Vardy is Leicester's leader from the front – and worth another year

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Vardy is Leicester's leader from the front - and worth another year

As the board was held aloft and Jamie Vardy stood primed to enter the fray with 18 minutes to go, a roar went up in the away end in the corner at Vicarage Road.

It was quickly drowned out by a cacophony of boos from the rest of the ground. Vardy hadn’t even touched the ball, but his reputation precedes him. There’s his ability to harass defenders with relentless tenacity, to wind up home fans with some well-timed s***housery and — ultimately, what he is best known for — put the ball in the net.

He is the player the opposition fans love to hate but secretly wish he had played for them, and the one player the Leicester fans wish they could keep forever. Great players have come and gone down the years, but Vardy has stayed. Now, aged 37, he is in the final year of his contract but Leicester fans aren’t ready to say goodbye.

Among their away-day repertoire during the 2-1 win was a call for ‘10 more years’ of Vardy. Even by Vardy’s freakish genetics, that won’t be possible. He’s more Peter Pan than Benjamin Button.

But one more year? It is possible. And there is a case for that to happen. Even Vardy can’t defy Father Time completely, but he has shown this season that, when used correctly, he still has skills to offer. It’s something Enzo Maresca doesn’t have in any of his other attacking options — and he has a few of those.

Vardy scores goals: 10 in 23 appearances this season. So does Patson Daka, who took his tally to seven in 10 league appearances, having played just one minute in the Championship until December 9.

Vardy holds the ball up and links play, but not as well as Kelechi Iheanacho, in Maresca’s view. Vardy still has plenty of running in him, but not as much as 21-year-old Tom Cannon.

But when Vardy came on against Watford, he showed what he still brings to the party: passion, aggression and a determination not to take a single step backwards when facing a challenge.

He was booked in the closing stages as Leicester were holding onto a slender lead after clashing with Watford captain Wesley Hoedt. Vardy went forehead to forehead with the 6ft 2in (188cm) Dutchman when he took umbrage with some typical Vardy aggression as he chased and harried the Watford defence, single-handedly at times.

(Kieran Cleeves/PA Images via Getty Images)

His mission was to disrupt but also set an example to those around him as Leicester had to dig in and show another side.

Ricardo Pereira’s goal to put Leicester 2-0 up displayed everything good about Maresca’s idea: the break from the back, the speed at which they chewed up the ground and the sublime interchange of passes between Pereira and Abdul Fatawu before the former swept the ball home.

At this stage, after Patson Daka’s early penalty — Leicester’s 11th of the season which maintained their 100 per cent conversion rate from the spot — the visitors were in control.

But then, after Harry Winks’ uncharacteristic gift to the hosts, which saw Emmanuel Dennis score, Leicester were on the back foot, having to dig in and battle, defending cross after cross into their box. Luckily, in Vardy, they had their relentless leader from the front.

“Jamie showed that not only can he score goals, but the way he works off the ball… it was a moment that we needed to suffer altogether,” Maresca says. “We have to finish the season in the right way and when our future is clear then we can look at the contracts and make the right decision for everyone.”

With Leicester 12 points clear of third-placed Leeds United with 15 games to go, they are edging closer to an instant return to the Premier League and they have to start planning.

Maresca has said it is hard to carry four strikers when he only uses one, and it will be interesting to see who is the one to miss out when Kelechi Iheanacho returns from the Africa Cup of Nations.

Out wide, Fatawu is inching closer to making his loan from Sporting Lisbon permanent, and he has shown his potential this season, leading the stats on crosses, chances created and passes into the box. His future at the club should be confirmed soon. Stephy Mavididi is a goal threat off the opposite flank, with 10 goals this season. Kasey McAteer is versatile, able to play off either flank and as a No 8. He has been a welcome surprise package. All three, plus Daka and Cannon have youth on their side too.

Both Vardy and Iheanacho are free agents this summer and some big decisions will need to be made with one eye on the Premier League.

It might be seen as an emotional decision with the heart ruling the head to give Vardy another year, but considering Maresca’s options right now, and seeing what he offers when used in bursts, there is still an important role that Vardy plays.

Vardy’s status in club folklore is assured. This was his 450th appearance for the club (370 starts and 80 substitute appearances), which puts him sixth in Leicester’s all-time appearance list and just 10 behind Hughie Adcock and Mark Wallington on 460. He may have seen this as possibly his last season in a Leicester shirt but he would also love to add more goals to his Premier League tally of 136 and has no intention of retiring.

As shown on Saturday, when Vardy comes on the pitch all eyes are on him — and not just from the stands. His team-mates look to him because he sets the example.

(Top photo: Kieran Cleeves/PA Images via Getty Images)