INSIDE FOOTBALL WITH: James Scowcroft - Why Jamie Vardy and Leicester City are top of the charts

Inside Football

Former Premier League striker James Scowcroft, now a coach and scout, looks at the current exploits of his former club, Leicester City. 

I was a Leicester City player the season when Ruud van Nistelrooy started his run which would see him score in 10 consecutive league matches. 

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Early on in the 2003-04 season, his Manchester United team came to play us and beat us 4-1. He got a hat-trick and at the end I remember when I asked to swap shirts. 

We’d lost and the mood wasn’t great so I had to be careful, especially as we were under orders not to swap. The Dutchman gave me his shirt but I had to hide it in a store cupboard near the changing room. Someone nicked it.

Later that season, Van Nistelrooy began his record breaking stint. I never thought that it would be a Leicester City player who matched it, but Jamie Vardy has done that. And he could beat it on Saturday against United.

I didn’t expect Leicester City to finish in the top half of the table this season, but I can see several reasons why they are currently sitting in first place, having only lost one of their opening 13 games. 

One is that not all of the usual top eight are standing out in what’s a relatively poor Premier League. They’ve all had bumps.

Two, smaller clubs like Leicester aren’t actually small any more. They play in the Premier League, the world’s richest. They have huge amounts of money to buy and sell and to keep hold of their best players. Smaller clubs used to lose money; they had to sell their best players. Not now.

Leicester can also afford the wages of big namers from large European clubs like Esteban Cambiasso from Inter last season. They can also offer players minutes. What would you do, be on the bench at a bigger club or play every week at Leicester? Believe it or not, footballers like to start matches and many get frustrated when they don’t.

Leicester worked hard under Nigel Pearson - that’s training seven days a week - and they’re doing the same under Claudio Ranieri. His appointment was initially criticised, including by Leicester fan Gary Lineker. Not now.

The Foxes have a strong spine of men who’ve not only been at the club years, but have played through the divisions as they rose from League One. Kasper Schmeichel, Wes Morgan, Danny Drinkwater and, famously, Vardy, have all played lower level football. 

They’re good lads who can set the tone in the dressing room, they’re not going to give up on the Premier League easily. They’ve seen a harder side of football; they’re game in more ways than one.  

Leicester’s average home crowd is 32,000 and that crowd creates one of the best atmospheres of all the new stadiums. 

I played at Filbert St and the new stadium while I was at the club. The former had two big stands and two tiny stands with low roofs for the noise to escape. The new ground has 10,000 more seats and it’s all enclosed. 

With first class cricket and the best supported rugby team in England, Leicester is a huge sporting city. Their away following is first class too – it helps when you play in the middle of the country.  

Many of the same backroom personnel are still at the club as when I played there under Martin O’Neill: the kitman, physios, the academy director. Leicester may have Thai owners, but the tone in the dressing room is set by long standing members of staff who’ve lived locally for years.

Leicester have also scouted well and winger Riyad Mahrez was playing in the second division in France with Le Havre when he signed in 2014. There are not many Premier League teams who’d take a risk on such a player - because it is a risk - but foresight and luck can work together with impressive results.

Not forgetting Vardy, who is making all the headlines. I’ve watched Vardy for years and he hasn’t changed his game. He runs onto the ball and plays off the defender’s shoulder. 

It’s an old fashioned way of playing and not the norm among teams obsessed by possession, but I can’t recall a player as effective at doing this since Michael Owen in his prime. 

Because Vardy’s so quick, opposing teams can’t squeeze Leicester. If they play a high line then Vardy will blitz them for pace and exploit them, so teams have to play deeper, which suits Leicester just fine. 

Vardy is the leading goalscorer in the richest league in the world, four clear of his nearest rival and having scored as many as United’s top five scorers combined, yet before the end of March this year, he’d managed only one goal in the Premier League last season. 

He clicked and his team clicked at exactly the same time as they stayed up by winning seven of their last nine games. 

He’s exactly the type of player who Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea need at the moment. He can show that against United on Saturday, just as he did last season in that famous 5-3 win. 

If Saturday’s game is half as good then we’re in for a treat.

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