John Brewin: Jamie Vardy’s great form must be making Gareth Southgate twitchy

Surely, he deserves a recall despite his ‘retirement’?


There is a very real possibility that England will play at Euro 2020 without the leading scorer in the Premier League despite his being English and proud.

It is not an entirely unfamiliar scenario since Kevin Phillips went to Euro 2000 and did not play a single minute for Kevin Keegan’s flops.

Phillips endured that while having to watch Alan Shearer and Michael Owen, two of England’s finest.

For England, the field is not nearly so deep. Should Harry Kane falter – and he is not a player entirely unfamiliar with injury – then the back-up is either Tammy Abraham or Callum Wilson.

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Jamie Vardy’s exile is self-imposed, having decided to tell Gareth Southgate last August that he wanted to concentrate on his club career as he felt he would be unlikely to get much action as “to be fair to the gaffer, he wants to make it more youthful”.

He had taken a decision that the likes of Shearer, David Beckham and many others besides have taken in the past. These days, an extra few years in the Premier League can furnish a player with the funds to secure the future of his family and probably the next generation, too.

All quite sensible and adult, and Southgate, a very careful constructor of esprit de corps, may wish to avoid the mistakes Fabio Capello made ahead of the 2010 World Cup when he attempted to get Paul Scholes out of a six-year international retirement, while Jamie Carragher and Ledley King both dusted off their England blazers for South Africa, and none too successfully while younger players were left laid up at home.

However, the Jamie Vardy that walked away from England in August 2019 is not the player who ends 2019 outscoring the world game’s best forwards.

Since Brendan Rodgers arrived at Leicester in February, Vardy has scored 25 goals, two more than Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski, and has scored 16 goals in 16 Premier League matches this season.

Rodgers’ continuing impact on Leicester’s young players has been made apparent in the performances this season of the likes of Ben Chilwell, Harvey Barnes, Youri Tielemans and James Maddison. Another facet of his man-management skills is his ability to improve players at the other end of their careers.

At Leicester, Jonny Evans and Vardy are the latest examples of that horse-whispering quality.

A political animal to the end, Rodgers will always try his best to win over his clubs’ senior players. Both Steven Gerrard and Scott Brown, his captains at Liverpool and Celtic, were beneficiaries of his cajolery and converted into different players.

Though Gerrard was the unfortunate fall-guy in Liverpool’s failed 2013-14 title challenge, he had been switched to a deeper midfield role that suited the physical limitations that had been brought to bear on his previous box-to-box game. And it worked just fine until fate and Demba Ba arrived on the scene.

When Rodgers arrived at Leicester, he did so in succession to Claude Puel, whose own relationship with Vardy had broken down. When asked this week about Vardy this week, Puel was less than effusive.

“Jamie is a good man but sometimes he is like a child: he needs support, he needs attention. It was difficult for me because I was not English, it was difficult to share and explain all my feelings with him.”

Rodgers is a different type of manager to the rather dour Frenchman.

He is happy to blow smoke up the rear ends of players if it suits his own – and his team’s – ends. Luis Suarez at Liverpool was just such a player at Liverpool. And the Northern Irishman has made Vardy into a very different player by gentle husbandry.

The snarling berserker of Leicester’s 2015-16 title win has been converted into a sleek, clinical goal machine. Vardy was the embodiment of Ranieri’s champions, setting the standards by hounding defenders and haring around the field. He was a pest that could not be extinguished.

These days, the running is pared down, the touches on the ball are much reduced.

Vardy has amended the diet that saw him indulge in sweets, energy drinks and vodka to keep the post-30 weight off, and now chooses his moments to chase the ball. He has also become deadly in the penalty box. His first goal against Aston Villa last Sunday in Leicester’s 4-1 win was a study in composure.

He did not even allow himself to be put off by a slight mis-kick and righted himself to score. It was a goal that felt a long time coming but it was a near-inevitability when he arrived on the scene. And his second was yet more clinical.

With the likes of Barnes, Maddison, Kelechi Iheanacho and Ayoze Perez around him, the running is being done for him, when back in 2016 it was he and Riyad Mahrez, ably supported by Shinji Okazaki, who were providing the thrust.

Vardy is rarely popular with opposing fans and takes his fair share of barracking.

Unfortunately for those dissenters, it often makes him play better, and particularly when his wife Rebekah is targeted.

Two years ago against Tottenham, just as Spurs fans were making uncharitable comments about his wife’s appearance on “I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here”, he scored one of the greatest goals of his career, an improvised flying volley.

His latest scoring run, eight in eight consecutive games, closes on the 11-game streak he set in that 2015-16 season, and began just as Rebekah had been accused by Colleen Rooney of being in cahoots with tabloid newspapers in an infamous tweet. “It’s…Rebekah Vardy” may be the social media post of the century but a by-product would appear to be her husband’s determination to celebrate goals by cupping his ears in front of opposition fans.

At 32, coming up 33 next month, Vardy is as relentless as ever, forging on in a way that proved beyond the likes of Shearer and Beckham, but he’s also different and more effective.

Southgate has never quite closed the door on an England return, and with Euro 2020 group stage taking place on home soil, a call should not be ruled out. And nor should it be.

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