Jamie Vardy has revealed he acts as a makeshift goalkeeper in training as Leicester City’s top scorer gave an insight into the camaraderie underpinning their unlikely Premier League title march.
Claudio Ranieri’s side are closing in on English football’s biggest prize and require nine points from their five remaining matches to confound all the pre-season predictions by finishing top of the pile in May.
Vardy has played a major role in their success, with the 29-year-old’s two goals in Sunday’s 2-0 victory at Sunderland taking his tally for the campaign to 21.
It is almost certain to earn him a place in Roy Hodgson’s England squad for Euro 2016, but he says that Ranieri’s desire to rest his goalkeepers means he has few opportunities to hone his finishing in training.
“I don’t really get a chance to practise my finishing that much,” he told reporters after Sunday’s victory at the Stadium of Light.
“When we have shooting drills, it’s quite early in the week when the gaffer is wanting us to rest our keepers.
“So normally when there is a bit of shooting, he tells me to go in goal! I’m happy to keep doing it if it means I’m helping the keepers remain fresh for the games.”
Leicester have carried forward the momentum from last season, when they pulled off an extraordinary escape from relegation by winning seven of their last nine games.
Vardy says that friendly mickey-taking among the squad also plays a central part in helping to keep the mood positive.
German defender Robert Huth, in particular, has found himself the butt of some of the banter fostered by the avuncular Ranieri, 64, whose appointment last year was met with ridicule in some quarters and saw the club instantly installed as relegation favourites by British bookmakers.
– ‘Cheeky digs’ -“We’re the same bunch of lads as we were at the start of the season, to be honest,” Vardy said. “It’s a tight-knit squad and that’s how we have been from day one.
“We always seem to be having a laugh. In the warm-up in training, there are sprint contests around different mannequins.
“For some reason Huthy has ended up in the top group. I don’t know how, but if he gets turned round the mannequins first and puts his arm out then that’s it, you’re not going to get past him.
“It’s another thing we’re always having a laugh and a joke about. That is how we are, everyone is relaxed. The gaffer (manager) wants it to be like that.
“There’s plenty of banter flying round about who gets the most assists in games, and Danny Drinkwater has killed me, but to be honest we all have a few cheeky digs at each other over it, a little laugh and joke about things.”
Drinkwater is another to have won England recognition on the back of a fine season in Leicester’s midfield and caught the eye with a raking pass from deep that created Vardy’s first goal at Sunderland.
“There isn’t a secret to the dressing-room camaraderie, it’s just that we’re a bunch of lads that get along,” said the 26-year-old former Manchester United trainee.
“We’re all willing to work hard for each other on the pitch and it shows by how well we graft out results.
“We’re guaranteed a top-four place and that’s massive. A lot of the lads probably didn’t realise how close we were to it and it’s just another step closer to our ultimate dream.
“People talk about three wins needed now, but one thing I was taught as a youngster at Manchester United was to keep focused on the job.
“My upbringing at that club is probably something that is going to stand me in good stead. We’re taking it game by game and I can’t see that changing anytime soon.”