Just a matter of weeks ago, Jamie Vardy was working class. He wasn’t like the other footballers in that “great product” as Danny Mills described the Premier League earlier today. He played for nondescript clubs like Fleetwood Town, eking out a modest living in between working in the mills of northern England. I may have made up one or two “facts” there, but this is how the media and the internet is treating Jamie Vardy.
Football fans will know that The Beautiful Game was invented in 1992 by Rupert Murdoch. Before that, it was a figment of our imagination. I knew I drank a lot when I thought I was watching Bristol Rovers at an imaginary stadium in Eastville and it turns out that my imagination must have been real. Where I remember there being a football ground now stands a Swedish self-assembly furniture company. It never really happened.
Jamie Vardy – I shall come back to the man himself in a moment – has broken every record in football. This was pretty well what the otherwise excellent Jeff Stelling was saying on Sky Sports News today. Records were tumbling by the second. Rufty, tufty bloke who used to play non league football becomes the first player ever to score a few goals. He’s a rough diamond, like. He’s a bit edgy, he gets stuck in; he can’t be THAT good because he is English, but he’s a plucky lad who is not fit to wipe Diego Costa’s boots.
And that is how it is with Vardy. Hardly any references to the sheer achievements of a fine footballer; let’s just patronise him and patronise anyone who has the brass neck to work his way to the top by a combination of ability and hard work. He’s been very lucky. Except that he has been anything but lucky.
Vardy’s triumph is because of a number of factors. First, you need to be good enough and Vardy is good enough. In footballing terms, he can play. Second, it requires hard work and persistence. Skill is handy, but without hard work it is not enough. But there is something else. Something that people who have never played the game at any level might not understand. Third is desire. Fourth is hunger.
Let me give you a few examples of desire and hunger. I give you Wayne Rooney. Probably the best English player of his generation, along with Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes, Rooney has that x factor. He is highly skilful, he always wants to play and he always wants to win. I do not see him as truly world class but I see him as high class and because of his enduring desire and hunger, he is still a player today, albeit one going through a lull in performances. In a previous era, I give you Kevin Keegan, who was definitely not world class, but had that desire and hunger to succeed to the extent that he was an automatic selection for England, Hamburg and England. He simply wanted it and everyone around him saw it.
Vardy is nothing like the same kind of player as Keegan, but he is doing the same thing. When Keegan stepped up a level, he adapted, he coped, he relished and embraced the challenge. Vardy has done the same. Reach the Premier League and he was equally at home as he was for Fleetwood. When Roy Hodgson went with his instincts and picked Vardy for England on the basis of his form, Vardy was immediately at home. Not all players can do this, of course, but if your ability is matched by hunger and desire, and you have the confidence to keep stepping up, a player can achieve anything.
You hear too many stories of young players getting too much too soon and fading into obscurity. If you suddenly earn £200,000 a week at the age of 20, what’s left?
The media patronises players like Vardy almost as if they have no right to play in Danny Mills’ “great product” but I don’t care. This boy has the chance to make a permanent name in the annals of football because of what he is and where he has come from. And don’t be surprised if he steps up again at next year’s Euros. He’s passed every single other test so far.