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Vardy, Austin and co: The rise from ‘Non-league to England’

The Boot Room



The most memorable example of recent times would probably be Rickie Lambert, but with Charlie Austin and Jamie Vardy, previously of Poole Town and Halifax Town respectively, being called up to the England squad, yet again we find ourselves with examples of players who have gone from bricklayers or electricians to international forwards in less than a decade.

As is common knowledge, the vast majority of professional footballers start their careers before they are even old enough to watch a 12A film unaccompanied. The academy systems of the UK are practically littered with potential high-end players in order to give the club in question the best chance of a fantastic run of results, or a tidy profit, in the future.

In this highly competitive system, it is commonplace for ex-Premier League players to drop down a division or two in order to ply their trade on a weekly basis – Jermaine Beckford, Chris Kirkland and Robbie Savage serving as the first three names that come to mind. But whilst in the past it has been normal for big names to drop down, until recently it was a surprising move, at least, for the unknowns to rise to the top.

Austin and Vardy even have slightly more claim to the credit than Lambert; the latter spending the entirety of his career within the Football League. Austin was working as a bricklayer before being scouted, trialled and signed by League One outfit, Swindon Town. Vardy, who was released at 16 by Sheffield Wednesday, struggled for a few years to secure a Football League contract and was eventually left with the option of signing for non-league side Halifax. Both would then make the jump to Championship level football with Burnley and Leicester City, before entering the Premier League a few seasons later.

You can even see this trend lower down the footballing pyramid but, given the difference in coverage that the Football League recieves in relation to the Premier League, this understandably goes slightly un-noticed. I can take my local team, Swindon Town, as an example. Two of our signings in the last 18 months have come from the non-league, in the same fashion as Charlie Austin did half a decade ago.

Ben Gladwin joined us from Marlow last season after being released by Reading as a youngster. In our Play-Off semi-final last Monday against Sheffield United, he scored two goals in the opening ten minutes, the first being touted as a contender for goal of the season. The other, Jermaine Hylton, started both legs and won us a penalty at Bramall Lane, as well as scoring his first professional goal for the club this year, following a switch from Redditch United.

I digress slightly from Austin and Vardy, but these two examples at just a single club show that the level of players ‘bungee-jumping’ back up the system from early setbacks or no opportunities at all is rising.

One player you could be forgiven for branding as a ‘fluke’ in the system. Even two, perhaps. But three players in such a short space to time is an indicator that, if nothing else, clubs in the top flight are not only looking to each other or abroad for their next crop of talent. Increasingly, the second tier and below is proving just as popular a choice. Who could forget Nick Powell’s jump from Crewe Alexandra to a full house at Old Trafford?

It’s completely reasonable to argue that, had a crop of English forwards including Harry Kane and Saido Berahino not been selected instead for U-21 duty, Austin and Vardy might have been denied the opportunity to win their first caps for the national side. But, with 21 Premier League goals between them this season, they’ve certainly proved that they have the capability to play with the nation’s finest.

If nothing else, the stories of Austin, Vardy and Lambert serve to show that, regardless or whether you play football in the academy of a Premier League side or for your local non-league club, both have every chance in this climate of making the cut.

Whats the old saying – “the cream rises to the top”?

The Boot Room is a football analysis website, bringing original and creative content to the fans of the English Football League.

Leicester City

Forgotten Leicester City man Yohan Benalouane will hope to keep England at bay this evening

The 31-year-old Leicester defender will hope to start for Tunisia.

Mathew Nash



England take on Tunisia this evening in their opening World Cup fixture. Whilst not many names on The Eagles of Carthage team-sheet will ring a bell there are some familiar faces. Sunderland fans will know all too well the talents of attacker Wahbi Khazri, who still remains a Black Cat.

Leicester City fans will, however, be forgiven for forgetting that one of the Tunisia players is still at the King Power. Yohan Benalouane will be hoping to make just his fifth appearance for the Tunisia national team against England this evening.

Born in France the 31-year-old had been called up by Tunisia two times previously. However, his form at Parma and Atalanta saw him on the cusp of a French call-up and he always turned down the nation of his heritage. Until March, when he finally decided to accept the call and become a Tunisian international.

Now he is fighting for his place in the starting XI, something he is used to with Leicester.

Signed from Atalanta in a deal rumoured to be worth £5.6 million he arrived on the same day as N’Golo Kante. Whilst the latter went on to help Leicester claim the title, the Tunisian has had a far less impressive run with the Foxes.

(Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

He barely featured in Leicester’s title-winning campaign, spending an unsuccessful spell on loan at Fiorentina in the second half of the campaign. His game time was so minimal he did not receive a winner’s medal.

The following season he was initially not given a squad number but he was brought in from the cold by new manager Craig Shakespeare.

But this season has again been a struggle for Benalouane. He played just one game in the Premier League last season, a 2-0 loss against West Ham in May.

Tonight his place in the starting XI, much like his Foxes team-mates and England stars Harry Maguire and Jamie Vardy, is up for debate. But he will be chomping at the bit to keep England quiet and prove a point to his parent club Leicester ahead of another season at the King Power.

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Leicester City

Tottenham should move for Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez in quest for creative forward

The Leicester City maestro could become a world beater at Tottenham.

Jamie Watts



Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino is undoubtedly looking to bolster his attacking options this term, and a number of stellar names have been linked with moves to north London. But so far nothing has gathered any real traction on that front.

A brief spell of hope in the pursuit of priority target Anthony Martial materialised yesterday, as his agent revealed the player’s desire to leave Manchester United, in quotes via RMC Sport. But, United sharply asserted that the player remains in their plans next season, just hours later, in reports from Sky Sports. And Pochettino will have reevaluate his targets once more.

One name the club has yet to be linked with is Leicester City‘s Riyad Mahrez. And that comes as something of a surprise, when considering the criteria Pochettino is looking for.

Photo: Getty Images

The Argentine coach is looking to improve the supply line to 41 goal striker Harry Kane, and few if any, are as creative as Mahrez in the final third in England. The former Premier League Player of the Year is able to play across all front-three roles, and is equally effective in all of them – amassing an impressive 13 goals and 13 assists in 41 appearances this term.

Mahrez is clearly looking to engineer a move away from the King Power Stadium, following his 10-day absence in January, after the club blocked the Algerian’s move to champions Manchester City (Sky Sports), and Tottenham should now join the running for his signature.

Photo: Getty Images

There are obvious concerns over the player’s valuation, with the Foxes turning down seriously lucrative bids of £60 million from Pep Guardiola in January, but Leicester are likely to concede for less now, as the player fulfilled his duty to the club – and they have time to bring in replacements, unlike transfer deadline day.

Daniel Levy will have to accept that a quality attacking addition capable of propelling Spurs to silverware will cost a serious fee, and it’s simply a sign of the times if he doesn’t want to fall behind rivals in the quest for the highest honours.

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Blow for Newcastle as Leicester bid big on midfielder Stefano Sturaro

Leicester City have reportedly made an official approach for the Newcastle target.

Jamie Watts



Newcastle United have been dealt a blow in their pursuit of Juventus midfielder Stefano Sturaro, as Leicester City have sent a lucrative offer to Turin for his signature, according to Sky Sports Italia.

Juventus value the player at around £18 million, but the Foxes have fallen short with their initial offer of £11 million, in an attempt to compromise.

Newcastle will hope the Serie A champions reject the offer, as they have been courting Sturaro closely over the last month, having reportedly made an enquiry for his services, according to Calcio Mercato.

Photo: Getty Images

Mikel Merino has been consistently linked with a move away from St James’ Park this summer, despite revealing his desire to build on last season in the Premier League (Newcastle official). And Athletic Bilbao are the latest to show interest in bringing the Spaniard back to his native home.

As a result Rafa Benitez is lining up potential replacements, and the Italian international is high on the wish-list.

Since moving to Juve from Genoa in 2014, the Italian midfielder has won Serie A four times, the Coppa Italia four times, the Supercoppa Italiana once and reached the final of the Champions League twice.

But these achievements are marred by Sturaro’s minor role in the current side. The 25-year-old made just 12 appearances – with seven starts – in the Serie A last season, as Max Allegri led the side to a record-breaking seventh straight Scudetto.


Photo: Getty Images

Playing time will register high on the list of priorities for the midfielder next term and Newcastle would certainly offer him that, with the likes of Mohamed Diame past his best years at 31, and nearing his natural end on Tyneside. Although Leicester can offer the same.

Benitez will now have to take the initiative and match Leicester’s bid for the Italian, if they have serious hopes of landing him this summer.

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