Leicester’s Legend: the story of Jamie Vardy

Ten years ago, Jamie Vardy was as far away from soccer stardom as humanly possible. Wearing an electronic brace for assaulting someone outside a pub, he was placed on house arrest. He was later granted probation and worked a factory day job making splints. Today, he is the Premier League leader in goals, and has scored in a record-breaking 11 straight matches. He may be the best late-bloomer in Premier League history. So, how did Vardy get here and why is he thriving in his new role? Because of his never-give-up attitude.

(Photo Credit: AP) Leicester City's Jamie Vardy has scored in 11 straight matches- a Premier League record.

(Photo Credit: AP) Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy has scored in 11 straight matches- a Premier League record.

Vardy’s career started with his hometown club of Sheffield Wednesday, a League 1 side, and when they let him go at age 16, he did not know where to turn. His initial scouting report appeared bleak, he was too short and not quick enough, and no big league teams came close to approaching him. He signed with non-League side Stocksbridge Park Steels and was payed just £30, or $45 a week. Here, the 18-year-old striker took to a second job and almost gave up the game entirely, playing for the reserve team for three full years before even being promoted. Thanks to some convincing from friends, Vardy played with the side for three years for the first team, scoring 66 goals in just 107 caps.

It was also at the same club that Vardy had to wear an electronic ankle bracelet for probation rules. Often times, since the law stated the curfew was 6:30 pm, Vardy was subbed out of games and hopped over the fence and would drive off in his parents car in order to make the curfew time. The team trusted in him even with his past, and it payed off, such as here.

Semi-professional soccer is where Vardy would make a name for himself.

Vardy quickly moved up the ranks, signing for FC Halifax Town for only £15,000, where he scored 27 goals and helped them win promotion. He moved to yet another semi-professional team, Fleetwood Town.

Wherever Vardy played, the team would win the league. Thanks to Vardy’s astonishing 31 goals in 36 appearances, Fleetwood Town was promoted to League football at the end of the season. With his clear knack for scoring goals, he became a striker who was destined to be recognized by bigger clubs.

(Photo Credit: Getty Images/TheFA) Fleetwood Town was where Vardy made a name for himself, notching 27 goals in a season.

(Photo Credit: Getty Images/TheFA)
Amateur side Fleetwood Town was where  Jamie Vardy was discovered, notching 31 goals in a season.

In 2012, Vardy finally got that chance when Leicester City signed him for £1,000,000- a non-League record. However, it appeared that Vardy had hit the wall. When he only scored four goals in a season filled with out-of-form performances, many supporters questioned his signing and dedication to the club. Maybe this was as far as Vardy would get, playing occasionally for a team that appeared to be staying put.

Vardy had other ideas. The following season, he proved the supporters wrong and scored 16 goals, on the way to being named the club player of the year. He launched the Foxes’ promotion bid, eventually leading Leicester to the promised land – the Premier League. Along with the celebration that came with being promoted, they also won the most lucrative promotion prize in club soccer; more than £100,000,000.

In their first year in the Premier League, it was Vardy’s teammates, Leonardo Ulloa and Riyad Mahrez that helped secure the Foxes’ safety after a rough patch of play towards the early second half of the season.

However, this season has been truly special. He scored in 11 straight appearances, a Premier League record, and has helped Leicester City seize a stunning first place in the first half of the season. Vardy surpassed Manchester United legend Ruud Van Nistelrooy in the process and went for the record on Saturday. Vardy did not score, however, his teammate Riyad Mahrez recorded a hattrick.

(Photo Credit: Leicester FC) Jamie Vardy celebrates his 11th goal in as many games by holding up a jersey signed by his teammates.

(Photo Credit: Leicester FC) Jamie Vardy celebrates his 11th goal in as many games by holding up a jersey signed by his teammates.

The thing about Vardy is, he is a counter-attacking nightmare for teams. He eventually did develop the speed needed for Premier League soccer, as well as the stamina–he out runs and out-hustles everyone. Vardy loves pressing the defenders, forcing them to make dangerous passes, which has led to many Leicester counterattacks. He loves taking on defenders, but does not use Neymar-like moves, he simply pokes the ball at a tough angle and is able blaze past them with his speed. His positioning without the ball is great, always ready to put one in the back of the net. When the ball is at his feet, he swings at it with full force, a screamer off his right foot to trickle the twine. Vardy’s recipe for success is simple: outwork the other team in every facet of the game. He is hungry, and that is why he is very successful.

The Foxes and Vardy are by far the most refreshing story of the season. Vardy has scored against some of the giants of the soccer world, including Manchester United, Arsenal, and has a chance to break the all-time English record for scoring in a consecutive match this weekend against Swansea. On top of it, he is a lock for Roy Hodgson’s England squad heading to France for Euro 2016.

So, after all this, how was Vardy overlooked? How was he not spotted as an elite player at a young age? Gems slip through the cracks all the time, but how has someone this good not been noticed sooner? Vardy has a solution for that as well. Earlier in the month, he set up a scouting academy for finding hidden talent at the non-League level for those who have been overlooked or are waiting to be discovered.

In American sports, few players, if any, have been able to do what Jamie Vardy has done. It is like finding out that the best player at the NFL combine actually went to a Division 3 school. Sometimes the best players are right in front of you, yet because they do not have a glamorous record or play for a well-known club, you decide to pass up what could be an organization changing player. That is what Jamie Vardy has proven to all the big clubs of England. There is a lot of talent in non-League soccer, you just have to find the right man.

Jamie Vardy has established himself as an elite player through pure determination, guts and goals. He rose up through the lowest leagues of English soccer and has embraced his late-bloomer role. Vardy’s story is why soccer is called “The Beautiful Game.” Anyone can be the next big star, no matter how old they are, or how many years they played in amateur leagues. It is stories like this that make soccer so unique and rich, interwoven with determination and hard work. There will be more non-League players who make it big, but will we ever see a story as unique as Jamie Vardy’s? That seems highly unlikely.

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