Remarkable risers: Five late bloomers in sport after Vardy success
Sam Barnard, Assistant Sports Editor | February 6, 2016
Leicester City and Jamie Vardy are set to do the impossible, as the striker played a part in helping his team defeat much-fancied Premier League rivals Manchester City 3-1 at the Etihad to put the Foxes in pole position for the title.
In light of Leicester (now 7/4 top-flight favourites with Coral) and Vardy’s remarkable rise, with the 29-year-old plying his trade in non-league football only four years ago, we have picked out five other sportspeople who were late bloomers…
Didier Drogba (football)
The Ivorian Vardy? While Drogba is now known as one of the Premier League’s finest ever strikers, during his trophy-laden spell with Chelsea, and one of the most recognisable people in the world, there was a time in his early 20s when it looked as if his career would never really take off.
Drogba was still playing in France’s second division at the age of 24 with Le Mans, where he was even behind former Hull City and Rangers forward Daniel Cousin in the pecking order, and it was only at his next club Guingamp that his ability was evident.
He is still going strong aged 37, scoring regularly for MLS outfit Montreal Impact, getting 11 in as many games last season.
Chris Froome (cycling)
It is strange to think that just five years ago, a 25-year-old cyclist called Froome was reportedly set to be released by Team Sky, and their faith in the Kenyan-born Brit has certainly paid off as he has since tasted Tour de France success twice.
It is said that Froome’s remarkable rise is down to recovering from the parasitic disease bilharzia, which he reportedly had untreated during his early career.
Johanna Konta (tennis)
With many predicting that former prospects Laura Robson and Heather Watson would be the next big things in British tennis, instead Australian-born Konta has come from almost out of nowhere and spoilt the party.
After turning pro in 2008, her best season-ending finish in the following six years was 112th (in 2013), but her career seemingly stalled after ending down in 150th in 2014.
However, after apparently overcoming nerves playing on the big stage, Konta, now aged 24, has rocketed way up to 28th in the WTA world rankings after a sensational run to the recent Australian Open semi-finals, and she could be a future Grand Slam champion in the making.
Steve Smith (cricket)
If you’d have said back in 2013 that Smith would not only become captain of Australia’s national cricket team, but also the number one Test batsman in the world, you would have certainly been laughed at.
Smith, now 26, was originally drafted into the Baggies Greens’ side as a leg spinner who could bat, and was put down at number eight nine in the order.
After going his first 22 innings without a century, and not really progressing with the ball, his place in the squad was certainly under threat, but his two hundreds in the 2013 Ashes series on home soil began one of the most incredible turnarounds in cricket.
Now, after 39 matches (72 innings), Smith averages a whopping 57.90 in Tests, and is one of, if not, the most feared and devastating batsmen in the sport.
Stan Wawrinka (tennis)
Another tennis player features, this time in the men’s section of the game, and Wawrinka’s rise in the latter part of career is certainly one of relief for him after living in Swiss compatriot Roger Federer’s shadow for so many years.
Wawrinka had always previously shown some promise, spending much time in the top 10, but no many would have predicted that he could win a Grand Slam, let alone two.
Having reached just one semi-final in his first 35 appearances at the sport’s four major singles events, he remarkably shocked Rafael Nadal to claim the 2014 Australian Open, and the following season prevented Novak Djokovic from completing the career Grand Slam by winning the French Open.
The 30-year-old’s tattoo perhaps explains his eventual glory, with the following words by Irish writer Samuel Beckett written on his left forearm: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”