This time five years ago, Jamie Vardy had just moved from Stocksbridge Park Steels to Halifax Town. Step forward to today and he now finds himself in the England squad.
Now, of course, were Daniel Sturridge not injured and the likes of Harry Kane, Saido Berahino and Danny Ings not on their way to the under 21’s European Championships this summer, then Vardy was unlikely to have been included at all. But instead lets celebrate an achievement that has seen one of the sharpest ascents through the footballing ranks in the history of the game.
Vardy’s rise has been well documented. 3 years ago he was plying his trade at Conference side Fleetwood Town, where he scored 31 goals to help them into the Football League. His non-league record £1 million move to Leicester followed and he has scarcely had time to look back.
The Sheffield born striker announced himself onto the world stage at the start of this season. He was the catalyst that sparked Leicester City’s amazing come back from 3-1 down to a 5-3 victory against Manchester United. His pace, strength and tireless running made him a nightmare for United’s defence that day, setting up 4 goals and scoring the other. Rumour has it that Tyler Blackett still wakes up in cold sweats in the middle of the night thinking about it.
At the time many thought that it would be Vardy’s pinnacle, rounding up a fairy tale story of a man, who after being released at academy level for being too small, worked his way up through six leagues in four years, into the promised land of the Premier League.
A key point in his story line casts back to his first season in a Leicester shirt, which left many questioning- including Vardy himself- whether he could cut it at that level. As he struggled for confidence by not hitting the level performances or number of goals that lead to his move in the first place, he even considered giving up the game altogether. Encouragement from manager Nigel Pearson and his coaching team convinced him he was capable and the next season was a key player in Leicester’s return to the Premier League.
THAT performance against Manchester United heralded many plaudits for the forward. However, his form curtailed for much of the mid-season as once again, Vardy found himself out of the team and out of the goals. Reminiscent of his first year at Leicester, the ‘is he good enough’ questions were being asked.
By the start of April, the Foxes found themselves stranded at the bottom of the table. Vardy, would again be the catalyst for their come back.
His last minute winner against West Brom gave Leicester back to back wins in the league for the first time since September and the confidence to go on a run which would lead to their great escape. His goal was a microcosm of the way he plays. Nicking the ball off Joleon Lescott by not giving him an inch of time on the half way line, breaking forward with pace and directness into the West Brom box and scoring with an unerring finish into the bottom corner of the goal.
As a striker, Vardy offers so much more than goals (which is just as well as he only has 4 this season). His assists tally currently sits at a very commendable eight, on par with Eden Hazard from open play. He has strength that belies his slight figure, which sometimes looks as though he has left his coat hanger in his shirt. He has an electric turn of pace and an engine that refuses to stop running. This concoction will have caused many a manager to ask questions just how they will keep the front man quiet. His bullying of defences continued for the rest of Leicester’s run-in, no more so than in the 3-0 victory over Newcastle, where challenges on Vardy lead to two Newcastle red cards.
It’s easy to be critical at the call up of Vardy, especially for those who have only looked at the stats, but when on song he really does take some stopping. And lets be honest, the English national side has hardly coated themselves in glory over the past 12 months. As a player who has not too distantly seen the game at its less glamorous roots, Vardy’s desire and will to improve could inject something perhaps missing in the current England changing room.
His England career is likely to be short lived, but should he make a cameo in either of the two games then it will be a just reward, as well as another addition to the Rocky Balboa-esque tale, that is Jamie Vardy.