Despite spending most of his career playing non-league football, Jamie Vardy has been a revelation since he signed for Leicester City back in 2012, scoring 21 goals this season for both his club and country.
Vardy has been an integral part of the team that has taken the Premier League by storm and the possibility of him being a league champion by the end of the season is looking more and more likely. But how did this player get ignored for so long and what does it tell us about the state of English football?
It’s often been seen as a dichotomy for any English football fan: you can either have a successful club side or a successful national side, but you can’t have both.
England is home to some of the world’s most successful clubs, clubs that have been a major force on the European landscape for years. Yet the national side has been mediocre at best and dire at its worst since the 1990s. But this problem is not accepted in Europe’s most recent superpowers: Germany and Spain. Bayern Munich and Barcelona are giants of the game, but at the same time their respective national sides have won European Championships and World Cups.
Both Bayern Munich and Barcelona have foreign players with their squads, but both sides also have a strong spine of either German or Spanish players, some of the best players that they have to offer.
When you look at the 2010 World Cup winning squad, seven players came from Barcelona. In Germany’s 2014 victorious squad, seven players were from Bayern Munich. In England’s latest squad, the biggest contingent is provided by Liverpool with five players, but the Reds are having a season to forget after bringing in Jurgen Klopp halfway through the season, and currently lie in ninth place in the league.
England’s wealthiest clubs are increasingly relying on foreign imports and rather than handing out opportunities to young English talent when injury or loss of form strikes senior players, they are bringing in youngsters with potential from other countries. France’s Anthony Martial has been impressive for Manchester United since he was signed by Louis Van Gaal, but their squad has a number of young English players that are not handed games to show what they can do.
So when Jamie Vardy – a player discarded by Sheffield Wednesday at a young age – suddenly betters all before him in the Premier League and looks an international player through and through, what does this say about the quality of scouting networks at England’s greatest clubs? What does it say about the quality of the academies at England’s top clubs? Similarly, when Leicester’s Danny Drinkwater plays so consistently and so wonderfully for his club all season, one has to wonder why Manchester United had loaned him out to a veritable plethora of team during his four years at the club.
The argument in favour of selecting foreign players is that they raise the quality of the league and ensure only the best young English players rise to the top, but a lack of any real success for the England national team and a lack of Champions League trophies since 2007 would suggest otherwise.
In the case of Dele Alli, he had spent most of his fledgling career at Championship side MK Dons, but since signing for Tottenham he has flourished and has been a revelation for the national team. These players show there is genuine talent in the lower leagues of English football, but they’re being cast aside in favour of foreign-born players.
Although the English clubs are under no real obligation to develop English international players, the fact that both Tottenham and Leicester are dominating the league this season suggests there is considerable benefit to English clubs by developing young English talent.
After all, it has not damaged the reputations of the aforementioned Bayern Munich and Barcelona, in fact selecting their nation’s greatest young footballing talent or purchasing it from other clubs has only served to strengthen their sides.
Vardy, Drinkwater and Alli are just a few of the names that are helping to turn England into more of a force at international level. Add in the likes of Harry Kane and Ross Barkley and suddenly the national side has a core of players that could see it challenge the top teams in Europe and beyond for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps it would be wise now for England’s biggest teams to start looking inwards rather than outwards and giving more of their young players a chance, as they are likely to be watching either Leicester or Tottenham lift the Premier League trophy this season.