Is it just me? Surely the managerial nous of Fabio Capello and Martin O’Neill cannot be wrong. Liverpool Football Club doesn’t make bad signings … does it? Michael Owen doesn’t credit any old player as his favourite strike partner. Why is it then, that I can’t see it? Why is it that every time I see that number 18 line up on the centre circle, I know I’m in for a frustrating afternoon’s viewing? Why is it so, that Emile Heskey starts everywhere he goes?
Emile Heskey … even the sound of his name makes me cringe. I remember sitting as a young fan in the Anfield Road end at Liverpool amongst the passionate home supporters; Aston Villa were in town. Having swapped the tickets outside the ground (we were originally supposed to be seated at the Kop!), I had my claret and blue colours well concealed inside my bomber coat. Watching the game in silence, containing my excitement for the away team attacks (which were few and far between anyway), my allegiances were soon evident when out of nowhere I heard a few spurious chants emerging from the far side of the stadium. Thinking the Pool supporters were singing the name of Emile Heskey, I quickly dismissed this crazy idea and tried to get back to reality. When all of a sudden, the noise got closer and more concise until the whole of Anfield erupted to the sound of “Emile Heskey! (clap clap clap)” – I think the Villa fans would have joined in too considering how laughable it was. And as I sniggered louder and louder, in direct correlation with the volume of the chant, I could see some home fans glancing at me in mystified disappointment. It was as if they didn’t understand what was so funny … maybe they didn’t realise which player they were chanting for. But as their blind ignorance refused to wilt, I remembered that when you play for Liverpool, “of course you’re a good player” – in the eyes of their fans at least. And it was at that moment of unrelenting faith from the Merseysiders that I made a promise with myself that I would never be so unreasonably objective to criticism of my team.
Fast forward 6 years and I’m happy to announce that I have not been bit by the same biased bug. In fact, I might be a bit too fair sometimes (if that is possible). Fast forward 6 years, and I most certainly am not singing the name of Emile Heskey, regardless if he plays for my team or not. Not to say that I didn’t give old ‘Hess’ a chance either. When we were first lining him up as a transfer target, I thought “brilliant”. I wasn’t shouting it from the rooftops and jumping with joy but I at least thought he would make a competent replacement for Carew. He was holding the ball up well at Wigan and had secured a starting spot on the national side – on top of this, we were struggling for depth up front (and considering Heskey’s form, we still are). Never in my wildest nightmares though, did I think he would ever be keeping our treasured Norwegian out of the team and getting away with game after game of uninspiring, apathetic performances.
Admittedly, when the ball is played right into Emile’s chest, he can (most of the time) demonstrate a great first touch and has the strength to hold any defender in the world off. But then what happens? When he does the hard work and gets the ball under control for us in opposition territory, he is more than happy to roll the ball back to the same player who passed it, time after time. However, as a pure hold up player, Heskey is probably technically better than Carew – but how often is the ball played right to his chest? And that aside, how frequent is the art of holding the ball up used in a game? For 5 seconds every 5 minutes maybe (probably generous). The rest of his game (and I mean the REST of his game), leaves an awful lot to be desired. Yes, he tracks back. But he tracks back so slowly and sluggishly that it’s the only time in football you can be annoyed at a player for working hard. And when he eventually does get back (and sometimes makes himself useful), he strolls back up the pitch in such a lethargic manner which suggests he doesn’t really want to be there in the first place. Some hold up player who can’t even get up front.
When I say that the rest of his game isn’t good enough, it would be pretty easy to decipher his appalling strike rate. When, as a forward, your first shot on goal for the season comes on the 21st November, something isn’t going right. Heskey is content standing with his back to goal and playing the ball back to where it came from. Watching the League Cup final on Sunday, I’ve never been more frustrated. Our 6’2 “hitman” (that’s Heskey by the way) spent the whole match either: a) lying on the ground having been bundled over by players 2 stone lighter b) standing in an offside position, making himself unavailable as an attacking option for our midfielders to use c) walking out of our right back area, before strolling back in. Honestly tell me, does anyone remember Emile playing in that cup FINAL? One time he deflected the ball off the back of Vidic, but I bet very few people can point to even one telling involvement the England international had on our biggest game in 10 years. This is the player Capello has chosen to lead the line for one of the World Cup favourites; yet, once again, in our hour of need: Emile Heskey was nonexistent.
Shall I go on? After his decent 14 goal season with Liverpool, Heskey has transformed himself into a striker who can guarantee managers one goal in every seven games. And that isn’t through any wrongdoing that he was injured or suffered a dip in form; but more in the fact that his last 3 individual seasons have each represented a consistent pattern of 1 goal in 7 games.
– 07/08: 28 appearances, 4 goals
– 08/09: 34 appearances, 5 goals
– 09/10: 21 appearances, 3 goals (Richard Dunne: 3 goals)
Even worse statistics have shown up in seasons gone by, but this is the form of consistency which the goal machine has developed. Furthermore, his questionable spot on the England side (which seems bizarrely set in stone) has only brought a return of 7 goals in 57 games (Yes, that is actually one goal in EIGHT games). But more importantly, only 3 of these goals have been scored in competitive fixtures – and these fixtures have all ended in a minimum winning margin of three goals for England. Compare this to our best forward, who has been frozen out for no known reason. John Carew has featured in 105 games for the Villains (most of which this season have included 20 minute run outs at most) and delivered 36 goals. Not prolific by any means, but at least the lap dancing fan is sure to provide a goal in under 3 games for us, compared to Heskey’s 7 goals in 42 appearances (okay okay – that’s a strike rate of 1 out of 6 in all competitions), meaning our number 10 is scoring goals more than twice as fast as big Emile.
“Yes but Heskey is a selfless player who brings other players into the game…” I think it’s about time we dispelled this myth as massively inaccurate. Whoever thought it up in the first place, I don’t know. Heskey does bring other players into the game, and probably passes more than most forwards – only because he doesn’t want the ball himself. If we were to call a spade a spade, Emile Heskey hides on the football pitch and has demonstrated a chronic case of avoidance motivation. How long is it until his useless playing safe is called for what it really is. Shirking responsibility and bottling decisions, Heskey is nothing less than a nuisance for us up front who is only slowing down our otherwise lightning and exciting attack. I don’t mind if players lose the ball – as long as they try to make something happen. And with 1 assist to boast this season, and 3 assists each in the two previous seasons, the goalless forward is devoid of making absolutely anything happen and surely the notion that he compliments other forwards can now be put to bed for good. In fact, the year his “dream partner” Michael Owen nothched up a goal tally of 19, Emile Heskey was only credited for 6 goal assists that year (his highest league tally ever) and how many of those were involved with Owen’s goals, I don’t know.
Statistically, Emile Heskey is a poor acquisition. With an ineffectual ability to directly set up goals, and a goal record which makes me wonder if we would be better off with Stefan Moore (banging in 22 goals in 27 games for Halesowen Town!), Heskey is unquestionably a player at the wrong side of an already tiny hill.
Subjectively, Emile Heskey is a poor acquisition and it is extremely difficult to see what he brings to our team over the course of 90 minutes.
Don’t get me wrong, I hope this isn’t seen as a personal attack on the lad – he actually seems like a lovely fella! But when it comes to successful football management, all empathy must definitely be thrown out the window. O’Neill demonstrated this ruthless desire to succeed by admirably selecting Friedel over Brad Jr in the Carling Cup Final. It’s about time Heskey’s card is marked now too. It’s about time we started taking our Champions League ambitions seriously, and it’s about time that big, bad John Carew is recalled to the starting line up to do so.