Raging Vardy leaves Leicester in a bind
22 April 2016, 14:16
London - His exploits with Leicester City have alerted Hollywood scriptwriters, but an on-pitch indiscretion by Jamie Vardy has compromised his unheralded team's extraordinary bid for the Premier League title.
With 22 goals in the season to date, Vardy has become the symbol of a football fairytale, but his dismissal during last weekend's 2-2 draw with West Ham United leaves Leicester in the lurch.
Sent off after being shown a second yellow card for diving, Vardy reacted by angrily berating referee Jon Moss and has accepted a Football Association misconduct charge for his outburst that could keep him on the sidelines for two matches.
"Vardy has been one of the best players in the league," said his Leicester colleague Danny Simpson, who did his best to put on a brave face.
"Other players have scored in the team and before last week Vards hadn't scored for five or six games, so we'll deal with it."
Vardy's dizzying achievements have caught the eye of British screenwriter Adrian Butchart, who is in talks about turning the 29-year-old's rags-to-riches tale into a film.
It is a beguiling story, which has seen Vardy transform himself from non-league scrapper in English football's seventh tier into England international, Player of the Year nominee and potential Premier League champion.
The scrawny striker's gritty back story, fiery temperament and hard-running playing style have turned him into something of an anti-hero for Leicester's supporters, who have never seen their club win the title.
"Jamie Vardy's having a party, bring your vodka and your charlie (cocaine)!" is a regular chant at Leicester's King Power Stadium.
Meanwhile, an enigmatically aggressive Facebook post made by Vardy in October 2011 -- "Chat shit get banged" -- has become the go-to put-down among British youngsters on social media.
But while Leicester's fans revel in Vardy's outlaw status, the West Ham incident suggested that the rough edges that once saw him convicted of assault during his non-league days have not been smoothed away.
Ulloa to deputise
British newspapers this week were splattered with pictures of Vardy pillorying Moss, his face screwed into a furious scowl, his right index finger jabbed towards the official's face.
The red card rules Vardy out of Sunday's home game with Swansea City and his acceptance of the FA charge could mean he misses next weekend's challenging trip to Manchester United as well.
Vardy's latest scrape has also rekindled memories of the pre-season incident in which he was caught on camera racially goading an Asian man in a casino, for which he was fined by Leicester. He later apologised.
Gary Lineker, Leicester's most famous former player, defended Vardy against accusations of racism in a recent Guardian interview, describing the incident as a "mistake", but met with a backlash on social media.
Both Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri and England counterpart Roy Hodgson have supported Vardy over his West Ham dismissal, with both men adamant that he did not dive.
But it changes nothing for Leicester, who are five points clear of second-place Tottenham Hotspur and embarking upon the biggest four-game sequence in the club's history without their top scorer and talisman.
Leonardo Ulloa, who came on to score a stoppage-time penalty against West Ham, is expected to step in for Vardy and left-back Christian Fuchs has backed the Argentine striker to prove himself a capable deputy.
"It's a new situation for us because Jamie hasn't missed a game yet, but I think we can cope," Fuchs told the BBC.
"Every time Leonardo Ulloa comes off the bench he has done well and he's a big part of the team."
Ulloa's four goals this season include a dramatic late winner against Norwich City in February, while Vardy's regular strike partner Shinji Okazaki has chipped in with six goals.
But neither player has captured the imagination like the snarling Vardy, who can only hope that his self-inflicted absence does not spell doom for Leicester's title dream.