The prospective rags-to-riches movie about Jamie Vardy may already have its perfect ending after the striker led little Leicester to the most improbable English league title success in a generation.
There might just be room for an encore.
After his game-changing display as a substitute against Wales on Thursday, Vardy could be England’s starting striker in its last group game at the European Championship — against Slovakia on Monday — and then into the knockout stage, if the team qualifies as is likely.
Vardy, it seems, can do little wrong this season. The man who was playing non-league football only four years ago inspired Leicester’s Premier League title triumph with 24 goals — including scoring in a record 11 straight games. He also won England’s Footballer of the Year award. He has been in talks with movie producer Adrian Butchart about a biopic charting his rise to stardom — filming is due to start next year, Vardy has said — and has scored in four of his last five appearances for England.
The latest was an opportunistic, close-range equalizer against Wales, 11 minutes after coming on as a halftime substitute. The goal sparked England’s comeback in a 2-1 win in Lens that sent his team to the top of Group B on four points.
With Harry Kane showing signs of tiredness after a grueling season, England coach Roy Hodgson could replace him with Vardy for Slovakia — and beyond.
“He obviously has a lot of confidence,” Hodgson said of Vardy. “I had no hesitation about putting him on the field of play at halftime. Harry was looking a little bit tired I thought during the course of the first half. He had worked very, very hard against Russia. It’s been such a long season.
“It’s great that we have someone like Jamie Vardy to step into his shoes.”
Two years of almost unbroken football may just have caught up on Kane.
The game against Wales was his 62nd of the season for Tottenham and England. He played 56 games in the 2014-15 season, which ended with his appearance at the under-21 European Championship in the Czech Republic. Clearly tired, Kane didn’t score in three games that tournament and it could be deja vu in France 12 months on.
He was ineffective in England’s 1-1 draw against Russia, and was withdrawn at halftime against Wales. Vardy, an unused substitute against Russia, injected pace and energy into England’s forward line.
“Everyone wants to be a part of the starting line-up but it is a team game, we are all in this together,” Vardy said.
“I will be trying my hardest in training and we will see in the next game.”
Hodgson has selected the same team for England’s first two games, and suggested changes for Slovakia.
“The third game was always going to be a team selection headache because now we’ve got players who have played two matches in space of a short period of time,” Hodgson said.
“A lot of guys are champing at the bit to get their chance.”
Daniel Sturridge came on at halftime with Vardy and also scored. Not only did he grab the injury-time winner, he looked much more lively than Raheem Sterling even though he was mostly playing out of position out wide.
A sprightlier front three of Vardy flanked by Sturridge and fellow Liverpool player Adam Lallana could be in Hodgson’s thoughts.
“It’s good when you have players who can do something that little bit different in and around the penalty area,” he said.
Vardy fits the bill. And after his exploits already this season, few would bet against him propelling England deep into the tournament.