Jamie Vardy’s next goal? Finding a player to follow in his footsteps

The England and Leicester City star talks how success has changed family life, and new Sky documentary The Next Jamie Vardy

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By Bill Borrows

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“It’s nowt,” smiles Jamie Vardy. He is sitting with his foot up on a chair at Leicester City’s King Power Stadium, resting the ankle injury that saw him limp off the pitch the previous weekend. “It’s just a knock.”

All around is the organised chaos that surrounds the modern-day Premier League superstar. One team is setting up for a photoshoot in the shower area while Radio Times hangs out in a lounge just off the first-team changing room with the 30-year-old England striker, his wife Rebekah, her hair and make-up stylist, his agent John Morris, a press liaison officer for Leicester City and a PR guy from Sky Sports Premier League – a six-part fly-on-the-wall documentary series, The Next Jamie Vardy, starts on the channel this week.

Less than ten years ago, Vardy was cleaning his own boots in the eighth tier of English football with non-league Stocksbridge Park Steels FC. Today his gunmetal BMW i8 with personalised number plate is parked outside the main entrance to the stadium, and he is going through the England squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Malta and Slovakia on his phone.

“Rashford, Sterling, Sturridge, Welbeck, me…” The delivery of the “breaking news” is matter-of-fact, as though the former Halifax and Fleetwood Town forward might be reciting a shopping list, but then he already knew he had been selected. He would later feature as a substitute in the 4–0 win against Malta.

His move to Leicester City – then of the Championship but, scarcely believably, 5,000-1 Premier League champions four years later – for a non-league record of £1 million in May 2012, and the subsequent recognition at international level, is so improbable that talks about a Hollywood film of his life are, according to Morris, “at a fairly advanced stage”.

The fairy tale (a term used by Vardy himself – and, indeed, none other seems to fit) also embraces this son of a crane operator working 12-hour shifts in a carbon fibre factory after being released by Sheffield Wednesday aged 15. “I was heartbroken,” he says now. “I’m from Hillsborough and Wednesday were my club.

“As you work your way up through the age groups at a professional club from the age of ten or 11 you start to think that this is all you are going to do and all you ever want to do and the academic side of things starts to slip – it did with me, anyway. You go to school, school finishes and then you have to get home because there is training four nights a week.

“And then, one day, you are called into the office. You go in one by one and they tell you what attributes you’ve got – you’re fast, got an eye for goal and all the rest of it – but it means nothing when they then tell you you’re not getting another contract. I didn’t see it coming. If you look at it one way, it takes your childhood off you.”

He was just a typical lad [after being released by Wednesday],” says his agent. “He liked a drink and you never knew where he was but he won’t mind me telling you that.” Vardy is sitting next to him. “I’ve heard it all before,” he shrugs.

The story has been well documented: there was a conviction for assault at the age of 20 (one of the chapters in his autobiography is entitled “Smash Him on the Ankle, He’s Got a Tag on”) and disciplinary problems on the pitch.

“There were clubs looking at him,” says Morris, “and he was scoring goals, but at one point, when he was at Halifax [in 2010], he had three red cards back to back and the scouts would show up and ask, ‘Where is he?’ And I’d have to tell them he was suspended.”

“I was just enjoying playing football locally and working part-time in a bar at the weekends to get some money” is how Vardy describes the time before he signed up with Morris. “I promised I’d help get him into the league and not charge him a penny until then, and that we would take it from there,” says the agent.

“He settled down, quit his job in the factory, worked hard and,” he says, with a measure of understatement, “it all worked out in the end.” “And now he charges me a fortune,” laughs Vardy.

Life has changed beyond all recognition for Vardy in the past decade. Apart from his accomplishments on the pitch – and that includes breaking a Premier League record in November 2015 after scoring in 11 consecutive matches – his other commitments mean that no day is the same.

“I leave the house at 7.30am and get back about 3 or 4pm but that’s about it in terms of a typical day. I like to chill out with Beks and my kids” – trampolining and cooking, apparently – “but there is always something to deal with and missed calls from John.”

“If he can’t get hold of Jamie because he is not picking up,” says Rebekah Vardy, raising an expertly sculpted eyebrow, “he will call me.”

Team Vardy is a very tight organisation. Apart from Morris, there is also Mrs Vardy, a formidable young woman with more than 35,000 Twitter followers who is happy to describe herself as having a “bit of a feisty side”.

She and Vardy have provided the funding for the V9 Academy, the focus of the Sky series, where non-league footballers apply to have a second chance to make it as a professional and experience what life is like at the top level of the game.

“It’s nice to be able to give something back,” says Vardy. “It was an idea that had been in the back of my mind for a while, so I mentioned it to both John and Beks and we set about making it happen.”

They are currently looking for a sponsor to develop the project further. “When I was let go by Wednesday it was a case of, ‘What do I do now?’ There was no plan B. This gives a chance to a few players who we think might have what it takes to get a professional contract.”

The job of scouting is not primarily undertaken by Vardy – there is another team for that – but he has been to watch a few of the applicants (“I have a variety of disguises,” he reveals). His sky-high public profile comes with the territory and it brings a huge number of opportunities, but there is always a balance to be reached.

Previously mundane tasks for Vardy, such as shopping, can become an arduous procession of autographs and selfies – but he’s not complaining. “I just get on with it,” says the laid-back Yorkshireman. “I remember where I came from. I don’t really get fazed, playing at Old Trafford or Anfield or even playing for England. I’ve worked hard but things just seem to have happened to me.” He seems genuinely puzzled. “And, so far, they always seem to have happened for a reason.”

Perhaps that’s why they are talking about making a film of his life. Who would he want to play Jamie Vardy? “James Corden,” he deadpans. And then breaks into a beaming smile. Let’s face it, he’s got a lot to smile about.

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The Next Jamie Vardy is on Saturday 11.30am Sky1, Sunday 9.00pm Sky Sports Premier League