Sunday 18 March 2018

‘We won the league on a sunlounger’ - Jamie Vardy pinpoints key moment in Leicester's season

Jamie Vardy tells John Percy that Ranieri's decision to send 'band of brothers' on February break to Dubai was season's key moment

Leicester City's Jamie Vardy poses with the Premier League Trophy. Photo: Getty
Leicester City's Jamie Vardy poses with the Premier League Trophy. Photo: Getty

John Percy

Jamie Vardy believes Leicester City's Premier League title win was sealed on the sunlounger.

Vardy has pinpointed Claudio Ranieri's decision to award his players a week off in February, after a potentially damaging defeat at Arsenal, as the defining moment in their remarkable season.

Leicester were beaten by an injury-time winner from Danny Welbeck on February 14 and Ranieri raised eyebrows when he told his players to escape the pressures of the title race and recharge their batteries.

With Leicester already out of the FA Cup, Ranieri's bold gamble paid off spectacularly as his team secured eight wins from 11 games to finish the season as champions for the first time in their 132-year history.

Though Vardy highlighted the 3-1 victory over Manchester City on February 6 as another pivotal moment, he is convinced the break on the beach helped push Leicester over the line.

Claudio Ranieri was happy with the 'fantastic' performance from Leicester despite the draw

"After the game at Arsenal, the gaffer had seen exactly how much we'd all fought for each other and put into that game, he gave us a week off to completely forget about everything and recharge the batteries," he said.

"Quite a few of us went to Dubai together, and I remember sitting on a sunlounger and in the same hotel Sunderland were there running up and down the beach doing fitness.

"I think that moment, for him (Ranieri) to even think about doing that showed what he thought of us as a team and how much work we'd already put in. To get those batteries recharged for that week and come back fighting stronger was a massive part.

"It worked out perfectly, no one was going to go on a seven-day bender. It was there to relax with family and that's all we did until we got back to training."

Vardy was at the King Power Stadium yesterday to mark the official launch of his V9 Academy, designed to discover non-League talent, and was still struggling to comprehend his remarkable journey. Four years ago he won the Conference with Fleetwood Town team; now he has a Premier League winner's medal and is preparing for Euro 2016.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 06: Riyad Mahrez (2nd R) of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal with his team mates Shinji Okazaki (1st R), Danny Simpson (2nd L) and Jamie Vardy (1st L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Vardy will inevitably be the subject of interest this summer after a stunning campaign in which he has scored 24 goals, but says he is going nowhere. The 29-year-old is also confident that coveted team-mates such as Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante will be staying, too.

"We've just won the league and will be playing in the Champions League next year. I am happy here," he said. "I think we are hoping it (winning the title) will keep the squad together. There will be names thrown into the hat all summer but the group of lads we have, winning the league, and having Champions League football next season, you hope it keeps everyone together.

"It's been said before and I'll say it again, we are all like brothers. We're constantly talking with each other, going out for meals. In our dressing room that is the main thing that has got us where we are.

"We've all got the hunger and desire to go out there and want to win, and everything has come together.

"And it's not like we've been lucky to do that, we've turned up to places where we were never expected to get anything and we've walked away with the three points that we fully deserved."

Vardy could also end the season with another trophy, the Golden Boot, as he rivals Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane and Sergio Aguero with one game remaining.

Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane looks dejected after a missed chance against Southampton yesterday

He is one league goal behind Kane, who has 25, and level with Aguero, with Leicester travelling to Chelsea for their final game of the campaign on Sunday.

"I'd have been level if I'd not put that penalty against Everton in the garden! We'll have to wait and see what happens next week. If it happens it happens, if it doesn't then it doesn't. I've still had a great season," he said.

The V9 Academy will be launched next year at Manchester City's Etihad Campus training complex, with the aim of finding the next Vardy and then promoting them to the professional game.

His own route from the gnarled battlefields of non-League, with Stocksbridge Park Steels, to the top flight is a story that should be used as an inspiration.

"I can still remember the day I was released from Sheffield Wednesday as a teenager because I was too small (4ft 11in)," he said. "I don't think anyone can be told if they're good enough at 15 or 16, when you still have so many years to grow and develop. I had a growth spurt two months later so who knows what difference it would have made.

"I doubted myself as soon as I got released. It was my boyhood club, I had made them the highlight of everything. To be told at that age I was not big enough or strong enough was hard to take."

Vardy's rags-to-riches tale began at Stocksbridge and in those early days he had to wear an electronic tag on an ankle after being charged with assault.

But he rediscovered his passion for the game at the tiny South Yorkshire club, helping them up the leagues.

He was eventually spotted by Halifax in the summer of 2010 and signed for £20,000, scoring 27 goals and helping guide them to promotion in his first season before moving to Fleetwood a year later, where his goals secured another promotion.

Leicester bought him in May 2012 for £1m, still a non-League record, and he is now one of the most feared strikers in the Premier League.

He said: "Where I come from, what I've had to do, the hard work to get to where I am, it is right to give something back with the academy.

"You never forget your non-League days, turning up to away dressing rooms and getting changed in a Portakabin. Or one shower for whole squad, which was freezing after 10 minutes, so you had to make sure to be first one in.

"Whether it's a low or high, the roots you come from keep you grounded. There's probably hundreds that have been told the same and had to drop down as well.

"Hopefully we can find them, get them to the academy and get them through."

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