Leicester striker Jamie Vardy has officially launched his V9 Academy and vowed to give non-league players the chance to follow in his footsteps.
The forward wants to offer those outside the Football League professional coaching to repeat his stunning success.
He has scored 24 goals this season, including a brace in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Everton, to help the Foxes claim a shock Barclays Premier League title and complete his own fairytale.
Vardy signed for Leicester from Fleetwood for £1million in 2012 having played for Halifax and Stocksbridge Park Steels after being released by Sheffield Wednesday at 16.
And the 29-year-old England international, who made his Three Lions debut last year, is keen to give players the opportunity to break into the professional ranks.
“I was told I was too small, that I was not ready for the physicality of scholarship,” he said.
“I don’t think anyone can be told if they’re good enough at 15 or 16, when you still have so many years to grow and develop. That was my reason, probably hundreds were told the same and had to drop down as well. Hopefully we can find them, get them to the academy and get them through.
“I have done it, that is there for people to see it can be done. With the players we get on and if they put the hard work in – and it will be hard, it will not be easy – we will give them Premier League-standard training and coaching, we can give them a chance to make the step up.”
Applications are being taken for the academy from this month with the first intake of 42 players due at the Etihad Academy Campus in Manchester next summer, where free week-long residential courses will be held.
Players must be involved at levels five to nine in the football pyramid – the National League down to divisions like the Western and Wessex Leagues – and the academy will look at players from 17 up to 33 years old.
Vardy, who will part-fund the academy himself with the plan for it to become self-sufficient, added: “You never forget your non-league days, turning up to away dressing rooms and getting changed in a Portakabin, one shower for whole squad, which was freezing after 10 minutes so you had to make sure to be the first one in.
“Whether it’s a low or high, the roots you come from keep you grounded.
“I took it all straight into my stride. I moved to Fleetwood on the last day of the window.
“I turned up looking forward to being in the squad, and then (boss) Micky Mellon called me into his office and said I was starting. I managed to put in a man-of-the-match performance and end up with three staples in my head, from a York centre-half’s teeth going into it.”