Jamie Vardy: Remembering the King of Leicester's First Year as a Professional

Few who attended Halifax Town's games at the Shay a decade ago could have envisioned that star striker Jamie Vardy, tussling with stout centre-backs on a rainy Saturday afternoon, would go on to score over 100 Premier League goals.

But after four successive games without a goal, he recently achieved the milestone against Crystal Palace.

He's now etched his name onto an illustrious list of players to have scored over 100 Premier League goals - which includes Ian Wright, Teddy Sheringham and Darren Bent - a name for your next pub quiz.

Jamie Vardy has been a massive inspiration. West Ham forward Michail Antonio

It was another memorable moment in the 33-year-old's remarkable career, that has seen him blaze a trail up the English football pyramid - from non-league football to a Premier League winner - that many, including West Ham's Michail Antonio, now cite him as an inspiration for their own footballing journey.

Growing up in Yorkshire, Vardy came through the youth ranks at Stocksbridge Park Steels, after being released by his beloved Sheffield Wednesday for being too small. Making his debut in 2007, he quickly put himself on the radar of several Football League teams, but ended up moving to FC Halifax Town three years later for a fee of £15,000.

The move paid off for the striker, who scored 25 goals in 37 appearances in his very first season with the 'Shaymen', who achieved promotion to the National League North thanks to his goalscoring exploits.

There hasn’t been anyone like him who has come from nowhere, come from non-league into a position like he is now. He’s a total one-off. Allen Bethel, ex-Stocksbridge chairman

A year later, he was off to Fleetwood Town, and after scoring 31 goals in another promotion-winning season in the Conference Premier, the Englishman was snapped up by Leicester City for a non-League record fee of £1m.

Vardy was pivotal to the Fishermen's 2011/12 title-winning season that earned them promotion to League Two

So five years after he started playing senior football, a 25-year-old Vardy found himself starting his first ever fully professional fixture - an early round EFL Cup game at Torquay United in August, in which he ended up getting on the scoresheet in the closing stages.

The games kept coming for the striker, as then-manager Nigel Pearson put his faith in his new signing, and he soon notched up his first Football League goal in a 2-1 defeat at Blackburn Rovers, using his trademark pace to beat Scott Dann and powerfully finish past Paul Robinson to get himself off the mark.

But after three goals and three assists in his first ten Championship games, the Englishman seemed to hit a wall and suddenly his form took a nosedive. While Pearson would continue to give him the occasional start, appearances from the bench became frequent, and he was even left out of the squad for several games at a time.

Vardy struggled in his first season at Leicester

It was certainly a tough time for the Yorkshireman, who didn't score again throughout the second-half of the season. Vardy took his struggles personally, and has since admitted to have been constantly drinking at home, doubting his ability to succeed at the professional level. So much so, that he was ready to give up on his football dreams, and become a party promoter in Ibiza at the end of the campaign.

A meeting with Pearson and his assistants proved pivotal in helping to change his mindset, and the striker suited up for a second season at the King Power, determined to prove his doubters wrong.

Craig Shakespeare, then an assistant to Pearson, revealed in 2017 what was mentioned in their discussions, that helped persuade the Englishman to continue persisting with his Leicester career.

"Jamie would be the first to admit he was going through a rough patch", he said, as quoted by the Express. “Myself, Nigel and Steve [Walsh] were here to support him. All we did was told him about his attributes and that we thought he could go on.

“We even mentioned then about not only playing in the Premier League but also he had the attributes to play for the national team. We told him we wanted him and believed in him. Thankfully he didn’t go to Ibiza!"

Pearson and Shakespeare's confidence in Vardy were crucial in helping the striker become a Foxes legend

Spurred on by the coaching staff's words, Vardy would prepare for the upcoming season in a way he had never done before. Picked for the opening game of the season, he looked hungrier and sharper, and it was illustrated by his second-half winner against Middlesborough, emphasising his commitment to becoming the main goalscoring threat for the Midlands side.

No longer was he the player who relied too much on his pace. His finishing skills were much improved, and he looked confident, he trusted his ability to beat opposing defenders and continued to persist up front, even when the goals weren't always flying in.

It was a big learning curve last year... [the gaffer] constantly told me I was good enough and they believed in me and stuck by me. I am glad to be showing the faith they showed in me on the pitch. Jamie Vardy, 2014

The team's top goalscorer with 16 goals, the striker was named the Players' Player of the Season at the club as they earned promotion back to the Premier League. And while many may have doubted if he was good enough for the top-flight, a man-of-the-match performance in a 5-3 win over Manchester United helped to dispel any doubts concerning his quality.

It's fair to say no one questions his status at Leicester now. Few could say that they saw this coming in 2012, much less those who watched him in non-league action just over a decade ago.

But by overcoming every hurdle in his career up to now, Vardy has more than earned his place in Premier League history. Even the very best can struggle in their first professional season, but it's what comes after that cements your legacy - and he's certainly cemented his.

Source : 90min