Saturday 17 August 2019

Vardy heroics against City must make him wonder what might have been

After snubbing Arsenal, striker is learning the hard way that fairytales don't have sequels

Leicester City's Jamie Vardy. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire.
Leicester City's Jamie Vardy. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire.
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

Even after Saturday's hat-trick against Manchester City, it's tempting to believe that Arsenal dodged a Francis Jeffers-sized bullet last summer when Jamie Vardy decided to stay with Leicester City.

As a result of failing in the pursuit of his primary target, Arsene Wenger produced one of his winger-conversion magic tricks by moving Alexis Sanchez to centre-forward and since then the Chilean has become arguably the best striker in the Premier League.

For once Arsenal attempted to get their transfer business completed early by moving for Vardy before the European Championships, but, with the title-winning afterglow still fresh and a desire to play in the Champions League with Leicester, he opted to stay.

Arsenal moved on quickly and could well have been having just as good a season with Vardy as a central striker and Sanchez in similarly blistering form behind him. They'll never know and, at the moment, aren't likely to care, but there must be a part of Vardy that wonders what might have been.

Desire

As well as an improved contract - one which is broadly similar to what Arsenal probably would have paid him - Vardy's desire appeared to focus on finishing what he'd started with Leicester when, in fact, by winning the Premier League their journey together had reached a peak.

"For me, there's a lot of unfinished business here," said Vardy at the end of July. "I feel that the club is only going one way and that is forward, that's why I want to be a part of it. It wasn't that big (the decision) when I think about it. It was quite easy and this is where I want to be."

Vardy was at least half right about the club going only one way, as with every passing week Leicester's victory seems all the more improbable. While it was characterised as a fairytale, Vardy must now be realising why those stories never have a sequel.

There is, for example, no record of Goldilocks II, given how lucky the young girl was to escape after eating the breakfast of three bears and then ransacking their house.

Similarly, it might have been a bit far-fetched had Little Red Riding Hood's mother again asked her to walk through the woods on her own given what happened the first time.

Had Vardy - and Arsenal - waited until the transfer window was closing, they both would have seen the writing on the wall for Leicester's season, with N'Golo Kante's departure for Chelsea opening up a huge hole which couldn't be filled.

Vardy and Rihad Mahrez could argue that Kante isn't playing Champions League football this season, but he more than likely will be for several to come.

He could also become the first player in the history of the Premier League to win the title in consecutive seasons with different clubs - technically Mark Schwarzer achieved that feat with Chelsea and Leicester, but he didn't play one minute of league football for either of them.

Had Vardy gone to Arsenal, he could also be targeting that unique double and while Saturday's hat-trick reminded everyone of his quality, after 16 games without a goal, it also showed again that he can produce against the best teams in the league. This should only add to the regret.

Arsenal play in that type of pressure-cooker atmosphere several times a month and while the expectation levels can overwhelm some players, Vardy should have backed himself to rise to the challenge.

As Kante is showing at Chelsea, good players become better when surrounded by great ones. Marc Albrighton and Danny Drinkwater might have Premier League medals, which Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla don't, but most centre-forwards would prefer to play on the team of the latter pair.

Thanks to their 3-1 win over Stoke, Arsenal finished Saturday at the top of the table. Vardy's heroics against City, in contrast, lifted Leicester from 17th to 14th and with a good run of results they might end the year in the top half.

Like last season's campaign, nobody can criticise the brilliance of Leicester's first run in the Champions League, but if they are unlucky in today's draw for the last 16 they, and Vardy, might have just two games left in the competition.

After that, Vardy may spearhead a cup run, but it's difficult to think he will ever challenge seriously for another major honour at Leicester, which, even allowing for them regularly falling short over the last decade, he would have done at Arsenal.

There's a school of thought which categorises the loyalty of both Vardy and Mahrez to Leicester as admirable, but it's equally possible to argue that a fear of failure or settling for a comfortable life was the overriding reason behind their decision to stay put.

With the cut-throat nature of the game, supporters are the only people truly loyal. It's often amusing to hear clubs moan about a player they have nurtured through the ranks leaving for a better offer, when that player has worked with dozens of others that the club threw on the scrapheap at youth level because they weren't good enough.

Legacy

Gary Lineker has been a Leicester City fan all his life and was joint top scorer with Kerry Dixon in the 1984-85 First Division, but his 24 goals could only help them finish 15th. Regardless of being a fan, a professional decision to further his career meant he left for champions Everton, before heading to Barcelona.

Lineker never won a league title, but couldn't be regarded as a one-season wonder, which, unless Saturday's performance becomes closer to standard rather than exception, may end up being Vardy's legacy - like a Premier League-winning version of Marcus Stewart.

By snubbing Arsenal, Vardy looks to have set himself on a path of scoring for a team battling to finish mid-table when, after he turns 30 next month, he could have had several seasons of trying to add to his medal collection.

Vardy and Leicester will always have the Premier League title. Perhaps he does already, but at some stage in the future he'll probably regret that he didn't try to have a little bit more.

Irish Independent

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