Jamie Vardy’s shot at golden boot is one of season’s great unfinished subplots | Barney Ronay | Football

There have been a lot of lists doing the rounds this week of the best foods to boost your immune system. These seem to be mainly things such as oily fish, yoghurt, spinach, elderberries, ginger and raw shaved garlic, although having followed these ingredients to the letter I can confirm they don’t actually make for a very nice sandwich.

From a Premier League perspective there are some notable absences from the roster of miracle foods. Cheese and ham omelettes. Shotgunned cans of Red Bull. Skittles dissolved in vodka. Chewing tobacco. Watered-down port drunk from an old Lucozade bottle.

Basically it’s worth considering anything that has, according to his own tales of pre-match intake, gone into the making of Jamie Vardy, who qualifies these days as one of the most enduring, age-resistant elite-level athletes in Europe; albeit one whose career has also been left in a particularly strange state of tension by the sporting hiatus.

It still feels a little odd to keep talking about the Premier League season as a robust and meaningful entity. In reality it doesn’t matter if the league is cancelled or postponed, or if Liverpool are actually awarded the league title.

Mainly because the human race is being menaced by a murderous plague and the world economy is about to collapse. But also because the trophy is just a symbolic reward for being the best team that season. Liverpool have so clearly been the best that to obsess over the actual pot is to lose yourself in needless literalism, which of course nobody in football would ever do.

But there are still some unresolved questions. Spare a thought for Vardy, whose own season is one of the great unfinished subplots. It has been a slightly strange one. Vardy has 19 league goals, mainly clumped into 17 in 16 games from August to December. That run was followed by no goals in nine games, coincidently just after stories appeared suggesting Vardy had actually reformed his omelette and Red Bull intake after advice from (spare me) leading sport nutritionists.

Four days before the season was finally put into cold storage he managed to burp out a couple in a 4-0 home win against Aston Villa, putting him safely out in front in the race for the Premier League golden boot.

There is a rather overlooked addendum to this achievement. Should Vardy end up top of that list he would be the oldest top scorer in the English top tier since Ronnie Rooke of Arsenal in 1948.

Rooke scored 33 goals and turned 37 halfway through the season. Very few 30-somethings have topped the list since. The vast majority have been in their early or mid-20s. Vardy will be 33 and a half at the season’s scheduled end date.

Jamie Vardy

Vardy celebrates scoring Leicester’s fourth goal against Manchester United in 2014. Photograph: Clive Rose/Getty Images

There is something about the manner of this feat as much as its execution. Vardy isn’t simply hanging on. He hasn’t changed, hasn’t settled. His first yard isn’t in his head these days. It’s still right there in his feet, powered by Tic Tacs and Skittles, a man who still plays as if he wants to devour the day.

It is the same quality that was there in his Premier League debut against Manchester United five and a half years ago. United had Wayne Rooney, Radamel Falcao and Robin van Persie in attack that day. They went 3-1 up. At which stage the combined Premier League goal tallies read Rooney-RVP-Falcao 310, Vardy nil.

By the end Vardy had made four and scored one and Leicester had won 5-3. He’d run away from United’s defenders so easily they seemed to have been reduced to tiny little red-shirted figurines, Lego men left out in the middle of all that green space. He dished up the first Premier League sighting of the classic Vardy finish, all brusque, high-speed impudence. At the time we thought Leicester’s victory was telling us something calamitous about United. In fact it was telling us something glorious about Vardy.

Vardy started Leicester’s next 45 league games. They won the title. He now has 99 top-flight goals. For a while people said he’d benefitted from missing the rigours of junior pro academy life, as though this was some kind of supercharged foundling, discovered haring around the local scrub ground like a fly trapped behind a roller blind.

But Vardy has also developed as a player. He still plays as though he’s just come vaulting over the advert boards chased by farmers and policemen in old heavy serge uniforms, here to steal the lettuces and goose the goalkeeper before haring off down the high street to his getaway scooter. But he is a more complete version of himself these days, finding deeper gears, making different runs, creating as well as scoring.

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And so to the break. What is it going to do to Vardy, or indeed to all those overripe high-end talents pushing the limits of their own physique? Vardy has just kept running through all this. But he will turn 34 in January. He’s a year older than Lionel Messi, three years older than Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and seven years older than Harry Kane.

Perhaps the enforced rest will allow all of these players to reset and recover from long-term pain. There is a handy precedent. Rooke had seven years away from football during the war years, six of those spent as an RAF PT instructor.

Still, though, the Vardy Supremacy feels distinct, a standalone feat of will and physicality. There hasn’t really been a career such as this in modern times, a late-bloom affair that just keeps on coming, which deserves, when we get going again, a shot at that boundary-pushing golden boot. And which is, in these times of interruption and store-cupboard lockdown, still quietly cheering.

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