Leicester’s non-league revelation Jamie Vardy has officially launched his V9 Academy in Manchester. Now in contention for the Premier League golden boot, Vardy was plying his trade in the non-league tiers of English football just a few years ago, but now looks set to represent his country at Euro 2016.
With the creation of Vardy’s new academy platform, the England striker has vowed to give non-league players the same opportunity to follow in his footsteps and change their lives dramatically. The talent development process will offer ambitious players from outside the Football League, the opportunity to experience professional coaching and conditioning.
The V9 Academy will utilise the start-of-the-art facilities provided at Manchester City’s Etihad campus, providing the grassroots players with a once in a lifetime opportunity to impress talent scouts from across Europe.
Applications for a prized place in the process have already opened, with the initial intake of 42 promising players set to state their claim for a place in the Premier League at the Etihad Academy Campus next summer. Vardy has assured applicants that the week-long residential courses will be completely free.
Leicester’s star striker is all too familiar with the typical academy process after being released by Sheffield Wednesday at the age of 16 for being ‘too small’. Vardy’s long road from the fields of non-league football with Stocksbridge Park Steels, to the heights of the Premier League championship is a story that should be used as an inspiration:
“I don’t think anyone can be told if they’re good enough at 15 or 16, when you still have so many years to grow and develop. I had a growth spurt two months later so who knows what difference it would have made.
“I doubted myself as soon as I got released. It was my boyhood club, I had made them the highlight of everything. To be told at that age I was not big enough or strong enough was hard to take.”
Vardy’s personal life changing tale began at Stocksbridge, in the days when the troubled footballer had to wear an electronic tag on his ankle after being charged with assault. Vardy had been considering dropping out of football completely, but eventually rediscovered his passion for the game at the tiny South Yorkshire club, pushing them through the leagues with his goalscoring potency.
After demonstrating a consistent goalscoring nouse, Halifax moved for Vardy in the summer of 2010 and signed him for £20,000. He went on to score 27 goals in a remarkable season, guiding Halifax to promotion in his first season before moving to Fleetwood a year later, where his goals secured yet another promotion.
“You never forget your non-league days, turning up to away dressing rooms and getting changed in a PortaKabin. Or one shower for whole squad, which was freezing after ten minutes so you had to make sure to be first one in. Whether it’s a low or high, the roots you come from keep you grounded.”
Leicester bought him in May 2012 for £1million, which still stands as a non-league record fee. It didn’t take long for Vardy to make his mark and he is now renowned as one of the best strikers in the Premier League, if not all of Europe. Vardy is ready to give something back:
“Where I come from, what I’ve had to do, the hard work to get to where I am, it is right to give something back with the Academy.
“There’s probably hundreds that have been told the same and had to drop down as well. Hopefully we can find them, get them to the academy and get them through.”
Vardy’s story is a testament to the failings of the traditional academy and scouting structures. It’s incredible to think that a player can move from club to club, securing successive promotions by scoring 30-odd goals a season and not attract the interests of the Premier League’s biggest clubs.
The V9 academy certainly offers a refreshing alternative to aspiring non-league footballers, who were banished from the traditional development system – often through no fault of their own.
It shouldn’t have required the coat-tails of a non-league success to set-up such a revolutionary academy, it’s an initiative the F.A should have had in place for years. Whilst Jamie Vardy’s scheme offers a truly admirable platform for aspiring players to completely change their lives, it also highlights the void the F.A is failing to fill between the top flight and grassroots levels.