Wednesday 21 February 2018

Sometimes a warrior is better than a war chest

Jamie Vardy Photo: Getty Images
Jamie Vardy Photo: Getty Images

Eamonn Sweeney

The Premier League, with its hype, its hubris and its cupidity, gets harder to love every year. So much so that lately I inclined, as the man almost said, to lose my faith in Chelsea and Manchester City.

Thank God for Leicester City, whose unlikely run to the summit of the table has reminded a lot of us just why we fell in love with football in the first place. It's not just that City are a small club cocking a snook at the behemoths, it's also that they're powered by the unlikeliest set of heroes you'll find outside Roy of the Rovers.

Jamie Vardy is the most obvious underdog made good, a player who spent almost a decade in non-league football, earning 30 quid a week at his first club, before making his football league debut at the age of 25. The sight of him now topping the scoring charts and setting a Premier League record might convince some of the many young Irish footballers who, like Vardy, were laid off by a professional club in their teens that they're not inevitably condemned to the scrapheap.

Yet Vardy might not even be Leicester's player of the season so far. His rival for the title is Riyad Mahrez, the Algerian international midfielder who's scored 13 goals to Vardy's 15, the one against Chelsea on Monday night an eloquent testament to his extraordinary talent. The Premier League is full of expensive players who aren't doing the business yet Mahrez joined the Foxes from Ligue 2 side Le Havre.

Midfield dynamo N'Golo Kante had spent most of his time in Ligue 2 before joining Leicester from unfashionable SM Caen. Powerful centre-back Wes Morgan had spent his career in the Championship and League One before last season. Danny Simpson was let go by Manchester United where Danny Drinkwater also failed to make the grade. Even outstanding left-back and Austrian international Christian Fuchs arrived on a free transfer from Schalke 04.

The team has the look of one of those bands of ill-assorted vagabonds who team up to perform a top-secret mission in some '60s war movie. Their knitting together by Claudio Ranieri into a unit which, among other things, just cost Jose Mourinho his job is the managerial achievement of the season.

And at a time when the first reaction from fans of the underperforming oligarchs of the game is that more money needs to be spent, it's worth asking: How much better than Vardy or Mahrez or for that matter Crystal Palace's Yannick Bolasie could any big-name signing have performed this season? Sometimes a warrior is more important than a war chest.

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