A devastated Kasper Schmeichel led the tributes to the man who “changed football forever” after the tragic death of Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.
The 60-year-old Thai billionaire was among five people killed when his helicopter crashed shortly after taking off from the King Power Stadium on Saturday evening.
Denmark international Schmeichel, who was reported to have witnessed the accident, thanked Srivaddhanaprabha for making his football dreams come true in an emotional post on his Instagram account.
He said: “Dear Mr Chairman. I cannot believe this is happening. I am so totally devastated and heartbroken. I just cannot believe what I saw last night. It just doesn’t seem real,” he wrote.
“It is difficult to put into words how much you meant to this football club and to the city of Leicester. Never have I ever come across a man like you. So hard working, so passionate, so kind and so generous in the extreme.
“You changed football. Forever! You gave hope to everyone that the impossible was possible. You literally made my dreams come true.
“We now have a responsibility as a club, as players and fans to honour you. From knowing you we do this by being the family you created.”
Schmeichel’s powerful words were echoed by his team-mates.
“Words can’t describe how I feel. A truly great, kind, loving man who will be missed so much by everyone. I will never forget the Chairman’s support, not only during my time @LCFC but also during the World Cup,” England defender Harry Maguire wrote on Twitter.
Fellow City defender and England left-back Ben Chilwell hailed “one of the best people you could wish to meet”.
Writing on Twitter, he said: “I can’t believe it. I am heartbroken to hear that no-one survived the crash yesterday.
“Vichai was one of the best people you could wish to meet. Making you happy made him happy, he was always smiling and laughing.
“What he did not just for this football club but for Leicester as a city is incredible! He has brought us all together. So now we must stay together as a city and achieve what he knew we could.”
Jamie Vardy – whose meteoric rise through the leagues was matched step-by-step by the club as they came from nowhere to win the Premier League in 2016 – called Srivaddhanaprabha a “legend”.
He said on Instagram: “Struggling to find the right words, but to me you are a legend, an incredible man who had the biggest heart, the soul of Leicester City Football Club. Thank you for everything you did for me, my family and our club. I will truly miss you, may you rest in peace.”
Srivaddhanaprabha was the driving force of Leicester’s rise from the Championship to the top of the Premier League, bringing together a band of nomadic players who were superbly guided by manager Claudio Ranieri.
Wes Morgan was the captain of that side and said: “Absolutely heartbroken and devastated regarding the news of our chairman. A man that was loved and adored by everyone here at LCFC and someone who I personally had the utmost respect for.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and the families of the other victims of this tragedy.”
Those sentiments were echoed by former Foxes and England striker and Leicester native Gary Lineker, who saw the club claim the Premier League title at odds of 5000/1.
He said on Instagram: “Deeply saddened to hear the confirmation that @lcfc chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was one of five people to lose their lives in the helicopter crash on Saturday evening.
“A quiet, unassuming man who will always be remembered with great fondness and respect. He also helped to bring the most magical, miraculous title win in the history of football.
“Thank you, Chairman, for all you did for our football club. #RIP”
The Football Association turned the Wembley arch blue and white out of respect, while clubs all around the world, ranging from Real Madrid to non-league sides, paid tribute.
A statement from The Duke of Cambridge on the tragic helicopter crash at Leicester City Football Club pic.twitter.com/UVQvzpUxBv— The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (@KensingtonRoyal) October 29, 2018
FA President, HRH the Duke of Cambridge, said in a statement: “My thoughts today are with the family and friends of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and all the victims of the terrible crash at Leicester City Football Club.
“I was lucky to have known Vichai for several years. He was a businessman of strong values who was dedicated to his family and who supported a number of important charitable causes.
“He made such a big contribution to football, not least through Leicester City’s magical 2016 season that captured the imagination of the world.
“He will be missed by all fans of the sport and everyone lucky enough to have known him.”
Former Leicester player Alan Birchenall, now a club ambassador, revealed Srivaddhanaprabha, who donated millions to local charities, had proved a staunch ally to him after he suffered a heart attack.
Birchenall told Sky Sports News: “What this club gave back to me through Khun Vichai is unbelievable. In fact, when I was out of action, the club sent me a cleaner to come and clean my little hovel, and she’s still doing it today 18 months on!
“That’s Khun Vichai. He knew and he said, ‘You’ve still got that cleaner, Birchy. She was only supposed to be with you until you got on your feet again!’. But that was him.”
Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore, who handed Srivaddhanaprabha that most unlikeliest of trophies two years ago, said: “Vichai was a gentleman who graced the game with his civility and charm and we will miss him enormously.
“His impact on Leicester – the football club and city – will be remembered forever.”