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    JAMIE VARDY: Stockbridge Park Steels to Santiago Bernabeu?

    by Conall Green

    According to reports emerging in the press this week, Leicester City forward Jamie Vardy has incredibly been linked with a January move to Rafa Benitez’s Real Madrid.

    The story was first published by Spanish outlet Fichajes, but also found its way into the English media. Although it probably has no foundation and is likely to be just transfer gossip and no more, it does illustrate Vardy’s remarkable meteoric rise from non-league football to England international.

    Vardy, who was 500-1 to finish top goalscorer in the Premier League before the season kicked off, sits atop the scoring charts with 10 goals in 10 league games so far, and currently looks a certainty to travel with the England squad to the European Championships in France next summer.

    Things were not always so easy for the Sheffield born striker however, and he was released by Sheffield Wednesday aged 16. He joined local non-league side Stockbridge Park Steels, but did not make his debut for the first team until four years later in 2007, aged 20. He went on to score 66 goals in 107 appearances for the club before leaving for Halifax Town, then in the Northern Premier League, in 2010.

    Vardy continued to be amongst the goals for his new club, scoring 29 goals in 41 games before he moved up the non-league ladder once more, joining Fleetwood Town of the Conference for an undisclosed fee.

    Again the goals continued to flow, and with 34 goals in 40 appearances at Fleetwood it would be no surprise that Vardy attracted attention from clubs further up the pyramid. In May 2012, it was Championship side Leicester City who sealed his signature for an initial fee of £1 million, a record fee for a non-league footballer, which had the potential to rise to £1.7 million with add-ons. Aged 25, Vardy had finally worked his way back into the Football League.

    Then came the first blip in his career since his release from Wednesday. Vardy’s first season as a Football League forward returned only five goals in 29 appearances, and he received criticism from his own supporters.

    The dry spell was merely temporary however, and the next season saw Vardy regain his scoring touch, firing 16 goals in 41 appearances as Leicester City were promoted to the top division of English football as champions of the second tier. Seven years after his debut for Stockbridge Park Steels, where he earned £30 per week, Jamie Vardy was a Premier League footballer.

    He struggled initially in the Premier League, but scored his first goal in a remarkable game against Manchester United at the King Power Stadium, also setting up the opening goal and winning 2 penalty kicks as Leicester stunned United 5-3. It was as good as it would get for Vardy until April, when Leicester went through a sensational patch of form to avoid relegation, with Vardy scoring winning goals against West Bromwich Albion and Burnley. Vardy scored his fifth goal in 36 appearances on the final day of the season against QPR.

    Remarkably, despite his meagre goal return in his inaugural campaign in the Premier League, Vardy was called up to the England squad for the friendly international against the Republic of Ireland; England boss Roy Hodgson rewarding Vardy not only for his upturn in form at the end of the season, but also his all-action style of relentlessly pressuring opposition defenders. Vardy made his international debut in the game, replacing Wayne Rooney for the last 15 minutes of a drab nil all draw.

    Perhaps representing his country gave him renewed confidence, perhaps it’s working under new Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri, or perhaps he just needed a season to adapt to life in the Premier League, but whatever the reason Vardy has been a revelation this season, as his scoring record reflects. He looks to have found even more composure in front of goal, which he highlighted with two great finishes against Arsenal, and his recent assist for Raheem Sterling to score a tap in against Estonia shows both vision and selflessness.

    Given the woeful form of Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane’s recent struggles (Sunday’s hat-trick aside), and Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck’s injury problems, Jamie Vardy can reasonably dream of being handed the England number nine jersey next summer. Joining Benzema, Bale and Ronaldo et al at the Bernabeu? Maybe not just yet Jamie.
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    Item Reviewed: JAMIE VARDY: Stockbridge Park Steels to Santiago Bernabeu? Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Conall Green
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