JAMIE VARDY has never lost his love for Sheffield Wednesday despite being released at the age of just 16.
Last season, the Sheffield-born striker playfully suggested Harry Maguire, then a team-mate at Leicester City, was an Owl rather than Blade.
Foxes insiders also tell the story of how Vardy, on being shown a Steel City derby programme from the sixties by Alan Birchenall, jokily dismissed the offering with the words, ‘It is a Sheffield United programme, I am not interested’.
Chris Wilder, the United manager, is well aware of where Vardy’s allegiances lay and admits that makes him a big threat tomorrow when Leicester head to South Yorkshire.
“I have got pals who are Sheffield Wednesday supporters,” said the 51-year-old, when asked about a striker who famously rose from non-League to England international inside just three years.
“He (Vardy) obviously is one. I have got nothing but respect for his career and what he has done.
“It is a great inspiration for a lot of non-League players. My career in coaching and management started out in non-League and I have a lot of affiliation and love for the grassroots game. He is the star performer in terms of where he started and where he has finished.
“There is a lot of respect from me towards Jamie and how well he has done. And still, looking at the clips against Chelsea and the desire in his face, he still has that desire and hunger that has taken him to the very top.”
United will go into tomorrow’s clash with the Foxes in buoyant mood. A 1-1 draw on the opening day at Bournemouth being followed by last Sunday’s 1-0 victory at home over Crystal Palace represents a hugely encouraging return to the Premier League.
John Fleck is a slight doubt with the injury that forced him out of the Eagles clash in the first half but, otherwise, everyone else is fit.
Ravel Morrison, still to feature in the matchday 18 after joining from Manchester United, is pushing to be included after being part of a United XI who faced Manchester United in a behind closed doors friendly last Monday.
The Blades lost 3-1, Oli McBurnie netting for the Yorkshire side at the Red Devils’ Carrington training complex against a host side that included Alexis Sanchez, Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. Andreas Pereira, Mason Greenwood and Angel Gomes netted for the Premier League giants.
“Ravel (Morrison) is ready,” added Wilder. “He has been involved in both squads.
“We played a behind closed doors game at Manchester United in the week. He played 90 minutes in that. It was a great exercise for us against about £200m worth of talent.
“Some unbelievably talented footballers came walking over towards our boys. Maybe there was a bit of us thinking, ‘Wow this is a proper game’.
“But it was a good exercise for our boys against world class players.”
Having conceded just one goal in the opening two games, the United defence will be hoping once again to keep it tight tomorrow against Vardy and co.
“The elite players are the ones who hurt you at the top of the pitch,” said Wilder, who was part of the decision-making process that saw former Huddersfield Town coach Andy Hughes join the club’s Academy set-up.
“Whether it is (Josh) King, (Ryan) Fraser and (Callum) Wilson at Bournemouth, or (Wilfried) Zaha, (Andros) Townsend and (Christian) Benteke last Sunday.
“Now, we go on to (James) Maddison, (Ayoze) Perez and a certain lad on Saturday who wants to do well and supports the other firm from down the road.”