Vardy confident his workman's ethic can continue to fuel rise
Everyone loves a late starter, it is important for football to know it is still possible to be playing for Stocksbridge Park Steels in 2010 and England five years later, and Jamie Vardy is not about to disappoint anyone by claiming he had his career mapped out all along.
"I didn't expect any of this to happen in a million years, to be honest," the Leicester City striker says. "I guess I've been lucky to go through the pyramid so quickly, but there was a lot of hard work involved as well. By that I mean real work, not just on the pitch. Everyone knows I had a full-time job when I was playing non-league, but I made sure I gave my football career my best shot too. That meant long hours, basically.
"The best thing about being a Premier League player is definitely not having to get up at seven in the morning. I don't miss having to grab meals at motorway service stations either. When you are having to dash off after work to make sure you arrive on time for training you end up eating whatever fast food is on offer, just to get something inside you."
Strictly speaking Vardy is not a classic late starter. His pace and ability were spotted early in his native Sheffield and he was picked up by Wednesday, only to be released as a 16-year-old. He then spent three years on £30 a week at Stocksbridge, before Neil Aspin took him to Halifax Town of the Northern Premier League. That was where he really began to be noticed and after being their top-scorer with 27 goals in his first full season he was off to upwardly mobile Fleetwood, soon to be of the Football League, though Nigel Pearson spirited the club's player of the season away to Championship Leicester shortly after, his goals helped secure the 2012 Conference title.
"I was trying to work my way up slowly, then all of a sudden I was changing clubs every seven months," he says. "Non-league to Leicester was a big leap though. That cut out a few divisions and I struggled a bit to start off with. I suppose I had a few doubts about my own ability but Nigel Pearson had a nice chat with me and told me it was exactly where I belonged. That helped, along with finally getting the chance to train full-time. The experience I picked up in that first year at Leicester meant the second season was where I really kicked on."
Pearson might have slightly underestimated exactly where Vardy belonged, for since promotion to the Premier League he has not remotely looked out of place, hence his recent England call-ups. He is quick enough for the top level and his ability to sniff out goals has survived, though what really catches the eye is his fitness and relentless capacity for work. Like most players who thought their chance might have been and gone, Vardy does not take what football now offers him for granted. "The secret is just lots and lots of hard work and practise, and for that you need motivation," he says. "I am motivated by the knowledge that this is exactly what I want to be doing, all I have ever wanted to do."
Vardy could have made it to League level slightly earlier had a bid from Ian Holloway's Blackpool been accepted following a third-round FA Cup tie between the Fylde coast clubs in 2012, but Fleetwood turned down a £500,000 offer on the understandable grounds that they needed their top scorer to make sure of promotion. Vardy has no regrets. "The chairman and the manager came and spoke to me and said they couldn't let me go," he says. "It was their choice and I understood it. Everything has probably worked out for the best anyway.."
That includes his first international call-up, which, true to form, Vardy was not expecting. "It was another step-up that I didn't see coming," he says. "Really, my whole career has been like that. Just as I am working hard to adjust to a new level someone comes along and asks me to move up again. I'm not complaining about it, I just get on with trying to make sure I don't let anyone down."
Logically, the Vardy progression will end up in France next summer, when the necessary adjustment will be to tournament level. That much can be foreseen, however, and that is not the way Vardy prefers to work. "No one can take their place or their England shirt for granted," he says. "If I want to be in that squad I need to keep banging in the goals to make sure I stay in the manager's plans."
But would someone who five years ago was effectively putting in double shifts, rising at 7am and getting to bed exhausted at close to midnight, be able to cope with long days of a different sort? Many an England player has complained of the sheer boredom of tournament life, with too many hours to fill between training and matches and too few opportunities to properly relax or socialise. "I think I might be able to manage," Vardy says, with a smile. "It gives you a chance to catch up on all the serials you have been intending to watch on your iPad."
Sunday Indo Sport