With Leicester City under threat of relegation, Michelle Owen discusses Jamie Vardy’s struggle to replicate the form that helped the Foxes achieve the unthinkable last season.
While recently on holiday, I enjoyed reading Jamie Vardy’s autobiography. It’s a fascinating story; from non-league to Premier League winner…we all know it by now! But the Premier League’s second highest goalscorer of 2015/16 appears to have gone missing this campaign.
Last season was simply a fairy tale and one we probably won’t witness a similar feat for years. Leicester City defied the odds to achieve the unthinkable and every player had their role. Many are talking about N’Golo Kante this season as he continues to make a difference with Chelsea. Claudio Ranieri’s side are definitely worse off without him, but so many other players haven’t reached their peaks of last season.
Vardy has five Premier League goals so far, with three of those scored when Leicester beat Manchester City 4-2 in December. He, like Kante, could’ve left in summer. Arsenal were so impressed with his haul of 24 goals they triggered the £20m release clause in his contract. I saw in some papers he said it was an easy decision for him to stay at Leicester. His book tells a different story, to the point where he and his wife were looking at London schools for their children. Nonetheless he stayed put, albeit with a very lucrative contract. I wonder how much he regrets that now. His formidable partnership with Riyad Mahrez just hasn’t reignited this season.
From an outside perspective you have to think he must be happy as ever. Far from the days of drinking Skittles vodka with a tag on and making prosthetic limbs in a factory, he has more money than you could ever need. He’s happily married with children and apart from a failing out with his parents which he refers to in his book, he has a settled life. Off-field distractions don’t seem to be a reason for his lack of form.
Ranieri has said he’s willing to drop some of his title-winning heroes to avoid relegation. Could Vardy be one of these? He’s not managed a shot on target since December 17th. He talks in his book at how he first doubted if he could make the step up from non-league to Championship but Nigel Pearson believed in him. He needs to rediscover that self-belief he found.
I saw some tweets over the weekend calling him a one-season wonder. His form doesn’t make for pretty reading, but rewind just over 12 months and Vardy broke Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s record of scoring in 11 consecutive Premier League matches. He must have felt on top of the world, but that confidence has evaporated.
Confidence is, personally for me, a huge deal when it comes to playing. Obviously I’ve never played at such a level, but I know when I score in a match I feel like I can go on and get another and another. But if I miss and hear the moans and groans behind me, it makes me feel worse and adds even more pressure. For Vardy, times that by a few thousand fans on your back. Yet it’s not as if Vardy is missing lots of chances. I found a very interesting and telling stat from Opta. Opta’s Expected Goals model – an analytical tool which measures the quality of any given chance – calculates that Vardy would’ve been expected to score 5.03 goals this season based on the shots he has taken, which actually shows Vardy’s finishing not to be the issue.
He has only taken 1.3 shots per game as opposed to 3.2 last campaign. The 30-year-old has a way of playing which would be difficult to change at this stage. He relies on other players fashioning opportunities for him which have been far fewer than last season, and indicative of the wider problem of the whole squad.
Vardy’s story so far has been good enough to have a film made about him – now it just needs a happy ending. Potentially sitting on the bench and relegation is not one he would’ve chosen. But this is Leicester City, and there’s still time…
Follow Michelle on Twitter at @michelleowen7