In the aftermath of Leicester City’s dramatic 2021 FA Cup final triumph, Jamie Vardy inadvertently made himself the centre of attention.
Partway through an interview the Foxes striker bounded away from the cameras to join his teammates, who were huddled in a circle ready to start the celebrations. It was only right that the rest of the squad hung around for a player who has done so much for the club since joining from Fleetwood Town in 2012.
Reflecting his career and life, Vardy’s time at Leicester has been a struggle at times, making the highpoints – and my word, have there been a few – that much more intoxicating. Although Vardy shows no signs of slowing up any time soon, as he enters the second half of his 30s it is a better time than any to look back at an incredible spell at the King Power Stadium
In May 2012, Vardy became non-league’s first £1m player after netting 31 goals for Fleetwood in the Conference Premier.
He started the season promisingly, registering two assists and a goal in his opening four Championship games. After this, he began to falter, struggling to find a place in Nigel Pearson’s system.
After being dropped, Vardy asked to be loaned back to Fleetwood and even considered jacking football in to become a club rep in Ibiza. Yes, really. Thankfully, Pearson talked him around but by the end of the campaign, he was largely a forgotten figure.
Vardy’s first season at Leicester was summed up in a game against Middlesbrough in January. Brought on with just seven minutes to play his over exuberance saw him concede a penalty, with Kasper Schmeichel saving his blushes in stoppage time. There was never any doubting Vardy’s enthusiasm or physical gifts but most Foxes fans would not have been too upset had he left the club that summer.
Despite rumours linking him with a move to boyhood club Sheffield Wednesday, Pearson was keen for Vardy to stick around and he soon struck up an excellent partnership with David Nugent.
Between them the pair managed 38 goals and 24 assists as Leicester racked up a whopping 103 points on their way to the Championship title. Vitalised by their heartbreaking playoff exit to Watford the season prior, Pearson’s charges were merciless in their pursuit of their title.
By his own admission, it was the most important season of Vardy’s career as well. He knuckled down, got rid a few of his lower league habits – not all of them, though – and was rewarded when he was named the club’s Players’ Player of the Year.
From non-league to the Premier League. Vardy’s first season in the top flight was a learning curve but he showed more than enough to prove he was worthy of playing at the highest level.
His talent shone through as Leicester smashed Manchester United 5-3 in September. Vardy grabbed an iconic goal and also won a penalty, bullying a defence full of Premier League winners all afternoon.
That career display against United was followed by one of the toughest periods of his career. Frequently on the losing side in tight games, Leicester spent to majority of the campaign rooted to the bottom of the table with the scruffy striker failing to score for over six months.
The turning point came in a game against West Brom in April with Vardy grabbing a 91st minute winner to kick start one of the greatest great escapes in history. The Foxes won five of their remaining seven games, finishing the season with a joyous 5-1 win over QPR. Vardy ended the season with 10 assists and five goals.
The story of Leicester City’s 2015/2016 season has been told many times in many different formats. Want to hear it again? Of course you do.
Vardy’s role in sport’s greatest fairytale was pivotal. Between August and November he scored in a record 11 consecutive Premier League games, propelling the Foxes to the top of the table in the process.
This was not his only contribution either. In February he netted twice in a 2-0 win over Liverpool with his first strike, a 30-yard screamer, sending the King Power Stadium into raptures. More importantly, he also hosted a massive celebratory party at his house the night the title was confirmed.
The following summer, Vardy turned down the chance to move to Arsenal and penned fresh terms with the Foxes. In the short term the decision paid off with Leicester going further in the Champions League than the north Londoners managed that season.
However, not everything was rosy. After a terrible start to the Premier League campaign, miracle man Claudio Ranieri was sacked with the Foxes languishing in 17th place. Vardy responded well when Craig Shakespeare came in as caretaker, registering five goals in his new boss’ first five games.
The following campaign, under both Shakespeare and then Claude Puel, Vardy did well again, managing 20 Premier League goals. During the 2018/2019 campaign, though, cracks began to show in his and Puel’s relationship.
The Frenchman was keen to transition Leicester in a more considered, possession based style – something that did not suit Vardy’s strengths. At times the striker was even left out of the side.
As soon as Brendan Rodgers replaced Puel at the helm in February 2019, he made it clear that Vardy would be central to his plans. The striker has repaid this faith as well, enjoying the best scoring form of his career under the Northern Irishman.
During Rodgers’ first full season at the club, Vardy notched his 100th top flight goal and scooped his maiden Premier League golden boot. The good times have kept on coming this season as well, though he has not been quite as prolific.
Despite this, his electric partnership with Kelechi Iheanacho has saved Leicester’s campaign, leaving them on the brink of Champions League football and seeing them break the club’s FA Cup final hoodoo.