With 17 goals in 18 matches, Jamie Vardy of Leicester is at the moment Premiership League’s highest scorer.
He has scored in all but one of his last nine league games. But unknown to many, Super Eagles’ Wilfred Ndidi has been the support that Vardy needed.
According to Daily Mail, both Vardy and Ndidi have been working together to make the former a lethal striker.
Vardy is only three short of 100 Premier League goals and needs seven more to match his tally from Leicester’s title-winning season four years ago.
But he is not concerned only with his own finishing. The 32-year-old striker has been passing on tips during training sessions, with midfielder Wilfred Ndidi in particular grateful for the lessons.
Vardy has been schooling his team-mates on when to shoot first-time, when to take a touch, when to hit the ball with power and when to use precision.
‘He’s not just doing it for himself, he’s doing it for the team,’ said Ndidi. ‘Before the game he’s always there to tell me how to hit the ball.
‘Because he’s a goalscorer, he gives this advice to me and some other players. So he’s just there to guide us. He used to tell me ‘don’t strike!’ but now he tells me ‘don’t strike just pass it!’
Vardy’s own performances this year prove his advice is worth following.
The decision to work smart, rather than simply working hard, has been key to Vardy’s evolution.
A vivid memory of Leicester’s unforgettable 2015-16 campaign is Vardy constantly on the move: chasing balls over the top; closing down defenders or sprinting into space in anticipation of a lofted pass from Danny Drinkwater.
Vardy is still diligent — but smarter. He is the trigger for Leicester’s counter-pressing game: when he moves towards the man on the ball, the rest of the team move with him but he knows he must save his legs for when it really matters.
He still thrives on needle from opposition fans, too. Fielders used to be wary of sledging the great West Indies batsman Brian Lara in case it made him more determined. Rival clubs’ fans would do well to follow a similar rule with Vardy.
‘He’s so honest that he’d press the entire back four if he could,’ said Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers.
‘He plays an aggressive game that suits him with tactical ideas that allow him to conserve his energy.
‘How we play, being aggressive and playing quickly obviously suits him. But his finishing ability, how clinical he is, is absolutely phenomenal. That’s a big testament to his concentration. When the opportunities come he’s always ready.’
Rodgers says Vardy ‘never misses a training session’ and even though he is well over 30, his numbers in pre-season were particularly impressive.
They were 21 per cent better than in 2012, his first year at Leicester, with his body fat measuring 7.5 per cent and sprints that registered 9.3 metres per second on the GPS monitor.
He has little appetite for gym work, preferring to stay lean and mean, and has maintained a pre-match routine that includes omelettes, Red Bulls and espressos.
Vardy’s decision to retire from international football in 2018 has benefited him, too. Instead of following a different training regime with England, Vardy can do exactly what is required to keep himself in peak shape.
‘I retired because I needed to rest up, I needed to keep the legs fresh,’ he told Amazon recently. ‘I had seven weeks off to prepare for the new season.’
While his former England colleagues were securing qualification for Euro 2020, Vardy was spending parts of international breaks in Dubai with his family to rest for the challenges ahead.
‘He’s thinking all the time,’ Rodgers added. ‘Jamie looks after his body and when you get to his age, recovery is critical.’
Vardy played in the European Championship four years ago, as well as at the 2018 World Cup, and may have a decision to make this summer if the call comes from Gareth Southgate.
Either way, he looks a solid bet to end the season as the oldest winner of the Premier League’s Golden Boot.