Vardy to Foxes: Stick together

Leicester striker Jamie Vardy believes that the season's turning point came when the players were given a week off to recharge after they were knocked out of the FA Cup by Tottenham in February.
Leicester striker Jamie Vardy believes that the season's turning point came when the players were given a week off to recharge after they were knocked out of the FA Cup by Tottenham in February. PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

Happy at Leicester, he hopes in-demand team-mates will turn down big clubs

LONDON • Jamie Vardy has given Leicester City a huge boost by insisting that he will stay with the English champions next season.

The 29-year-old fired the Premier League football club's miraculous charge to the title with 24 goals, and the England striker's blistering form prompted speculation that he could be lured away from the King Power Stadium by one of the league's superpowers - with Chelsea the front-runners.

But, with Leicester looking to compete in the Champions League next season, Vardy, who signed a new contract in March, is adamant he will ignore any big-money offers.

"We've just won the league and will be playing in the Champions League next year. I am happy here," he said on Monday at the launch of his own V9 Academy, which pledges to give non-league footballers a chance to follow in his rags-to-riches footsteps.

He is also confident that the camaraderie, which turned the Foxes into the least likely champions in the Premier League era, will persuade the likes of Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante - who is particularly vulnerable to suitors because of a £19.6 million (S$38.8 million) release clause in his contract - to turn down lucrative moves to more glamorous clubs this summer .

"There will be names thrown into the hat all summer, but the group of lads we have, winning the league and having Champions League football next season, you hope it keeps everyone together," he said.

"Nothing has really been spoken about (the future) between the lads. We are just concentrating on the games."

Vardy's remarkable rise this season recently saw him voted Football Writers' Player of the Year, but he knows Leicester owe their success to more than just his predatory instincts.

He claims the turning point in the club's fairy-tale triumph came when manager Caludio Ranieri gave them a week off after they were knocked out of the FA Cup by Tottenham in February.

The players returned refreshed and soon afterwards enjoyed a 3-1 win at Manchester City that provided the belief they could win the league.

"It worked out perfectly. No one was going to go on a seven-day bender. It was there to relax with family, and that's all we did until we got back to training," Vardy said.

"To get those batteries recharged for that week and come back fighting stronger was a massive part. It was a great idea.

"I remember sitting on a sun lounger (in Dubai during that break) and, in the same hotel, Sunderland were there running up and down the beach doing fitness. For me to be relaxing while they're doing the training was quite nice."

Ranieri's remarkable success has significantly boosted his profile too and led to talk that he could also move on.

Yesterday, the Italian admitted that he would love to coach his country one day - but has committed his immediate future to a Leicester side who, he believes, could spring a few surprises in Europe's top club competition next season.

"I would never rule it out (coaching Italy). I would love it. And Leicester's blue shirts are already quite similar to those of Italy," the 64-year-old told Gazzetta dello Sport.

Hiss comments came after Carlo Tavecchio, the president of the Italian football federation, suggested that Ranieri, who was born in Rome, could one day lead the Azzurri to World Cup glory.

Ranieri added: "I know a lot of clubs will be thinking, 'It's okay, it's only Leicester we've got.' But we'll be playing the Champions League with exactly the same attitude.

"I always tell them (Leicester's players), 'I don't expect you to win all the time, but I expect you to always give everything.' That's what they did, and that's what they will do in the Champions League."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2016, with the headline 'Vardy to Foxes: Stick together'. Print Edition | Subscribe