Think of a great Premier League striker and who comes to mind? Thierry Henry? Alan Shearer? Perhaps a present-day marksman such as the unnervingly clinical Sergio Aguero?
Once we get going the names easily roll off the tongue – Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Ian Wright, Wayne Rooney – and we can all play along. And should we do so it would take most of us a good deal of time before we reached Jamie Vardy.
Why is this? After all, the Leicester City forward boasts 83 goals from 180 Premier League appearances, which equates to a goal every 2.1 games over a period of several campaigns. That’s a ratio comparable to the very best the English top flight has gifted us with since 1992 and sharing their stratosphere is all the more remarkable given that – the fantastical 2015/16 season aside – Vardy’s team usually reside outside of the top six.
Three years ago the Sheffield-born hit-man won the FWA Footballer of the Year award, an honour not bestowed on Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Andy Cole – we could go on – and in that same season his 24 goals were pivotal in securing his side a wholly unexpected league title. A quick run-through of the Premier League’s most prolific goal-scorers brings up a whole host of players who didn’t achieve that. Vardy did.
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In a reputational sense, as important to the stats is the fact that the 32-year-old is not merely a tap-in merchant.
Indeed, the bread-and-butter finish from close range is a barely used trait in his arsenal, one that is instead eclipsed by an array of spectacular drives, cute and clever executions, and ice-cold dispatches at the end of explosive darts with defenders trailing in his wake.
Last weekend the ball bounced up 25 yards out against Bournemouth and Vardy struck a glorious, arced effort that sailed into the net over the goalkeeper. Brendan Rodgers later deemed it ‘sublime’ and it really was.
It was the kind of goal we would all be overly familiar with by now had Henry scored it; a staple of greatest goal compilations. Yet, just like the French genius’ goals that take your breath away could be described as being typical to the man, that’s Vardy’s stock-in-trade: the spectacular.
With all this in mind, assessing where he is pitched among the brilliant forwards of yesteryear and today intrigues. To suggest that Jamie Vardy is under-rated would be disingenuous and all told he is rightfully admired and acknowledged. Yet when compared to the ‘establishment’ greats – from Shearer right through to Aguero – it’s hard to shake the feeling that he’s placed short of them.
In part this is because he will forever be the ‘non-league footballer turned England international’ and though admittedly Ian Wright took a similar rags-to-riches route to the very top, it’s worth remembering that Wrighty did much of his plundering for Arsenal and Vardy for the Foxes, one club significantly more glamorous than the other.
It should be remembered too the scepticism that bordered on puzzlement when Vardy was linked with Arsenal just three short years ago. Why was this? Could it be because we had gotten too immersed in the Vardy narrative, that of the Sunday League everyman perennially punching above his natural calling?
If that was – and indeed is – the case then as one of the Premier League’s most consistently deadly strikers continues to defy his twilight years by firing goals aplenty (he currently has three goals and an assist from 360 minutes played this term) perhaps a long overdue revision is required.
It used to be said that Jamie Vardy is having a party. Maybe now is the time to stop viewing his goal-scoring exploits as debauchery and instead invite him to the top table of legendary Premier League forwards.