Gary Neville says the remarkable improvement of Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy’s over the past 12 months is nothing short of “incredible”.
Vardy is currently the Premier League’s top goalscorer and equalled Ruud van Nistlerooy’s record of scoring in 10-consecutive matches in the 3-0 win at Newcastle on Saturday.
The 28-year-old has gone from playing non-league football for Fleetwood three years ago to propelling the Foxes to first place in the top flight.
“It’s been an incredible rise from non-league football right through to the Premier League but the biggest jump in some ways has been the meteoric rise in the last 12 months,” Neville said.
“You’ve got to remember he only scored 20 goals in 63 appearances in the Championship so you weren’t expecting it at the start of last season – for a striker to come into the Premier League and do what he’s done.
Despite scoring in the famous 5-3 victory over Manchester United at the start of last season, Vardy initially struggled with life in the top flight, before being a major factor in the Foxes late escape from relegation.
“If you look at last season, the first 13 appearances saw one goal in 889 minutes, only 14 shots versus 41 this season. He was rash in front of goal and tried to grab at a lot of chances.
“However, by about February or March, you got to a point where you were looking at Jamie Vardy and you were seeing a big improvement happening.
“Leicester were improving as well and there was a moment in April at West Brom [Vardy scored a last-minute winner] that caught everybody’s eye and certainly caught my eye. For someone who was playing on the left, as he was in a few games around that time, the speed, the strength and the raw ability was there.”
England coach Neville has becoming increasingly familiar with the player since Vardy was called into the international set-up and handed his debut in June.
And the former Manchester United defender believes being called into the England squad has aided the forward’s development.
“Any player who plays up front in a Premier League team needs to catch the eye of the England coaching team and the reports that were coming through 12 months ago were that he was raw, a little bit erratic in front of goal but he was lightning quick and a bit of a handful,” Neville added on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football.
“His England call-up probably gave him a lot more confidence. He’s come into this season and he’s a completely different player in terms of that little bit of rawness. He was unpolished last season, you look at him now and he’s a fantastic finisher.”
“There are questions we have to ask moving forward about Vardy, because there’s no way teams will be as bad as Newcastle’s defence were on Saturday, particularly in these next six games which are tough. He’s going to get marked tighter and he’ll have less space.
“What you have to consider about certain players is: can they play in tight areas, can they play when it’s quicker like five-a-side?
“Sometimes players like Jamie Vardy can become a little bit exposed because you always think of them running in behind but he’s got a good touch, a much better touch than people give him credit for.
“I think he can play in tight areas but I think in the next few weeks against the top defences is where we’ll really see whether he can adapt and adjust when other teams will give him a lot more respect than other teams are at the moment.”