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Leicester City owner Vichai succeeded in soccer and business

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BANGKOK (AP) Thai billionaire and Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who died when his helicopter crashed in a parking lot next to the soccer club’s stadium, was known to fans as a smiling, benevolent man who gave away free beers and hot dogs on his birthday and brought the club its fairytale English Premier League title in 2016. He was 60.

The business world remembers Vichai as the retail entrepreneur who started with one shop and grew Thailand’s massive King Power duty-free chain.

The sight of his personal helicopter taking off from the middle of the field – to take Vichai to his English base near London in Berkshire – was a regular feature after Leicester’s home games. On Saturday evening, it turned into a horror scene when the chopper appeared to suddenly lose power, plummeting to the ground in a parking lot outside the empty stadium and bursting into flames.

The crash sparked emotional scenes in Leicester, the East Midlands city whose devoted soccer fans will forever be grateful to Vichai for bankrolling not only the club’s first title in the world’s foremost soccer league, but one of the most incredible stories in world sports history.

Leicester, only two years after being promoted from England’s second-tier league, was a 5,000-to-1 shot to win the Premier League at the start of the 2015-16 season. But after Vichai brought in veteran Italian manager Claudio Ranieri at the start of the campaign, the Foxes produced a stunning season. They lost only three of their 38 games, to win the title by a comfortable 10-point margin, ahead of far more illustrious rivals Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United.

Though his public comments were limited, Leicester’s ever-smiling chairman became a talisman of the campaign, watching on from his seat in the stadium at home games beside his son, Aiyawatt, the club’s vice chairman.

While many foreign owners have been viewed with suspicion by their English club’s fans — for reasons such as a lack of respect for supporters or their club’s traditions — Vichai was held in the highest regard by the Leicester faithful. They showed it during one match late in that 2015-16 season, when their title was secured, with the 32,000-strong King Power Stadium crowd rising to give their chairman an emotional and spontaneous standing ovation.

Vichai became known for his generosity around the club. When Leicester narrowly avoided the threat of relegation to the second tier at the end of 2014-15, he sent “bottle after bottle” of champagne to the dressing room, according to British media reports. He also treated fans in the stadium to a free Thai Singha beer at the end of successful campaigns.

Vichai bought Leicester for $50 million in 2010. After the club’s turnaround, it is now valued at $476 million, according to Forbes.

Such a transformation was in keeping with Vichai’s success in the business world, after starting his duty-free interests from modest beginnings.

In 1989, he was granted a license to open Thailand’s first downtown duty-free store. Expansion into Thai airports followed, with King Power ultimately granted a monopoly for duty-free stores at all the country’s main airports.

Today the King Power empire is worth $4.88 billion, according to Forbes, with Vichai having been the fifth-richest person in Thailand.

His family’s empire also included Accor’s Pullman hotels in Thailand, and a $226 million stake, bought in 2016, in the country’s biggest budget airline, Thai AirAsia. Last year, Vichai also enlarged his soccer interests, buying Belgian second-tier club Oud-Heverlee Leuven.

Vichai’s rise in business did not happen without some drama.

The granting of King Power’s monopoly status at Thailand’s airports — set in motion in 2004 by the government of since-ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra — caused some controversy.

And this year, King Power has defended itself against a lawsuit lodged by a former anti-graft official alleging it had not paid the government its due share of revenue from its airport franchise. King Power has denied the allegation. While Thailand’s main corruption court threw the case out last month, an appeal is reportedly likely.

Aside from business and soccer, Vichai quickly became a noted polo devotee in England, playing on occasion with Princes Charles and William. He spent millions establishing his polo team, the King Power Foxes, which began in 2014 and has enjoyed success at the top levels of competition in the U.K.

A devout Buddhist who had monks bless the King Power Stadium regularly for good luck, Vichai and his wife, Aimon Srivaddhanaprabha, had four children.

He was born Vichai Raksriaksorn, but in 2012, the king of Thailand recognized his achievements by bestowing on his family their new surname, which means “light of progressive glory.”

Juve, Chelsea announce Sarri agreement

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The white smoke coming out of Italy isn’t a new pope, it’s Maurizio Sarri setting up shop in Turin.

Juventus and Chelsea confirmed the long-anticipated news: Sarri is returning to Serie A and will manage The Old Lady’s quest for a UEFA Champions League crown.

[ MORE: Pogba says he could leave Man Utd ]

Chelsea executive Marina Granovskaia says an agreement was reached and that the Blues wanted to allow Sarri the chance to be closer to home. From ChelseaFC.com:

“He also believed it important to be nearer his family, and for the well-being of his elderly parents he felt he needed to live closer to them at this point.”

If it took Sarri some time to understand the personality of Eden Hazard, just wait until he gets a load of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Sky Sports says the move will net Chelsea around $6 million, and that Gianfranco Zola will also leave Stamford Bridge. Frank Lampard has been widely expected to get a shot at the Chelsea gig, though Derby County is trying to lock him down with a new deal.

Just how different will Manchester United look next year?

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It’s Sunday morning, Paul Pogba wants to leave Manchester United, and the USWNT doesn’t play its World Cup match until Noon: Let’s deal in theoreticals by starting with a fact.

This season is going to be a major challenge for one Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The Manchester United boss will seemingly be pulling together a significant amount of new parts into a team which is coming off a sixth place finish in the Premier League, with four of the five teams ahead of him having maintained their managers and most if not all key pieces.

Oh, and he’ll have to fashion this team based out of parts willing to buy into the club’s mystique and ignore the lack of UEFA Champions League play (which is seemingly why Paul Pogba is ready to skip town).

Big paychecks will help, but there’s no way to quickly meld these pieces into one unit. That’s especially true if the biggest piece of their 2018-19 puzzle, Pogba, isn’t in the middle of the park (or pushed a bit forward).

Juan Mata, Ander Herrera, and Antonio Valencia are out of contract, and Romelu Lukaku has been as mentioned as any striker on the market (He has three goals in four days for Belgium, albeit against Kazakhstan and Scotland).

Pogba’s potential departure puts a lot of weight on Ed Woodward to spend money well (One could make an argument for United needing 60-80 percent of those names).

Subtracting them and adding no one, United’s best XI is something like David De Gea, Diogo Dalot, Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof, Luke Shaw, Scott McTominay, Nemanja Matic, Anthony Martial, Andreas Pereira, Jesse Lingard, and Marcus Rashford.

As an aside, the expectations and pressure heaped on Rashford by the “he’s better than Lukaku, play him now centrally” media crowd is going to be a burden if 21-year-old has to bear the center forward burden alone. My goodness are their Old Trafford subplots in excess or what?

Now, of course, there are seven weeks to go in the transfer window and there’s no guarantee Pogba and Lukaku will leave town. In fact, you may want to place your confidence on Pogba opening the season unhappy but at Old Trafford. Either way, the center of the park is going to get a remarkable makeover, and both center back and goalkeeper will get upgrades, too.

To the fixes:

— United is expected to spend big on Crystal Palace right back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who was sensational last season with the Eagles. They reportedly have sent a $51 million offer to Roy Hodgson‘s squad.

— They’ve been linked with desire for Issa Diop, though West Ham has hopes of $75 million for the center back who made JPW’s Top Ten of the season.

Wilfred Ndidi is “flattered” by links to United, but is focused on Nigeria’s Africa Cup of Nations line. Should the Red Devils want to buy the 22-year-old, he’s likely in the same price range as the above names.

— Don’t forget Monaco’s Youri Tielemans, who feels like a PL player from his outstanding time at Leicester City last season. He’d merit another $50 million or so.

It’s worth noting that all would get more European football than at their current home with a bump in wages plus an new iconic shirt. Don’t sleep on that.

You’re probably talking a $240-250 million outlay there, should United land them.

Without going further, nor mentioning Swansea’s young Daniel James and Sheffield United loanee Dean Henderson, you can see a thread here: United could be showing us how a Premier League Best XI without any Top Six players would fare in the top flight.

Of course, United has also been linked with big buys from outside of the Premier League and many of these are older than Ndidi, Diop, Tielemans, and AWB.

But taking those four young players and assuming a focal point/back bone strengthening holding mid would likely join part-time players and full-time leaders Nemanja Matic and Chris Smalling (and maybe Juan Mata).

Now of course there are rumors of experienced leaders Ivan Rakitic of Barcelona and there could be a return from Real, PSG, or Juve. And this whole post looks even worse when United swaps Pogba for Neymar straight-up.

Here’s another question in the myriad facing Solskjaer and Woodward: Is the Europa League a better route to the Champions League than the idea of beating out two of Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City, and Liverpool (And noting that Spurs, City, and Liverpool will be heavily expected to finish 1-2-3 in some permutation and Chelsea has a leg up on the field assuming Eden Hazard is their lone significant departure).

Manchester United w/ above transfers (Age when season starts)

De Gea (28)

Wan-Bissaka (21) — Lindelof (25) — Diop (22) — Shaw (24)

Ndidi (22) — Matic (30)

Tielemans (22)

Lingard (26) — Rashford (21) — Martial (23)

What a time to be alive. Rashford better deliver!

Watch Live: 2019 Women’s World Cup – Day 10

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Ten months ago, the United States women’s national team beat Chile 3-0 and 4-0 in a pair of friendlies, but the expectations were ratcheted up when the ladies began their 2019 World Cup with a 13-0 demolition of Thailand.

The Yanks and Chile tangle Sunday at Noon ET in the business end of a Women’s World Cup Group F doubleheader, with Sweden and Thailand opening play at 9 a.m. ET.

You can watch every single game from the tournament live online in Spanish via Telemundo Deportes and via the NBC Sports App. All you have to do is click on the links below.

[ LIVE: Watch every single 2019 Women’s World Cup game ]

Here is your full schedule for Friday, June 14 at the Women’s World Cup.


2019 Women’s World Cup schedule

Group F: Sweden v. Thailand – 9 a.m. ET – STREAM LIVE
Group F: USWNT v. Chile – Noon ET – STREAM LIVE

Pogba: “Could be a good time” for transfer from Man Utd

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Somewhere, Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer just want this all to be over and done (and presumably we don’t mean his tenure as Red Devils boss).

With Romelu Lukaku expected to leave town, Paul Pogba may soon be on his way as well. The speculation linking the World Cup winner to a summer exit has been given a boost by Pogba’s own words as he considers a move to either Juventus, Real Madrid, or – perhaps – Paris Saint-Germain.

Pogba was speaking at a promotional event in China when he was asked about his future. And the media-aware player certainly knew the microphones were hot. From Sky Sports:

“After this season and everything that happened this season, with my season being my best season as well, I think for me it could be a good time to have a new challenge somewhere else. I am thinking of this.”

Certainly some United fans will be hoping for a bit of addition by subtraction to go along with the many additions that would come from selling or swapping Pogba.

Real and PSG would have to give up something big to get Pogba considering how much they’ve already spent on players in recent seasons and that’s this summer in Real’s case. And you’d have to think a Pogba move would have “player(s) included” written all over the invitation.

Will United move the 26-year-old in the next seven weeks? He knows what he’s doing, and it’s imperative his bosses do, too.

I’m sticking with my illogical gut feeling for the past 2-3 months: A sensational Pogba for Neymar swap deal.