In a world where many Premier League clubs buy their talent from abroad, it is refreshing to know there are a number of players started at grassroots level and battled their way to the very top. Managers like Arsene Wenger spend big sums of money on players like Lucas Perez in the hope of improving their competitive odds, when players like Jamie Vardy could have won Wenger the Premier League title he has been coveting for over a decade. Here we take a look at a number of top players who made their trade in the lower leagues of football.
The ultimate Cinderella story of Non-League footballers undoubtedly belongs to Jamie Vardy who rose through the ranks to capture the Premier League. After being released from the Sheffield Wednesday academy, Vardy played for Stocksbridge Park Steels from the age of 16 until he was bought by FC Halifax Town for a fee of £15,000 in 2009. After a year with Halifax he then moved again, this time to Conference Premier side Fleetwood Town for just over two seasons before he was picked up by Leicester (then a Championship side) for a Non-League record of £1 million. Vardy then played a crucial part in their promotion campaign and subsequent Premier League survival the following season. But it was the following season, with new Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri, where Vardy really shone. First he broke Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s record of scoring in eight consecutive Premier League games, won the league and finished just one goal behind top scorer Harry Kane. At the age of 29, he might not have much of a career left in front of him, but for now, Jamie Vardy is having a party.
There may not be another player who has risen through the ranks faster than Manchester United defender Chris Smalling. Moving from his youth team of Maidstone to the Red Devils (via Fulham) in the space of three years, where he has since won the Premier League and FA Cup. He may have looked shaky in early seasons but, following the departures of Ferdinand and Vidic, Smalling has come into his own and now looks a rock in the back four. He has also made 29 England appearances to date including appearances at two major tournaments. Tipped by many to be a future captain for club and country, and at the age of 26, Smalling may well have a long career still ahead of him.
Talk about a player who has been around the houses and Charlie Austin springs to mind. Having played his home games at a number of Non-League sides including Kintbury Rangers, Hungerford Town and Poole Town, Austin then played his first League football at Swindon Town (at the time a League One side) for two seasons and then moved to Burnley in the Championship. In three seasons he scored 41 goals for the Clarets before attracting the attention of Harry Redknapp, then the manager of Queens Park Rangers. Austin enjoyed two and a half seasons with Rangers, scoring 17 goals en route to their promotion to the Premier League, followed by 18 goals in the subsequent relegation. Although initially dropping back to the Championship with the Hoops, it wasn’t for long before he attracted the attention of Southampton and found his way back in the Premier League. Austin has been called up to the England squad on two occasions but hasn’t featured either time, which remains the biggest tragedy of Austin’s career.