An emotional Kasper Schmeichel vowed to “honour” Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha after his death was announced on Sunday, thanking the man who “changed football forever”.
Leicester confirmed the passing of their 60-year-old chairman in a statement on Sunday night which said he was one of five people to die as his helicopter crashed and burst into flames following City’s draw with West Ham on Saturday.
The news brought an understandable outpouring of emotion from the football world, Srivaddhanaprabha a hugely popular man having bought Leicester in 2010 and made them the most unlikely of Premier League champions in 2016.
It was reported that goalkeeper Schmeichel – one of those title winners – witnessed the tragedy on Saturday and, in a heartfelt Instagram post, he laid bare his feelings about Srivaddhanaprabha.
“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.”
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.
Saturday’s opponents West Ham said: “The thoughts of everyone at West Ham United are with the directors, players, staff, supporters and all connected with Leicester City Football Club following the devastating events at the King Power Stadium on Saturday evening.
“We would like to send our sincere condolences to the family of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha at this sad and tragic time. His immense contribution to Leicester City FC, the city of Leicester and English football will never be forgotten. Our condolences also go to the other families affected by the tragedy.
“We would also like to express our admiration for the emergency services who responded so swiftly and with such bravery, and offer our support to anyone, including any West Ham United supporters, who may have witnessed the tragedy.”
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.”