Much criticism has been levelled at Emile Heskey since his January move from Wigan Athletic and I find it hard to understand why, considering that Aston Villa paid a smaller transfer fee for him than they did for Marlon Harewood.
It seems odd that a player who cost more, played less and has scored less goals for the club leaves under the proclamations such as ‘always gives his all’ and ‘never given a chance’, while Heskey is vilified for his limited contribution since his transfer. So, why is Heskey a flop yet Harewood - who I watched at Colchester pre-season and was absolutely awful against league one opposition – suddenly a favourite?
Heskey as we know, started his career at Leicester under a certain Martin O’Neil and began scoring goals during the 95/96 season, his first came against Norwich. In his first full season under O’Neill, Heskey managed a haul of ten goals at the age of nineteen and a further ten the following season resulting in him being the subject of transfer speculation for a number of Premier League clubs, including Leeds and Spurs.
He stayed at Leicester and was openly criticised after only scoring six goals in the 98-99 season despite O’Neill’s efforts to point out that it was Hesky’s unselfish style of play that had helped form a productive partnership with veteran striker Tony Cottee, allowing the player to resurrect his top flight English career with a flurry of goals.
Ironically it was this season that earned Heskey a club record £11m move to title hopefuls Liverpool in March of 2000.
Only scoring three times in his first twelve appearances for Liverpool led to more criticism for Heskey and the media once again had their knives out for him despite rallying calls from those in the game such as Ian Rush, Michael Owen and Gerard Houllier.
This criticism was well and truly silenced as he scored 23 goals in all competitions during 2000/2001 winning the UEFA cup in the process.
Heskey boasts eight career titles including four league cups, an FA cup, UEFA cup, UEFA super cup and a charity shield. He has also appeared at several major championships with England.
After leaving Liverpool, Heskey managed to become Birmingham city’s player of the season in 2004/2005 scoring eleven goals and picking up the clubs highest number of man of the match awards. It was a performance he struggled to replicate as the club went down the following season and Heskey moved on to Wigan were his career was once again resurrected by Steve Bruce.
Every manager Emile Heskey has played under mentions that it is not his goals that make him valuable, but the space he creates for other players.
Capello has often mentioned that it is easier for Gerard and Rooney to play their way into a game when he is on the field. At the beginning of a tight game it can be considered valuable to have a solid influence up field to gain control of the ball in dangerous areas and create space for other players in between and behind the central defenders.
Once tiredness kicks in and more space is available it can be beneficial to introduce a smaller, quicker alternative in his place.
Personally I have a lot of respect for a player who has won trophies, international caps and gained praise from some of the most respected names in the game, yet had nothing but criticism and hatred form large sections of the media and ‘fans’ alike.
His story truly is one of triumph over adversity and he deserves more respect from people than he is given. It is a little known fact that his wife Chantelle was held at knife point last year while their house was burgled. He is a human being first and footballer second.
The part of Heskey’s game that comes in for most criticism is his goal scoring so I have worked out some averages.
At Leicester he scored a goal every 3.85 games, at Liverpool it was the exact same, at Birmingham every 4.8 games and almost the same at Wigan while at Villa he has scored twice, so an average of a goal every eight games.
Looking at this, it is foolhardy to expect more than ten goals a season from Heskey, although he has it in him to score more. It is his style of play that wins respect from those in the game and the way he plays is so often described as ‘unselfish’.
I can see the benefits of playing Heskey as a lone striker ahead of three attacking forward players in a midfield five and this is almost certainly why Martin O’Neill has signed him. It is competition for places up front and another dimension to the attacking options for less than the cost of Marlon Harewood.
Creating space for players with pace coming in from wide positions that we now have a wealth of I can see Heskey as a plus and a viable substitute for Carew given the big Norwegians injury record.
To conclude, Heskey is a good player if not a prolific scorer, who, despite the unwavering criticism he has endured throughout his career has continued to score and makes goals at the highest level and has not once moaned or whinged about any of it. I say give him a chance and see what he can do.
If nothing else he will be a positive mood in the dressing room and it is unfortunate that his signing coincided with our poor run last season. I feel this was less down to him and more down to the exit from Europe, the mood in the camp, the loss of Laursen and the spectre of Barry’s departure hanging over the squad.
Heskey will not grumble when he doesn’t play and will give 100% when he does. I’m not saying I am his biggest fan, but I am a fan of O’Neill and I am a fan of Aston Villa Football Club so I see it as pointless berating him when we should be getting behind him as a player. I know this may put me in the firing line, but this is my opinion and I wanted to get it across.