Sitting down with Jamie Vardy is always an experience with an edge: you, watching him, watching you. His was the last vacant chair in a circle when he arrived to talk at St George’s Park on Monday and the comment he passed on that seating arrangement made it clear that he felt an inquisition awaited.
Spiky is the way he likes it to be, though. The casual way Vardy mentioned the death threats he says he has suffered since Claudio Ranieiri’s sacking – “Did you just say ‘death threats?” someone in the circle asked – made it abundantly clear that he considers the slings and arrows to be all a part of the turf. The notion of his children being in the back of the car when motorists cut up his wife, Rebekah, is shocking, if true, though he was phlegmatic about that.
Even when Vardy stepped up to receive the Football Writers' Association Player of the Year award in London last May, you sensed it was as much as he could to withhold his feelings about the reporting of his colourful life off the field. On Monday, the lack of artifice – no tan, a rather tight-fitting training kit and certainly no script being adhered to – was striking, amid the more bronzed, better media-trained English stars who appeared to discuss the merits of playing for Gareth Southgate.
Yet the maverick, off-the-cuff tendency makes Vardy more popular across the English nation than he actually suspects. Last summer’s strains of ‘Jamie Vardy’s having a party’ - echoing through the streets of whichever French town England happened to wash up in - said most about what he represents to many: a player lacking the usual plastic Premier League pomp and ceremony, who played non-league football and landed late in the big time. When we encountered him leaving the stadium after England’s game against Wales in Lens last summer, someone asked when he last lifted a weight in the gym. "Probably that can of Red Bull the other day," Vardy replied.
It is hard to avoid the sense that this Vardy spirit is what the national team need most, as we embark on yet another ‘new beginning’ under Southgate’s permanent management.
The player’s claim on a starting place in Dortmund is enhanced, of course, by the substantial contribution he played in the 3-2 against Germany in Berlin last year, with his backheel from Nathaniel Clyne’s cross. But Vardy also knows more than anyone else in the England ranks how to win against all expectation and he put his finger on a very significant commodity on Monday when assessing Leicester’s title-winning season.
“We were just enjoying ourselves,” he said. “But I think when you come with England, from a media point of view, the spotlight’s put on you 100 times to what it would be at club level.” Enjoyment is precisely what Wales experienced in France last summer. If Southgate could choose one commodity to break England’s joyless spiral of tournament failure then it should be this.
Vardy is the Everyman who would probably cherished above all others if England can excel in Russia next summer, though you suspect he’d exude the same prickliness, even then. Had that Hollywood film actually been made about him yet, he was asked as he left the room. “You tell me,” he said. “I’ve not got the slightest idea.”