time there and will only leave to play the English season. I would love there to be a medium or high goal season in Thailand in the future. People still need to understand what a season in Thailand is like, the horse we have. I want there to be a solid base established here so than we can show that we are ready to take the next step.