When Jamie Vardy was cut by his local youth team at 16, the rejection certainly stung. But it didn't deter him.
Vardy went on to play for a semipro team while working to make ends meet — persistence that eventually paid off for the Leicester City striker.
Vardy is now drawing on that experience in his new role as a co-owner of Rochester NY FC.
Rochester, formerly known as the Rhinos, is among the teams that will compete next year in MLS Next Pro, a league that will bridge the pathway from Major League Soccer's youth academies to its top tier teams.
All 21 MLS Next Pro teams announced Monday are affiliated with league teams — except independent Rochester, which is clearly benefitting from its association with Vardy.
"I mean, my story is quite well known now. It probably wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t get given that second chance," Vardy said. “So, I think definitely it doesn’t matter who you are, how old you are, if you’ve got enough to play for us, then there’s always going to be a place on that roster. It’s all about making sure we get the right mix, but definitely getting local lads who’ve not been able to be scouted or not had the chance to be scouted, getting some of those players to be playing on our team. Playing for their local team will hopefully allow them to further their career by moving on after. We don’t want to be standing in anyone’s way.”
Now 34, Vardy has been focused in recent years on helping young people who may not have the opportunities that some young prodigies have. That brought him to Rochester. He became co-owner of the team this summer, joining David and Wendy Dworkin.
“Rochester established itself as a winning club with the Rhinos, and we are pleased to add a new chapter in the city’s rich soccer history as Rochester NY FC," the Dworkins said in a statement. "We are excited to develop the future international stars of soccer, right here in our local community."
The Rhinos suspended play in 2017. The team's relaunch and rebrand was delayed by the coronavirus and other issues.
“It’s something I’ve been looking to do for quite a while," Vardy said. “We managed to get in touch with David and Wendy, went through loads of things that we all saw eye-to-eye on, and what we wanted for the club, and obviously since we’ve been in hiatus, how we wanted to bring it back and bring some of the success that they’ve had in the past as well and to start a new chapter. Once we got talking there was only one place it was ever going to be, and that was Rochester.”
Vardy was just 16 when he was cut by his hometown Sheffield Wednesday's academy. He wound up with the Sheffield Park Steels, earning about $40 dollars a week, but he still needed a job to support himself.
Vardy's hard work got noticed, and from there he went to lower tier teams Halifax Town and Fleetwood Town before landing with Leicester City in 2012.
His list of accomplishments is impressive: He scored 24 goals and helped Leicester win the Premier League in 2015-16, and was named the league's player of the season. He won the Premier League Golden Boot for the 2019–20 season after scoring 23 goals in league play.
Vardy has nine goals in league play this season, ranked second behind Liverpool's Mohamed Salah, who has 13.
Vardy also played for England, collecting 26 appearances with the team and playing in the 2018 World Cup.
“I think from where I’ve come from, it’s given me that extra bit of hunger, knowing how I’ve done it, and wanting to carry that on for as long as possible," he said.
Rochester is not Vardy's first initiative for younger players. He founded his V9 Academy to provide a similar pathway for underappreciated players to reach the pros. The V9 Academy was also derailed by the coronavirus, but there are plans to relaunch it, he said.
Vardy acknowledges he hasn't thought about whether to make player development and the business side of soccer his future — just yet.
“It’s not something I’ve really thought about in too much detail like that. I’m personally someone who I’ll wake up in the morning and I’ll give my 100% for that day. And then the next day it’s exactly the same again," he said. “While I’m feeling fresh and my legs are fine, then I’ll carry on playing football for as long as they will let me and as long as I’m enjoying it.”
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