Jamie Vardy is unusual. The Leicester City striker is a sort of throwback who’s not a throwback, a player with a story that belongs in the 1970s but a style that suits the modern game to a tee.
In some ways he’s not easy to like either on or off the pitch. He is, though, a wonderful footballer. His ability thoroughly warrants his Premier League medal, his legendary status at Leicester and rather more than his 26 England caps.
From being released by Sheffield Wednesday as a teenager to playing for England as a league champion some years later, Vardy’s road has been paved with goals.
His England debut in June 2015 was just reward for his contribution to the early part of Leicester’s extraordinary turnaround.
He went to UEFA EURO 2016 but has always been below Harry Kane in the pecking order; it’s a position many more strikers will occupy over the next seven or eight years.Embed from Getty Images
Vardy scored seven goals for England but never quite established himself as the Plan B he should have been. He needed to be England’s option to play over the press but was unable to offer adequate back-up in the captain’s occasional absence.
But there have been England matches since FIFA World Cup 2018 – where his involvement was limited – in which Vardy might have thrived.
Jordan Pickford’s ability to pass quickly and accurately over distance has made England a threat in transition even from their own penalty area, not unlike Kasper Schmeichel’s partnership with Vardy as Leicester got the entire Premier League turned and raced clear to the title in 2016.
Vardy, though, took his leave from international football in August 2018 when it was clear that he wasn’t going to be an England regular as the twilight of his career approached.
Cynical observers might note that his form at that time wasn’t exactly forcing the issue.
Vardy recognised that Gareth Southgate wanted to “make it more youthful” but made it known that he and the England manager had parted on amicable terms. He “wouldn’t say no” if a spate of injuries necessitated a return.
No such injury glut has occurred but Vardy has hit a phenomenal vein of form, reignited and reinvigorated under Brendan Rodgers at the King Power.
Vardy, it seems, is a player who’s at his best when his environment is right.Embed from Getty Images
It would be unfair to give Rodgers all the credit for the resurgence of his striker but the connection between the two is clearly responsible for a spikier, punchier and more potent Vardy.
Rodgers’ positive impact on the England team of the present and future might be yet to fully reveal itself but Vardy, suddenly, is impossible to ignore.
His performances and goalscoring in 2019/20 have been eye-catching to say the least.
The former England man took just eleven Premier League games to hit double figures and he didn’t stop there. With a supporting cast that makes Leicester look every bit a contender for the top four, the Vardy of 2015/16 is back in the business of being unstoppable.
Southgate has been watching and confirmed that the possibility of a recall remains open. It was an acknowledgement that wouldn’t have been required if Vardy weren’t scoring goals for fun.
England aren’t short of strikers. Three were named in the squad for the last two EURO 2020 qualifiers against Montenegro and Kosovo. Kane is now deputised by both Callum Wilson and Tammy Abraham. Marcus Rashford is arguably a fourth.
Not one of them is keeping pace with Vardy but by the time EURO 2020 rolls around Abraham will be 22, Kane 26 and Wilson 28. The eldest, one suspects, is the most under threat when Southgate’s super-sized squads are forced down to 23 players.
Vardy turns 33 in January and for that very simple reason his potential return to the England squad isn’t a matter of form but of how serious Southgate is about winning, and winning now.
England have enormous potential for the future, especially if the right midfield combination can be unearthed in time for the next FIFA World Cup.
Vardy will be on the doorstep of 36 by then; he’s not a part of the national team’s future.
If EURO 2020 is another stepping stone, another waypoint, it makes little sense to try to persuade Vardy back into the fold in the present.
But should England and Southgate really fancy it, if they truly believe they can have a significant crack at the EURO trophy, a return for Vardy shouldn’t be ruled out.Embed from Getty Images
There won’t be many more dangerous strikers involved in next summer’s amorphous tournament if Vardy’s Rodgers-assisted vein of form continues.
His instinct for goal, his pace, his work-rate and that little bit of the devil make Vardy a terrifying prospect for defenders. When he’s operating at his best he’s a deadly goalscorer, an effervescent presence and a total bloody nuisance.
That’s a temptation even the most stubborn ideologue would find difficult to resist. Southgate is not that. He will continue to watch the prodigal sharpshooter with interest.