For the past few years of his remarkable career, the trajectory for Jamie Vardy has been ever upwards. His is a well-trodden narrative path at this point, but allow us to traverse it once more for good measure: rejected youngster becomes non-league starlet, non-league starlet earns dream move to Leicester, former non-league starlet inspires Leicester to promotion, unlikely hero fires Leicester to survival, then to fairytale triumph, in the best domestic competition in the world™. There have been few steeper individual ascendancies in the history of football, let alone in that rarified liminal space between top-flight triumph and turning out for Stocksbridge Park Steels. One moment Jamie Vardy was a gobby tyke playing to the gloomy backdrop of Bracken Moor, the next he was a gobby tyke with a Premier League title to his name, not to mention a HELLO! magazine wedding, an increasingly unwelcome professional doppelganger and an opportunity to appear in a reality television programme called 'Jamie Vardy's Having An Academy', a title which we can all agree makes absolutely no sense.
With Leicester's astonishing title win came a new pinnacle for Vardy's career, namely selection by Roy Hodgson ahead of Euro 2016. 'From Stocksbridge to England!' acclaimed the newspapers, or at least things were written to that effect. Unknown to Vardy, going to his first major tournament with England would see his meteoric rise stutter, and perhaps even begin to plateau. Having known nothing but an upwards trajectory in the several years previous, suddenly, he was about to feel the sharp pain of failure, and be checked in his ambitions to become the greatest former non-league footballer in the world.
Though he gave a better account of himself than many of those who went to the Euros with England, the tournament was a sobering experience for Vardy, and an abject failure for the team. Having been showered in glowing headlines and rhapsodic prose for his role in Leicester's title glory, Vardy was instantly plunged into the maelstrom of self-loathing that followed England's defeat to Iceland, accompanied as it was by several days of national mourning, despairing back pages and general angst on our streets and in our Twitter feeds. That must have somewhat taken the shine off the summer, and was perhaps a particular psychological blow for Vardy in that it was so starkly juxtaposed with his domestic success. Likewise, considering his 'late bloomer' status and the fact that he is now 29 years of age, he must have realised after the tournament that, in all likelihood, his one chance to win big with England had become a defining blemish on his international career.
In terms of Vardy's individual ascendancy, this summer provided another complication. Before he travelled to the Euros with England, the Leicester man was subject to a transfer bid from Arsenal, with Arsene Wenger even taking the unusual step of talking about the move in the public domain. While it always seemed like a strange fit for Vardy, with various pundits, columnists and commentators expressing their misgivings as to how he would be utilised in North London, a move to the Emirates would have suited the narrative of Vardy's seemingly unstoppable climb. Instead, he decided he had climbed far enough, and so put the stoppers on his journey towards the stars.
Rather than take the leap and sign for Arsenal upon his return from Euro 2016, Vardy ponderously weighed up his options and opted to sign new terms with Leicester. While reservations as to where Wenger might play him may well have been justified, given the Frenchman's propensity for playing people out of position (see: Andrey Arshavin, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey on the right wing), the choice to snub a traditional top-four club could still be described as a conservative one. Vardy faced the great unknown with Arsenal, and the potential for further astronomical advancement, or the familiar surroundings of the King Power Stadium and a season defending the title with Leicester. He chose the latter, and seemed content enough with his choice. Whether or not a move to Arsenal would have gone any better, his subsequent six months with Leicester have not followed the same script as before.
Prior to Saturday's match against Manchester City, Vardy had scored a mere two goals in the Premier League this season. Between early September and this weekend, he went on a barren run in all competitions which spanned a total of 16 games. In that time, Leicester fell deep into relegation trouble, taking 13 points from their 14 league fixtures. Vardy's form plummeted, his once magical partnership with Riyad Mahrez ceased to twinkle, and his imperious rise to the pinnacle of English football juddered and screeched to a near-total halt.
There have, of course, been multiple factors in Leicester's decline this season, many of which have been out of Jamie Vardy's control. The mental difficulties of coming to terms with their status as Premier League champions must have been numerous, while at the same time their opponents are loathe to underestimate them in the manner they did last term. As well as attempting to defend their title, they have also been playing Champions League football, a boon to the club which should not be understated and which has provided them with some rare highlights this campaign. Unfortunately, their squad depth is incomparable to that of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and the like, and they are relatively ill-equipped for the task of midweek European fixtures. Fatigued, frazzled and to some extent figured out by their rivals, their various domestic struggles should perhaps come as no surprise.
That said, the fact that Vardy was so out of form prior to the weekend was certainly a major hindrance for Leicester. The man who scored 24 times last season had seen his stream of goals dry up, while his movement, energy and general interplay seemed sluggish in comparison to the Vardy of 2015/16. It doesn't seem like too much of a leap to suggest that, having grown accustomed to moving inexorably upwards, Vardy's static summer left him temporarily devoid of momentum. Having grown accustomed to moving perpetually forwards, a combination of his international disappointments and the decision to turn down a move to Arsenal left Vardy standing uncharacteristically still, both on and off the pitch.
In the aftermath of his tumultuous summer – in light of a career setback with England and his decision not to overreach his limits with Arsenal – it was as if Vardy struggled to rediscover the impetus which had carried him so far. His previously unchecked ascendancy was finally tempered during those feverish summer months, and so he found himself drifting and moving sideways as opposed to continuing up and up. Once again, this is not to say that a move to Arsenal would have better suited Vardy, merely that his decision to rebuff them seemed to come with its own psychological repercussions. After all those years of hurtling skywards, Vardy was forced to come to terms with some form of deceleration at last.
The good news is that, on this weekend's evidence, Vardy has now reconciled himself to his new reality. His hat-trick against Manchester City could easily have come from last season's highlights reel, inspired as it was by lightning runs, clinical decision making and finishes that were practically mathematical in their angles, gradients and beauty by degrees. If this summer was an unsettling time for Vardy owing to the lack of an obvious upwards trajectory, he has hopefully found a way to thrive even with a different direction. He now has to chart a new course with Leicester this season, who could themselves fall hard to earth without more stellar performances from Vardy along the way.