Perhaps the truest metre of Jamie Vardy’s value to Leicester City is the fact he started Tuesday’s league cup match at Hull City on the bench.
Granted, he didn’t stay there.
With the two sides locked in a goalless draw the 28-year-old, whose Premier League-leading 10 goals have the Foxes fifth in the standings at the quarter pole, replaced Shinji Okazaki in the 65th minute.
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No doubt manager Claudio Ranieri would have preferred to preserve Vardy for Saturday’s trip to West Bromwich Albion, where the forward will look to score in an eighth successive Premier League match. But Leicester also needed a goal, and midway through the first period of extra time Vardy, a former factory worker, produced it—his low shot creating a tap-in for Riyad Mahrez.
The latter, to Leicester’s misfortune, would go on to miss from the penalty spot (Vardy converted from 12 yards) and cost his team a berth in the quarterfinals.
Vardy, meanwhile, might not have earned the rest he deserved, but with everything finally coming together for the recently-capped England man he’ll surely run a while longer on the adrenaline that has him enjoying a purple patch of form that makes other purple patches look pink.
“He believes every ball can be good,” remarked Ranieri following Leicester’s 1-0 win at home to Crystal Palace last week. “Every ball could suddenly create something good. It’s important for him, important for all his teammates and is dangerous for opponents.”
Ranieri, to his credit, hasn’t allowed himself to be carried away by the Vardy-mania sweeping England and various parts of Europe, but given the sudden and, in some cases, serious interest in his player he has little choice but to at least don a mask of tranquility.
“It’s difficult to say why it happens sometimes,” he analyzed last weekend, when asked about Vardy’s ongoing streak, adding, “It is important later that if he doesn’t score he remains calm and continues to fight as he did.”
Even before he was filling the nets the striker was known to be a fighter, a battler, and given his history it’s a reputation he has come by honestly.
When he was 16, Vardy—and by now this is hardly an unfamiliar story—was released by Sheffield Wednesday, whom he had supported growing up, and, admittedly frustrated, became something of a brawler.
“Those were some hard times,” he told Sheffield’s The Star newspaper in September 2014, shortly after his debut Premier League maiden against Manchester United. “I went to college for a year and got myself into a few scrapes.”
One of those scuffles (he was “sticking up for a mate who was deaf,” he recalled) resulted in his having to wear an ankle tag, and even after joining non-league Stocksbridge he would often be withdrawn mid-match so as to honour a 6 p.m. curfew.
Famously, as it tends to be for labourers who, through either effort or luck, make the big-time, Vardy also worked as a factory technician where, as he told the BBC following his England call-up, his job “involved making splints for disabled people with drop-foot.”
He needed the job to supplement a football income of £30 per week. He doesn’t anymore.
Ranieri has already introduced the possibility of a new contract despite a current deal that only expires in 2018. Presently on £40,000 per week Vardy will surely be in line for a drastic pay rise—assuming, of course, that he maintains something at least close to his current level of production.
But a more lucrative contract would also serve to strengthen Leicester’s position should the likes of Liverpool or Tottenham come calling. Real Madrid, too, have been rumoured to be mulling a bid for Vardy, although as transfer stories go this one was likely the work of an editor with a quota to fill.
Nevertheless, the hysteria surrounding the quick, tenacious attacker whose goalscoring record has him among Europe’s top marksmen this season is nothing if not contagious—its victims having already likened him to both Alan Shearer and Neymar, as if comparisons to the two simultaneously was even remotely possible.
On Sunday Gary Neville insisted Vardy has “all the qualities to be a great centre-forward.” Two days prior Ian Wright was hailing him as a potential Toto Schillaci for England at Euro 2016.
He may be one of the two; he may be neither. He may not even make the tournament squad. All that’s certain at this point is English football’s “gone-mental” configuration is set at seven-match goalscoring streaks.
Not that Vardy doesn’t deserve the attention, or, indeed, the affection. Quite the contrary. His is a story that’s easy to root for, and his performances quite rightfully have him and his club in some impressive, if not unexpected, conversations.
It helps that he’s saying all the right things.
“It’s nothing to do with me really. It’s a team game,” he told the club’s official website earlier this month. “As long as Leicester are getting the points, that’s all that matters.”
He added: “You want to stay on that pitch and be in that starting XI.”
He wasn’t on Tuesday. He was too important to risk in a league cup fixture. And that, more accurately than any transfer link or player comparison, describes how far he’s come—how valuable he is to a certain team at a certain time.
Jerrad Peters is a Winnipeg-based writer. Follow him on Twitter