To 100 goals … and beyond? Jamie Vardy closes in on Premier League landmark

When Jamie Vardy said he spent lockdown learning how to grow things in his garden, a million jokes about runner beans immediately sprouted. But, of course, the irony about the career of a player known for his lightning speed is that it took a long time to get going.

Since he hit his stride, there has been no stopping him, and on Saturday he hopes to prove that point by scoring his 100th Premier League goal, against a Watford side managed by Nigel Pearson, who went out on a limb to salvage the former factory worker eight years ago, signing him from Fleetwood Town, the then Conference champions.

Ian Wright and Les Ferdinand became Premier League striking centurions after graduating from non-league but they made the move aged 21, whereas Vardy did not become a Football League player until he was 25, when Pearson paid £1m to bring him to Leicester, then in the Championship.

That decision has long since been vindicated, so the manager now trying to plot a route to survival for Watford will hardly need gratification in the form of a landmark goal by Vardy at Vicarage Road. But he will know that some things are hard to avoid, and the reason people keep highlighting Vardy’s obscurity-to-stardom story is that defenders have not yet figured out how to bring it to an end.

Time will eventually take its toll but so far there has been no sign of a slowdown from the striker who turned 33 in January. He is on course for the Premier League’s golden boot, top scorer this season with 19 goals.

Jamie Vardy and Nigel Pearson

Vardy with Pearson in 2015. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/AFP/Getty Images

Brendan Rodgers, Leicester’s manager, says: “I know [Vardy] has huge respect for Nigel and I’m sure he’s looking forward to seeing him. He was the one who took him out of non-league football at 25 and gave him an opportunity. At the time it was for a fee that a number of clubs might have balked at but he took him and the rest is history. In their time working together – and I’m sure Nigel has also seen it from afar – [Vardy] has continued to get better and better.”

Rodgers has helped Vardy to hone his game after a period of slightly diminishing returns under Claude Puel. By trimming fruitless runs the striker has learned to maximise his threat within Leicester’s evolving team. Rodgers declares himself grateful the player remains as eager as ever to progress. “His is a phenomenal story and shows you the talent and everything the guy has in terms of spirit and drive. There’s no doubt he will get his 100th goal soon and I’m pretty sure he will go well beyond that. He still has the hunger and he is super-fit and looks after himself.”

Although Vardy’s lifestyle earlier in his career was hardly textbook material – his autobiography was enlivened by tales of quaffing port the night before matches during Leicester’s title-winning season, and a prior habit of lacing his vodka with dissolved Skittles – he has become an example for Leicester’s younger players. Rodgers says the striker, along with fellow stalwarts such as Kasper Schmeichel, Wes Morgan and Christian Fuchs (that last pair extended their contracts this week despite no longer being regular starters), will be key in helping Leicester hold their nerve as they strive to keep a top-four place.

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“[Vardy] and the other senior players are very inspirational in our team,” says Rodgers. “He’s very focused on achieving the goals we set out at the beginning of the season. He’s a brilliant professional and when the games come along you see his readiness. This is a guy who has inspired this club over a number of years and I’d like to think every player that comes across him he really supports and gives them that confidence because of how he works.”

Rodgers is relishing the restart. “This is the real exciting part of the season. There’s no getting away from it in this last period, it’s a case of neutralising that pressure. They can go and enjoy it.”