- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2016

Two of the feel-good stories in English soccer this season both started with Thai businessmen dreaming big for their teams.

One club is now a global phenomenon, widely regarded as the most amazing underdog feat in sporting history. Leicester, owned by duty-free retail giant King Power that is led by Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, won the English Premier League at odds of 5,000-1 in an achievement that many are still struggling to grasp.

The other story may get its happy ending on Saturday. That’s when Sheffield Wednesday will attempt to return to the Premier League after a 16-year absence. During that time, the club has twice been relegated to England’s third tier and almost went into financial ruin, but now the future looks much brighter.

Wednesday’s rise has coincided with its purchase in January 2015 by Dejphon Chansiri, whose family owns major canned tuna producer Thai Union Group. Following the takeover, Wednesday went on to finish mid-table in the second-tier League Championship - having been among the favorites for relegation - and this season has surprisingly placed in the top six, qualifying for the end-of-season playoffs and now moving to within 90 minutes of the Premier League.

Chansiri’s target was for Wednesday to celebrate its 150th anniversary - in 2017 - in the Premier League and he may get his wish if the team beats Hull in the playoff final at Wembley Stadium. Promotion will be worth at least $250 million in future earnings to the winner.

“Now we can wake up the giant,” said Wednesday manager Carlos Carvalhal, whose hiring by Chansiri last offseason has proved a masterstroke.

“We believe it’s worked since the beginning,” Carvalhal said Thursday when asked about Chansiri. “In the bad moments, he was with us. We are now in a better position, (he’s) still with us of course. And it’s crucial because if you don’t feel this kind of confidence around you, it’s very difficult for me or for anther coach. It’s something we have here.”

Carvalhal is a major player in Wednesday’s revival. The Portuguese coach was a shock appointment - he’d been out of work for three years - and was a journeyman in managerial terms, mostly drifting around the Portuguese leagues. Initially using loan players, he has put together a hard-working team playing free-flowing football and with an attacking mentality. Belief quickly grew.

Wednesday’s 3-0 win over Arsenal at Hillsborough in the League Cup in October showed the strides the team had made under Carvalhal. That came amid an 11-match unbeaten run, helping Wednesday catapult into playoff contention.

Wednesday finished the regular season in sixth place, then beat Brighton - which had placed third - in the playoff semifinals to seal a return to Wembley. Trips to England’s national stadium once were commonplace for Wednesday fans - in the 1992-93 season, the club played at Wembley four times by virtue of reaching the final of both the FA Cup and League Cup.

It hasn’t been there since.

Wednesday also was at Wembley in 1991 to win the League Cup with a 1-0 win over Manchester United, and has won four top-flight league titles - the last coming in 1930.

The club’s nickname is “Wednesday” because the team was founded in 1867 by members of the local area’s cricket team - the Wednesday Cricket Club. They were craftsmen who played games on Wednesday because that was when they had a weekly half day off.

Standing in Wednesday’s way is fellow northern team Hull, which is looking to secure an immediate return to the Premier League. Managed by former Man United defender Steve Bruce, Hull finished the season nine points ahead of Wednesday.

Bruce said this week that he hadn’t heard of Carvalhal before this season but that the Portuguese coach had put together the best Wednesday side that he could remember.

Bruce won promotion to the Premier League twice with Birmingham, once via the playoffs, and led Hull to automatic promotion at the end of his first season in charge in 2013. If Hull wins, Bruce will become the first manager to achieve four promotions to the Premier League.

Hull was also at Wembley for the FA Cup final in 2014, when the team lost 3-2 to Arsenal.

“Even though we know the opponent is very strong, is a very good team, very good coach, experienced players, and is a team from the Premier (League), we have a 50 percent chance,” Carvalhal said. “And with our fans, if they create an environment, we are positive, we are healthy and I feel my team is very strong.”

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