Jamie Vardy's Goalscoring Feat Should Be Seen As More Than A Premier League Record


Over the past few days, there’s obviously been a lot of commotion over Jamie Vardy, and a lot fewer mentions of Jimmy Dunne. The Leicester City striker has set a new Premier League record by scoring in 11 consecutive matches, but hasn’t yet matched the Irishman’s feat of 13 in a row from 1931-32 - something that many are naturally keen to remind people of.

That has less obviously led to a wider debate about the cut-off point for such discussions, and why so much only seems to go back to 1992-93, and the somewhat superficial creation of a new competition. There are a fair few angles to this subject, but many criticisms themselves stop at the idea that this is all just a consequence of psychological conditioning by the broadcasters, to reinforce their own primacy.

The irony is that the broadcasters are indeed a huge factor as to why a certain amount of discussion only goes back to the start of the Premier League, although quiet not in the manner thought.

Because, when you actually lay it out, the reality is that there has never been a period in football history as volatile or as deeply transformative as that between 1990 and 1995. Almost everything around the game changed, and that in turn changed the game itself.

It actually started in 1987, as broadcasting moguls like Silvio Berlusconi watched a first-round European Cup tie between Napoli and Real Madrid and wondered why a meeting between two of the best teams was being wasted on such an early stage.

It was there that the very idea for the Champions League took root, and that Berlusconi himself began to develop a money-making broadcasting model that would spread around Europe and influence companies like Sky.

It is not a coincidence that the European Cup properly became the Champions League in the same year that the English clubs’ break-away Premier League started in 1992.

In the meantime, Berlusconi’s inflated fortune had given coach Arrigo Sacchi the space to impose his ideas on AC Milan, and develop the game’s first real tactical innovation since Ajax’s pressing of 1970. The dynamic approach of that Milan side did not just change Italian football, for so long dominated by a style of Catenaccio updated by managers like Giovanni Trapattoni and Enzo Bearzot. It also blew open European football, which was itself too long governed by sterile and oppressive approaches. The year before Sacchi claimed his first European Cup in 1989, after all, PSV Eindhoven had won the competition without winning a single match in the last three rounds of the competition but banking on away goals.

Sacchi’s ideas themselves began to influence the sport in the way Pep Guardiola’s would two decades later, but this greater openness was also aided by one of the most significant rule changes in the history of the game, as goalkeepers were no longer allowed pick up back passes.

That caused more forward-thinking play, and was soon complemented by a quantum leap in the game’s administration: the Bosman ruling and the effective opening up of European football as a whole.

The total effect is hard to quantify but is undeniably huge. Again, there’s never been such an intense period like it: tactics changed, rules changed, administration changed, the landscape changed, money changed.

Ultimately, the game changed, to the point that the sport we see now is arguably as different to what we saw in the late 80s as the football in the late 80s was to the late 1930s - a point seen as a legitimate cut-off for such discussions in those days.

In that regard, it is futile - say - to compare the scoring record of Marco van Basten to Cristiano Ronaldo as a way of trying to divine who is superior. Van Basten played at a point when the context of the game meant a record of one goal every two matches was the sign of a very good striker. Now, it’s the sign of a relatively mediocre striker, because so many go so close to a goal a game.

Likewise, Dunne’s record is almost part of a different discussion to Vardy’s, because those were days when the average goals per game were incomparably high. The season before Dunne claimed his record, Aston Villa’s Tom Waring was top scorer with 49 goals and he was followed by Dixie Dean hitting 44.

Put rather bluntly, it’s a lot harder for any striker to score in 11 consecutive games now than it was then, but easier now than it was in the 1980s or 1990s. What's more, if everything is reduced to the mere maths of an all-time record, then the scale or difficulty of a feat is often overlooked too.

None of this is to dismiss or diminish history. By contrast, it is to properly recognise history, and the different contexts of different eras - not least the fact the Premier League is a different competition.

If Vardy ends up equalling or breaking Dunne’s record, it should obviously receive the same fanfare. 

That does not mean the current feat is not deserving of this commotion.