Matt Elliott: “I’d rather play against Kane than Vardy”
Former Leicester City skipper says Foxes striker poses World Cup selection headache for England
Leicester City legend Matt Elliott believes Jamie Vardy could be the key to World Cup success for England this summer – and may be a stronger alternative than Harry Kane to lead the line.
The ex-Foxes centre back says that making room for Vardy in the Three Lions’ frontline will provide a different dimension to their World Cup challenge and he should be considered as more than simply Kane’s understudy.
In fact, Elliott – who enjoyed an eight-year stay at Leicester – admits that he’d rather face the Spurs striker than Vardy on the pitch.
“If I was a defender, I’d rather play one-versus-one situations against Kane than Vardy,” Elliott revealed to Play With A Legend.
“Kane has an excellent all-round game and I appreciate his qualities, but from a purely defensive point of view, Vardy is a nightmare to go up against.
“Vardy gives you something different. It’s not just that he possesses lightning pace, but how he applies that and the movement he brings. He’s always playing on defenders’ shoulders and is an absolute nightmare because he’s razor sharp.
“It’d take a brave manager to do it, but against some of the bigger nations who might control possession a bit more and take the game to England, [starting] Vardy is an option.”
Despite backing Leicester’s talisman to do the business in Russia if he’s given the chance, Elliott expects England boss Gareth Southgate to hand the starting place to Kane.
Q. What do you think Vardy will offer England this summer?
A. As we saw against Italy – with supposedly one of the best defences in the world, even if they’re not one of the best teams at the moment – Vardy stretched them on a number of occasions and they couldn’t handle him. Give him the right service and let him make those runs, and he’ll get you goals.
Q. Do you think that will be enough for Vardy to get a place in the starting XI?
A. It’d be a big call. Kane will probably get the nod, but it’s a shame they can’t incorporate them both as a strike force, although maybe that pairing wouldn’t blend. I don’t see England starting that way early on, but maybe they could work in tandem.
Kane is a player who probably has a superior technical ability, although Vardy is better than he’s given credit for, so he’s an option. Put it this way, if there are any reservations about Kane’s fitness or – unlikely, I know – his form, Vardy is ready to step into his place.
Q. How do you think another of the Leicester contingent, Harry Maguire, will fare this summer?
A. Maguire looks really comfortable on the international scene, both defensively and creatively on the ball from defensive positions. I think he’s surprised quite a few people with how quickly he’s settled into the international setup. While he’s been in the squad, I think he’ll be in the starting line up the way things are going.
Q. What has been the secret to Maguire’s sudden emergence?
A. It’s been a rapid rise for him. From Sheffield united to Hull and then Leicester as the biggest-money signing in the summer, and now he’s found himself in the England squad. He’s a good player and has gone under the radar for a long time.
People make assumptions about him, possibly because of his size, but he’s got more to his game than just being a big, strong, powerful centre half. He’s comfortable on the ball and his focus has sharpened too – he’s been guilty of one or two slips in concentration defensively, but he seems to learn from it. He has a physical presence and good understanding of the game, and will be a big figure for years to come.
While England are preparing for a World Cup this summer, Scotland are readying themselves for yet another new era.
After narrowly missing out on a place in the play-offs to get to Russia this summer, the Tartan Army have taken a change of direction, with ex-Birmingham City boss Alex McLeish taking the reins for a second time.
Elliott won 18 caps for Scotland and was part of the squad that went to the 1998 World Cup in France, and he hopes that McLeish’s appointment will be start of the good times returning.
Q. How do you see things progressing for Scotland currently?
A. It’s a strange old time for Scotland has been for a number of years. Gordon Strachan seemed to have them on the right track and a lot of people thought they could qualify for a tournament for the first time in 20 years, but it proved not to be the case. Hopes have been high and have been dashed regularly in recent years.
Q. What do you make of McLeish’s appointment came about?
A. It’s a second bite of the cherry for Alex and he’ll probably acknowledge that he wasn’t first choice. They were on about getting Michael O’Neill from Northern Ireland but that didn’t transpire, which wasn’t an ideal situation because they were left looking around for options. They probably consider Alex to be a safe bet because of his experience of doing the job before.
Q. Do you think McLeish can take Scotland to a first tournament since 1998?
A. I was involved in ’98, which shows how long ago it was. Nearly 20 years, who would have thought? I know Scotland have found it difficult to compete domestically and internationally in recent times, but you’d think a Scottish team would have qualified for at least one tournament in that time. Can McLeish do it? I’d like to think so.
There’s a decent crop of young players coming through, but they’ll need guidance and patience. With the new qualifying format for the Euros, it may give them an opportunity.
Q. How much will it mean to Scotland if they qualified?
A. It’ll probably mean more than ’98 if and when it happens. Back then, Scotland had been involved in a lot of competitions, but that expectation to qualify isn’t there anymore. The Tartan Army and Scottish people in general are desperate to be involved in a tournament again.
At the opposite end of the UK, Elliott’s former club Torquay United are bracing themselves for relegation to the sixth tier of the football pyramid.
After losing their Football League status in 2014, the Gulls have struggled to arrest the slide and now sit several points adrift of safety in the National League with only a month of the season remaining.
Elliott made his Football League breakthrough at Plainmoor in 1989 and is sad to see the club’s current plight.
Q. What do you think has gone wrong at Torquay?
A. For geographical reasons, they’re a bit isolated, so it can be a difficult place to get players willing to go there. You feel like you’re detached from other clubs around the country, but that’s not to say Torquay can’t have successful times. Unfortunately it’s just gone from bad to worse. It’s always been hard to sustain a level for the team, but they’ve always battled – even though the club has gone in out and out of the Football League – although to see them on the verge of another relegation is really bad news because it gives out the wrong signals.
Q. How do you feel to see Torquay in this situation?
A. You worry about the future of Torquay United and if they’re ever going to get back into the Football League. It’s sad to see from my point of view because the club gave me a great foundation to play in the Football League for the first time.
Q. Do Torquay’s struggles show the strength of non-league nowadays?
A. While Torquay have found is difficult to maintain a level, other teams in the league have developed. Not so long ago, there were hardly any full-time teams and now the majority are and that has improved the standard. There’s an assumption that you come out of Football League and however desperate the state of the club is, you can cope with it. But then you find out you need to be just as good, if not better, than you were before.
Q. If Torquay are relegated this year, do you think that by hitting a new low it’ll spur the club on to bounce back?
A. If it does end up in relegation this year that will be the positive mindset to take. That’s not necessarily going to be the case and you have stop the rot – hopefully it’s as low as they’ll go. The club is an important part of the community and the region, and they won’t want to see it slip away.
Matt Elliott was speaking exclusively to Play With A Legend ahead of his return to the King Power on June 2nd to play alongside fellow former Foxes Muzzy Izzet, Steve Walsh and Frank Sinclair as they each player manage a side of Leicester fans. You can sign up to play alongside them by clicking here.