It was billed as a goodwill trip and a chance to unwind after a heroic relegation escape, instead Leicester City’s close-season Thai tour became the turning point in their improbable title charge -- all thanks to a racist sex tape.
The video featured three young players including James Pearson, son of then manager Nigel Pearson, engaging in explicit acts with a group of Thai women at a Bangkok hotel.
Filmed by the players, the footage of the sniggering men soon ended up in the British tabloid press, shocking the public with their crude remarks, including calling one of the Thai women a “slit-eye”.
It was a public relations catastrophe for the club and its billionaire, Thai owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha -- a member of the country’s conservative elite who saw the tour as a chance to introduce Leicester to his football-mad compatriots.
The players were promptly sacked and pressure mounted on Pearson -- a manager who already had a bruising relationship with the British press.
At the start of July, he too was sacked due to what the club simply described as “fundamental differences in perspective”.
Critics lined up to condemn the owners, Vichai and his son Aiyawatt ‘Top’, for a decision that came after Pearson had steered the team from basement of the table to 14th.
Pearson’s sacking, said former star striker Gary Lineker at the time, showed the owners “clearly don’t know what they’re doing”.
But a fortnight later, the experienced Italian Claudio Ranieri arrived and set the team on course for history .
A ‘hero’ appointed
“The hotel incident brought the hero,” Satit ‘Bigjah’ Krikul, Thailand’s most famous television football pundit, told AFP, referring to Ranieri’s appointment.
“Of course the incident damaged the reputation of the Leicester team and affected Thailand a bit... but it’s Thai style that this kind of news blows over.”
The owners have maintained their silence on the sex scandal.
Even Bangkok police, who had threatened to prosecute the women involved for indecency, now say they have no record of the incident.
Despite the country’s raunchy nightlife and reputation, sex remains a taboo subject in what remains a largely conservative kingdom.
When asked by AFP in Bangkok if the club will return for a triumphant Thai tour this year, Top replied with a terse “no”.
The genial Ranieri immediately presented a calmer, kinder face to the club as well as a wealth of top-level footballing experience.
He inherited a team on a good run, bolstered the squad with some shrewd signings and embarked on the unlikeliest of title charges.
At the start of this season, the Foxes’ were widely tipped for relegation, with British bookmakers offering 5000-1 odds against a league victory.
One of Ranieri’s first tasks in charge was to issue a heavy fine to striker Jamie Vardy who was caught on camera calling an Asian man a “Jap” three times at a casino.
Vardy’s “mistake” was forgiven by Ranieri and the club and he went on to power this year’s title bid with 22 league goals.