Jamie Vardy’s combination of talent and hard work sums up Leicester City’s title charge, according to former defender Simon Grayson.
Claudio Ranieri’s side have been central to one of the Premier League’s great stories this season, with their 3-1 victory at Manchester City last week putting them five points clear at the top of the table.
Vardy has been central to Leicester’s stunning form, scoring 18 goals in the top flight – 11 of which came in consecutive games which saw him break Ruud van Nistelrooy’s long-standing record.
Yet Grayson, who enjoyed great success with Leicester as a player between 1992 and 1997, believes Vardy’s attitude permeates throughout the squad and makes him far more than a goalscorer.
He told Omnisport: “I met him last summer, I had a chat with him. Real down-to-earth lad, enjoying the experience of being at Leicester. He hasn’t taken anything for granted.
“He’s worked extremely hard and when’s got the chance he’s grabbed it with both hands. He epitomises the whole football club. It’s not just his goals, but what he does – you see him enjoying what he’s doing.
“He’s a fantastic example for younger players. It’s a fantastic story and he deserves everything he gets.”
The incredible story of Vardy’s rise from non-league obscurity to England international has even been mooted as a possible Hollywood blockbuster – and Grayson knows who the 29-year-old would want in the starring role.
“Knowing Jamie he’d probably want Brad Pitt to play him!” said the Preston North End manager.
“There are some players in the Premier League who may not have reached the heights of Vardy in terms of the record, or playing for England, but they’re playing in the league. Look at Dwight Gayle, who went to Peterborough and then on to others. There are fine examples of younger players who lose their way a little bit, but they’ve got the talent and then something clicks.
“They’re a great example to a lot of kids, showing they can still have a career even if they get released.”
Last February, Leicester were five points adrift of safety at the foot of the Premier League table before former manager Nigel Pearson led them on a remarkable run in which they won seven of their last nine matches to beat the drop.
And Grayson believes Pearson does not necessarily get the credit he deserves for restoring both the form and morale of the squad prior to this season’s sensational performances.
“I think Nigel [Pearson] deserves a lot of credit because he more or less performed a miracle to keep them in the Premier League,” said the 46-year-old.
“It’s like a team that’s been promoted – you’ve got a real good-feel factor about the city, the place, and that transmits over the summer, and they bring in another manager with very good experience at the top level.
“They hit the ground running which kept momentum going. The spirit of the club has been good for many many years, but they’ve carried it forward and they’re enjoying it, because up until now they’ve had no expectancy levels.
“They’ve got this wave going, the fans and the players are thriving on it. The spirit the players are showing is very similar to when we were there. We had five visits to Wembley and the players worked so hard together.
“We’d socialise off the pitch but work for each other on it. We knew that, if somebody got out of position, somebody would cover and chase and tackle for you. You can see that this season. They don’t get on each other’s backs, they try to encourage everything.
“They’re a team, not individuals, and that’s a massive part of the success of any football club.”
Grayson lifted the League Cup in 1997 as part of Martin O’Neill’s popular side of the time, and he offered some words of advice for Ranieri’s squad as they continue their title chase.
“Just keep doing what you’ve been doing: play with a smile on your face, go out without a care in the world. There’s far more pressure on the teams trying to catch them,” he added.
“When we got promoted we won the League Cup and finished ninth in the Premier League that year. Martin O’Neill just said ‘keep doing what you’ve been doing, don’t worry about other factors because you can’t affect that’.”