London: Leicester City's star striker Jamie Vardy launched his own academy on Monday and pledged to give non-league footballers a chance to follow in his rags-to-riches footsteps.
Jamie Vardy. Pic/AFP
Vardy, 29, was playing in England's seventh tier and working part-time at a factory six years ago, but is now an England international whose 24 goals fired Leicester to glory in the Premier League. He was released by Sheffield Wednesday as a teenager and hopes that his new venture, christened the V9 Academy, will give a helping hand to players who do not have access to professional coaching structures.
"I was told I was too small, that I was not ready for the physicality of scholarship," Vardy told a press conference at Leicester's King Power Stadium. "I don't think anyone can be told if they're good enough at 15 or 16, when you still have so many years to grow and develop. That was my reason. Probably hundreds were told the same and had to drop down as well.
"Hopefully we can find them, get them to the academy and get them through. I have done it. That is there for people to see it can be done. "With the players we get on and if they put the hard work in -- and it will be hard, it will not be easy -- we will give them Premier League-standard training and coaching. We can give them a chance to make the step up."
Applications for the academy, which will run free, week-long courses at Manchester City's training centre during the close season, are being accepted from this month. The first intake of 42 players, aged between 17 and 33, will join up with the academy next year. Vardy is part-funding the project and plans for it to become self-sufficient. "You never forget your non-league days," he said.
"Turning up to away dressing rooms and getting changed in a Portakabin, one shower for the whole squad, which was freezing after 10 minutes so you had to make sure to be the first one in. "Whether it's a low or high, the roots you come from keep you grounded."