Not everybody loves Jamie Vardy. But they bloody should…

Date published: Saturday 17th October 2020 7:46

Johnny Nic explains why we should show Jamie Vardy more love, even though he's fuelled by the haters. And Skittles...

 

Who’s this then?

Jamie Richard Vardy is a 5’10” 33-year-old, Sheffield-born striker playing for Leicester City. He’s only played for three professional clubs in his career which stretches back to the 2010/2011 at Halifax Town, having impressed playing for Stocksbridge Park Steels for three years. His only full season in West Yorkshire saw him top score with 24 in 37 and win the Northern Premier League.

This got him a move to Fleetwood Town for one season, during which he scored 34 goals in 42 games in all competitions, 31 in 33 in the Conference. Brilliant. This led to a £1million move to Leicester City, a record fee for the league.

After a poor first season, there were few believers in Vardy amongst the fans and calls were widespread to farm him out. But the following promotion season, he netted 16 in 37 league games. But after his first season in the top flight flopped with a meagre five goals in 34 games, doubts were widespread about whether he could hack it at this level. Manager Nigel Pearson even had to convince him to keep on playing and not quit the game.

So what happened next? Oh yeah, they only won the bloody league.

Jamie played 36 games, scored 24 and this included some absolute screamers as well as his relentless dog-chasing-pigeons efforts and poacher’s snafflings. He was the first Foxes player to score 20 in a season since 1985. He scored in 11 consecutive games which was a Premier League record – though obviously, that’s a meaningless brand name-based record. More importantly, it was only one short of Jimmy Dunne’s all-time record for Sheffield United. Not matching or exceeding him must’ve been annoying for a confirmed Sheffield Wednesday fan.

From this point, despite already being 29, he seemed to get better and better. His first call up for England came in 2015; in 2016 he scored five goals in 10 games for his country, despite the side simply not being set up to play to his strengths.

Through ups and downs at Leicester with changes in managers, he’s kept banging them in, winning the Golden Boot last season for his 23 strikes. He’s already got five in four this season, including hat-trick and seems as deadly and determined as ever. His career record is currently 197 goals in 397 games.

His is an almost fairytale story and a lesson in never giving up. During his slump in form at Leicester, he considered jacking it all in but was supported by his manager and came back stronger for it.

This is a man who never had it easy, at times really struggled with what we might call lifestyle issues and his life has not been without troubles and struggles. Obviously, there’s been the occasional street fight and racial epithet stupidity. While unpleasant, let those who are without sin cast the first stone. Even so, some see his high crimes and misdemeanours and think he’s little more than a nasty wee chappy. However, that would seem to be a one-dimensional view of a fella who is an ambassador for a special needs school and has his own V9 Academy which has helped several players make the leap from non-league football into a professional game.

In the social media era though, you’re either a hero or villain though and Jamie is painted very much as the latter. But I suspect life has taught him to feed off negativity and turn it into positivity for himself and his team. The best thing you could do for Jamie Vardy, the footballer, is abuse him. He’ll just delight in shoving it back down your throat.

That he so relishes the fight, indeed feeds off it, is the very asset that has seen him fight his way to the top of the game very much against the odds. Scoring goals seems to actually make him more aggressive and angry. Each strike seems to be celebrated as a rejoinder to critics: a big ‘I told you so’

At 33, there is no sign of him slowing down or losing his appetite for the game. It is hard to even imagine him doing so. He seems indefatigable.


Read: Jamie Vardy v The World: The decade’s greatest story


Why the love?

Let’s get this right, there is no better sight in the English game than to see him haring after a ball, toeing it beyond a defender to slot it home, or getting brought down and winning a penalty. It doesn’t matter how many times he does it, or how many times we see it, it never loses its thrill.

It is perhaps best viewed live in a stadium where you can see the whole of the pitch open up in front of him. His slight, skinny frame hunting the ball down like a whippet on amyl nitrate. His speed and determination, genuinely thrilling, prickling the skin.

His is a kind of primal football, based on being able to do two or three things brilliantly. He’s not distracted by trying to play fancy football or fannying around for a moment, just get to the bloody goal and score and if he can’t score, he’ll set up someone who can. His 38 assists show that.

He is a one-man argument for that which has for so long been snootily derided: long-ball football. Booting it long for the pigeon chaser won Leicester City the title. OK, this is a simplification and not one that is meant to undermine it as a skill or tactical choice but in essence that was the devastating way they did it.

It’s been almost laughable the degree to which so many defenders don’t seem to be able to deal with him. He has been one of the main beneficiaries of the ridiculous, seemingly compulsory football fashion of playing it out from the back, even when so many players are manifestly not good enough on the ball to do it. It’s all meat and Skittles to Jamie as he snaps at a dithering defender who simply can’t control a ball without taking three touches, robs the ball off him and is away and gone.

He absolutely terrifies defenders and doesn’t he know it? They must hate playing against him. They never get a moment’s peace and all know that one slip and he’ll be in. He never stops snapping at their heels, agitating and hassling. What’s more, he does it as vigorously and intensely in the last minute as the first. And yet he’s not a muscular beefy player in the slightest. He’s had three red cards in his career and 38 yellows, but he’s more dirty than aggressive, more of an arsy nuisance than anything else. His gig is to be the wasp that ruins the picnic.

The collapse in the quality of defending, combined with Jamie’s tenacious, terrier-in-a-rabbit-warren quality (a style uniquely his own) means he’ll easily surpass 20 goals this season again. There is simply no-one who plays the game like he does. He stands alone atop a mountain range that he has climbed solo.

Almost impossibly lean – he must have the lowest body fat percentage in the league – and supremely fit, he just doesn’t seem to get tired, leaves the pitch after every game drenched in sweat, but rarely gets injured having only missed 11 league games in 190 across five seasons. This must be a testament to the power of a lot of pre-game espressos, Red Bull, and ham and cheese omelettes. It’s brilliant really. We’ve seen managers insisting players can’t have a dollop of tomato sauce and being over precious about nutrition claiming it is the key to success. Tell that to JV. Some people just know their own bodies and how to fuel them. He is a great example of that.

But while chasing down through balls is clearly one of his main weapons, it should also be said that he is a very skilful player, as the backheel flick against Germany well showed. He is brilliant at finding space and at positioning himself to make scoring goals seem more simple than it really is. It is a PFM cliche to say that if some fancy foreigner did the things Vardy does, we’d hail him as a genius, but there is some truth in it.

The fact Jamie looks like the sort of angry wee man we might see fighting outside of a bar on a Friday night; the fact he looks like Albert Steptoe or an Imp in a Victorian fairy-tale; the fact he has the visage of a man who has led a harder and longer life than 33 years would suggest; the fact he often wears the expression of a man chewing a scorpion, all count against him in the cool stakes. This means you won’t find many who will admit to liking him or even admiring him, (even though they do) but the fact remains, he is one of the finest footballers of his generation.

More prosaically, many fans just love his narky attitude. Not everyone can be saintly, cuddly and lovely, and many of us understand that we don’t need to love someone in order to enjoy what they do and to admire them for how they do it. It’s not like we’re marrying them, after all. We need all hues to make life’s rainbow, like…err…baby.

Personally, I don’t think any other striker has provided me with more joy and entertainment in the last five years. No other player has got me off my seat like he has. And that is because he’s basically everything I want in a forward, he plays football how I like to see it played and I know I’m not alone in that.

What The People Love

I knew writing this would not drum up a lot of support for him. It’s not cool to like Vardy and even less to publicly say so. We all know why, but I’ll tell you this: history will record him as a man of the most exceptional talent who, possibly because of his attitude and reputation, was not sufficiently hailed during his career.

Far lesser players have certainly attracted more praise and affection. We live during a time when if you ever do anything wrong it is held against by critics forever, as though they alone have lived a blameless life and are thus justified in casting their judgments as though pearls before swine. It says more about them than their target. Not that Jamie could care less. I suspect.

 

That skittles and vodka story really highlighted the demons that come with such a rapid rise in the game from obscurity, as well as his honesty. I always felt he has managed to handle the limelight in his own, comfortable way, without trying to be someone else

A one-trick pony is a fine thing in a world where most of us are no-trick ponies. So basically Vardy is the Status Quo of football. They have also had a very good and long career.

Always reminds me of that Sunday league player who turns up half-cut from the night before, smokes a ciggie before the game with his back against the changing room wall and then proceeds to score a hat-trick. Calls centre-halves “sh*thouse” a lot.

Ahh! Danish friends!’ and all those stories of mucking about in the dressing room. He’s the office prankster who also gets the work done. What he’s going to do when he retires, however, is a mystery.

Always scores against Liverpool but how can you not admire a man who has battled his way up through the leagues to the top of the game and who utterly revels in his reputation as the sh*thousers sh*thouse?

I think about his pre-match diet of ‘three Red Bulls, a double espresso, and a cheese and ham omelette is what makes me run around like a nutjob on matchday’ more often than I care to admit.

He’s the only Wednesday supporting ex-Wednesday youth player who celebrated in front of the SUFC crowd by cupping his ears, that would ever still get grudging respect from our fans. Every United fan would sign him in a heartbeat. That’s about as high a praise as I can give.

The only thing superior to his goalscoring is his commitment to winding up opposition fans.

He looks like an absolute nuisance to play against. His career path not only reflects his ability as a footballer, but also his in-built determination. Huge admiration and respect for the bloke.

 

Three great moments

From ten different angles this is simply one of the best goals ever. The long ball, the run and the ridiculous strike. It is a work of pure art. THIS is what football is all about. It is the game stripped of self-indulgence, trimmed of all fat, and honed to perfection.

 

Here’s the last of 11 in 11. Typical brilliance. He even points to where he wants the ball. I love that. ‘Put it there and I’ll score.’ And once again scoring a goal seems to make him very angry indeed.

 

Nevermind your Neymars and Messis, Jeff, he makes this high-speed back heel flick look easy…

What Now?

He’s contracted at what I still want to call Filbert Street, until 2023, when he’ll be 36. I doubt it. Of course, when he does slow down, he’s not the sort of player to be able to drop into midfield or become a quarterback. No pace, no Vardy. But would any of us back against him still being as sharp as a hunting knife into his late 30s? I don’t think so.

There’s been talk of a movie of his life for a few years now. There’s no doubt it is a classic rag to riches story. One of overcoming adversity, including adversity brought about by his own behaviour and failings. He was, after all, a heavy drinker when he arrived at Leicester and one can only imagine if you’re built like he is, he’d be a rubbish boozer and would be aff his heed after a couple, and of course, that way lies much trouble. But he put a stop to that and is by all accounts now a dedicated family man, having two step kids, along with four of his own.

This is a footballer who knows working life outside of football, who only got his break in the professional game aged 20. This is no pampered academy boy who has had everything done for him since he was young and was a millionaire before even playing a first-team game. That gives him grit and heft that so many lack. And that is why so many enjoy his play and on-pitch attitude. We should enjoy him while we can.

 

John Nicholson

More Related Articles