Just three years ago Jamie Vardy was firing Fleetwood Town to promotion from the Conference and in doing so earned himself a £1 million move to Leicester City, then of the Championship. It seemed bemusing that Vardy, whose background has taken in the glamour of Stocksbridge Park Steels and Halifax Town, would be receiving good luck messages from Ruud Van Nistelrooy as he aimed to beat his Premier League goal-scoring record against the Dutchman’s former employers.
The 28 year old had equalled it with his tenth strike from his last ten league games in the 0-3 win against Newcastle which put Leicester top of the table in a remarkable start to life under Claudio Ranieri, but here were Manchester United, in second with the meanest defence and possibly the best goalkeeper in the world.
As Christian Fuchs fed a glorious ball in behind Matteo Darmian and David De Gea advanced to narrow the angle, everybody knew how Vardy would finish it, emphatically ramming the ball home to make Premier League history and wheeling off in vociferous fits of “I’m the man!”.
From non-league football to top flight stardom
From non-league football whilst making medical splints in a Sheffield factory to an England cap then onto become the deadliest striker in the land in three-and-a-half seasons has been a journey as rapid as it is absurd. Though Vardy followed the script to the letter at the King Power Stadium on Saturday evening one suspects nobody had the ambition or imagination to write one so preposterous.
But perhaps somebody could, with British film-writer Adrian Butchart reportedly lining up Vardy’s story for a Hollywood blockbuster. It would certainly add a further outlandish twist to an already surreal tale. “It’s the kind of story that if we made it up, people wouldn’t believe it”, he said.
What Vardy’s meteoric rise has done however is hand inspiration to those who refuse to believe the dream is dead and reinforced belief that it is never too late. In his first season at Leicester scored just four times in 26 games and was contemplating giving up the game altogether until manager Nigel Pearson convinced him to continue, a faith repaid by the striker’s 16-goal haul as Leicester marched to the Championship title and Vardy won their Player’s Player of the Year award.
He was 27 when he played his first top-flight game, in a campaign that was pretty forgettable in terms of goal return- scoring just five from 34 appearances- but he had established himself as an important cog in Nigel Pearson’s ferocious counter-attacking style that eventually managed to keep them up. Vardy scored vital winners against West Bromwich Albion and Burnley in the run that earned the Foxes 22 points from the last 27 on offer to pull away from the drop zone.
There were signs that Vardy was beginning to find his footing in the Premier League as Leicester’s relentless front-line hunter, a nightmare for defenders who like a bit of time on the ball, as England came calling and handed him his first cap in a friendly draw with Ireland in June.
But after a summer that marked the exit of Pearson and the entrance of Ranieri, few would have predicted just how far the striker has pushed on.
Real Madrid and Barca interested?
He has sky-rocketed in fact, perking up the interest of Barcelona and Real Madrid as he now looks a certainty for Roy Hodgson’s England squad for next summer’s European Championships in France.
He is the league top scorer with 14 and despite a contract that has him due to stay at Leicester until 2018, the east midlands club may find it difficult to hold off the interest that will inevitably come for the striker in red hot form.
Few would excuse Manchester United for thinking he can solve their own goal-scoring crisis after witnessing first-hand his quality at the weekend.
Successful managerial approach and style
However Ranieri has coaxed this form out of Vardy by encouraging what Pearson had started in asking him to continue as the hard-grafting harrier of the ball who leads the defensive effort from the front with buckets of energy, but it fits perfectly into the Italian’s ultra-counter-attacking that has seen Leicester average just 44.4% possession so far (only Sunderland and West Brom have seen less of the ball).
It is an approach tailor made for the striker, as well as the electric winger Riyadh Mahrez, who has also been in superb form, and one wonders how he will fare if he is to leave it and attempt to fit into a different style elsewhere.
Say if he was to join Louis Van Gaal’s much talked about “project” at Manchester United, does anybody imagine Vardy finding the space to sprint away from the defender and fire home like he did against West Brom, or even being given the type of direct pass that freed him up to slot past De Gea?
Must stay grounded
It is understandable to think that Vardy, given the modest settings of his background, is aware of how quickly the light can fade and the smart money is on him remaining at the King Power at least until he goes to next summer’s Euros.
Furthermore Leicester’s owners, of an estimated worth of around £2 billion, are under no pressure to cash in with that wealth and it also must be remembered that they are currently genuine title contenders, there doesn’t appear any immediate reasons for him to leave.
Apart from, of course, the profound riches that will be on offer in Spain or at United or Chelsea, but for Vardy the dream is already very much alive. Sheffield factories, Halifax, Stocksbridge and Fleetwood are all fresh in the memory for the striker who is now a Premier League history maker and for now he can just savour every moment of his and Leicester’s extraordinary campaign.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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