We recently released the player focused side of our service – PlayerTech.com. PlayerTech’s Position-Specific Programs help players understand key aspects of their position, and educate them on what separates the great players from the good ones. Unsurprisingly, Jamie Vardy features heavily in our Program for Strikers.

Jamie Vardy is the star of a ‘rags to riches’ story made for Hollywood. Playing the lead role in Leicester City’s fairy tale Premier League win, Vardy was released by Sheffield Wednesday at 16, scored a million goals in Non-League before moving to Fleetwood Town, to Leicester, to the England national team.

On his recent 34th birthday, Vardy sits on 114 Premier League goals.

Players with Vardy’s career accomplishments are usually touted as stars from an early age. A quick google will uncover a plethora of youth coaches and scouts recalling how he instantly took their breath away, and claiming to have contributed to his success. But Vardy’s story is something quite different. Many coaches who worked with Vardy at Sheffield Wednesday and throughout his development have stated that he was good but not great, and very few, if any would have backed him to make more than an average career in the game.

So how does a 16 year old from Sheffield go from earning £30 a week for Stocksbridge Park Steels, to a career most players can only dream of? What did everybody miss? And what lessons can we learn from Jamie Vardy?

Anybody who’s read Rasmus Ankersen’s ‘Gold Mine’ will be aware of the concept of trained vs untrained potential. It’s no surprise Brentford continue to set the standard for player development in British football. Ankersen puts a lot of stock in a player’s character, drive and determination. The theory being that a 15 goal ‘untrained’ scorer may have a higher ceiling that a 20 goal ‘trained scorer of the same age.

Does Jamie Vardy represent a player manufactured into a great, rather than one destined for greatness from an early age?

The image included here shows a series of post-game resources provided by Leicester City for their players, which we will circle back to later.

When you think more purposefully about Vardy’s strengths, it’s hard not to wonder if there could but more importantly should be more Jamie Vardy’s out there?

CoachTech’s founder Oliver Gage consults to a number of professional clubs and provides personal analysis & guidance to a number of players, including two in the Premier League. This work is the basis of PlayerTech’s programs mentioned previously.

“I’ve said this a number of times on webinars and when I speak with clubs and players. I’ve yet to experience a player who hasn’t improved their attacking output in a number of industry standard measures (XG, shot locations, actual goals etc.) off the back of education and purposeful analysis & training work.

What separates good coaches and analysts from the average ones isn’t always knowledge. It’s the ability to successfully connect with and educate players to transfer this knowledge, and to find the right ways on the training pitch to drive this message home and reinforce these principles.

The best thing about Jamie Vardy’s journey is the hope he can give to almost any striker, or coach working with a striker. Maybe not from Non-League to Champions League, but almost any striker can improve their returns in a very short space of time with some guidance, support and goal-setting.”

If you were to give any data analyst just 30 seconds with a player with the task of improving their game, there are some very basic concepts almost every one should prioritize.

Shot Selection

Vardy has incredibly impressive decision-making around the box. He rarely wastes possession for Leicester with speculative shots, and understands that he’s going to score his goals in the ‘GOLD ZONE‘. This might sound simple, but too many strikers, especially young ones, shoot from ineffective positions too often.

Vardy’s shots (left) and goals (right) since 2017 show the work of an elite decision maker.

Through Balls

Teams who play more through balls score more goals. Shots from through balls are scored at a higher rate than ‘regular’ shots or those assisted by non cut-back crosses, and when we look for creative midfielders, through balls are a pretty good place to start. Through balls are dangerous.

It should be no surprise that a player who gets on the end of through balls will be dangerous too. Of course you can’t run onto a pass that doesn’t occur, so Vardy benefits as Leicester play them often. But on the other hand, your creative players will soon stop playing through balls to Andy Carroll. The run makes the pass.

Jamie Vardy receives more through balls than almost any other player in the Premier League.

What’s so unique about Vardy is his discipline, and his understanding that his value as a striker is centrally and in behind. He knows this is how goals are scored and has crafted his movement into an art form. He stays high, he stays central, and he runs in behind.

Operate In The Shadows

It’s hard to isolate each of Vardy’s traits in separate clips, because many of them combine one, two or more of his strengths. Vardy operates in the shadows better than anyone else. Vardy’s patience and awareness to hang in defenders blind spots before making a move is at a world class level.

Train How You Play

It’s important to be very clear, these movements and this discipline is absolutely something that can be worked on and improved over time. Too often you see young players training for likes on Instagram, smashing volleys, shooting from 25 yards, or dribbling through obstacle courses before shooting. But we know this isn’t how goals are scored at an elite rate.

Yes, good players can score good goals. But what makes the great players is the ability to score lots of ‘regular’ looking goals.

If you think Jamie Vardy spends the majority of his training time shooting from outside the box, you’re wrong. Watch how Vardy peels out to the left before finishing in training for England, before making the same movement and finish in a number of Premier League games.

 

Don’t mistake this for claiming what Vardy has achieved is easy. Far from it. Oliver expands….

“For me, Jamie Vardy’s probably the smartest player in the Premier League. People will say De Bruyne and other great creators and that’s fair, but the self-awareness to isolate something you can be great at and work at it. That’s smart. The discipline and drive to double and triple down at what you do best. Smart.

People have a bit of a laugh about him drinking Red Bull and Coffee before games, but show me another player who’s done so much from seemingly nowhere. The awareness to operate on the back shoulder in the blind spot of defenders and peel off into that left inside channel he likes. That’s smart.”

A question for coaches…. How much of Jamie Vardy’s game do you think can be manipulated manually through video analysis, feedback and purposeful training?

Dominic Calvert-Lewin is rightfully being praised for his improvement over the last two seasons at Everton, and a number of articles have highlighted how he’s worked on positioning himself more centrally and now taking better shots. Manufactured. It’s a cliche, but if you know the destination beforehand, you’ll be able to plot a course to get there much quicker. Who knows you might even help someone get there who wouldn’t naturally.

Going back to the post-game analysis image from earlier… what might happen if a young striker set him or herself targets on shot locations and through balls received each game? What if they tracked these over time and worked on them in training regularly? What if they knew how they were going to score more goals and began the journey to do so with intent, rather than a broad-sweeping aim of ‘getting better’ but not knowing how or why?

What might happen if their coach set them on this journey at 16, and guided them with video analysis, goal-setting and purposeful, informed training?

Oliver’s frustration lead him to develop PlayerTech. It was launched to address this issue of informed training in young players. Genuinely good player developers like David Copeland-Smith (Beast Mode Soccer) or Saul Isaksson-Hurst (My Personal Football Coach) have done some wonderful work, but have unfortunately paved the way for a tidal wave of Instagram charlatans. The platform is flooded with clips showing a minefield of cones, players dribbling on treadmills, diving into swimming pools and most frustratingly, unopposed shots from 25 yards, volleys and overhead kicks.

Players now have information at their disposal to take control of and own their personal development like never before. Coaches have websites, blogs, webinars and courses that are so far beyond the traditional coaching badges. The answers are out there if you want to look for them, and they aren’t that difficult to find. It does make you wonder…

  • What’s stopping you from improving your game or your players game by 10%?
  • What’s stopping you from tailoring training towards what actually happens in matches?
  • What’s stopping you from tactically molding your players like Sterling, Salah, Mane, Aguero or Calvert-Lewin to suit their attributes?
  • What’s stopping you from becoming or coaching the next Jamie Vardy?

Oliver’s final message:

“Figure out how they are going to be their absolute best. Which elite-level player do they most look like? Now find out what that elite level player does to make them elite. Find the video, find the stats, set the targets. Measure, reinforce, train and repeat. You might not develop them into Jamie Vardy, but I guarantee they will get closer than they would with a loose hope of ‘getting better’.”

 

Many concepts discussed above appear in CoachTech’s Modern Attacking Play and Evidence-Based Coaching Courses which can be found here. 
Players can take control of their own development and play like the stars they watch on TV by visiting PlayerTech.com