When Jamie Vardy turned down the offer to join Arsenal before the start of the 2016-17 Premier League campaign, the common consensus was that he had made the wrong decision.
The belief was that Leicester City’s fairytale Premier League triumph was a one-off and with Arsenal, Vardy could take the next step to further his career.
Fasttrack to 2020 and Vardy just finished the 2019-20 season as the Premier League’s top-scorer with 23 goals ahead of Arsenal skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s 22 strikes.
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While rumours circle over Aubameyang’s future with Arsenal, Vardy will continue to stay with Leicester just like he did in the summer of 2016. In doing so, Vardy represents a minority of footballers who aren’t necessarily seduced by the grandeur that comes with big European clubs.
When he snubbed Arsenal in 2016, he said it was an ‘easy’ decision. "I've always said the brotherhood at Leicester is unbelievable. Personally I feel I have a lot of unfinished business here. It wasn't that big a decision, it was quite easy, this is where I wanted to be," Vardy said at the time.
And one glance at the Premier League standings at the end of the 2019-20 campaign further vindicates the English striker’s decision, with Leicester City in fifth spot and in next season’s Europa League, while Arsenal finished eighth and must win their FA Cup final clash against Chelsea for a spot in Europe next season.
However, there was no way of knowing how things would pan out back in 2016 and it was a brave decision by Vardy – who recently bagged and then went past the 100 Premier League goals mark – to stay with the Foxes.
But upon closer inspection, it’s not that difficult to understand why Vardy chose to stay where he had established himself. Lest we forget, that here’s a player who spent most of his early career in lower leagues with clubs like Stocksbridge Park Steels, FC Halifax Town and Fleetwood Town.
The mere fact that he had made it to the Premier League with Leicester was an achievement at the time. Add to that, a Premier League winners medal unlike any other and it’s not that difficult to understand the bond he shares with the Foxes.
Of course, snubbing a club that’s considered a part of the traditional European elite isn’t for everyone as his teammates Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante demonstrated by joining Manchester City and Chelsea respectively.
Vardy’s bond with Leicester, though, represents so much more. Things haven’t always been upbeat following his decision to stay in the East Midlands, with Leicester going through their fair share of lows on and off the pitch.
The tragic death of club owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha after his helicopter crashed outside the King Power Stadium was perhaps his lowest moment but the club stuck together as always and returned stronger following the appointment of present manager, Brendan Rodgers.
Under Rodgers, Vardy seems to be enjoying a new lease of life and finished as top-scorer in the league – another achievement he himself never thought was possible.
With Leicester preparing for European football next season, Vardy will have another shot at a dream he never thought was possible – a European trophy.
Just like the Premier League title and the Golden Boot before, the thought of Leicester winning the Europa League may seem farfetched at first. However, the same could have been said about him playing in the Premier League while he was leading Fleetwood Town’s frontline.
Vardy will be 34 years of age next year and will be entering the twilight of his career. The Premier League Player of the Season for 2015-16 won’t have many more chances of winning silverware between now and the end of his career.
So, considering the rebuild that Mikel Arteta is set to start at Arsenal, Vardy can be safe in the knowledge that he’s a part of a more cohesive team as the clock winds down on an incredible career.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing but even without it, Vardy’s decision to turn down the Gunners is vindicated as he prepares to lead Leicester’s frontline to glory in next season’s Europa League – a competition that Arsenal may not even be a part of.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Shaun Botterill