Celebrating Emile Heskey!


Sometimes it’s easy to go with the crowd and sneer at certain players because everyone else does it.

Throughout his career Emile Ivanhoe Heskey had his detractors, but I think his style and his ability was often under-appreciated.

The forward made his debut as a seventeen year old for his hometown club Leicester City, although even then he had the physique that resembled more of a heavyweight boxer than a young footballer just starting out.

It was in the following season that people really sat up and took notice of the teenager as Heskey scored seven times and helped Leicester secure a place back to the Premier League.

Obviously everyone bangs on about Claudio Ranieri’s Foxes team as they produced the ultimate miracle and won the top flight title last season but I still remember Martin O’Neill’s Leicester City side with much fondness.

Players like Muzzy Izzet, Robbie Savage, Matt Elliott, Steve Guppy, Neil Lennon, Steve Walsh, Ian Marshall and Tony Cottee are still names that roll off the tongue. They would give their all for the fans, the manager and the club.

Heskey typified that team spirit and the team comes first attitude.

As a young striker he had brute strength, raw ability and a good turn of pace too. He’d simply bully vastly more experienced defenders into submission!

After four full Premier League seasons with the Foxes Heskey would leave for Liverpool in an £11m deal. He left Filbert Street after scoring forty-six goals for the side and he also helped them to secure two League Cup triumphs.

To show the mark of the man, when the Foxes were struggling financially in the early 2000s Heskey would give his former side a six figure sum in a bid to help them out. He would later say:

“I just gave it unconditionally because of my love for the club. They were in a bad way. It was desperate. It was sad to see the club I played for and went to cup finals with in such a terrible state.

“I was a ball boy at Filbert Street and I went to playing at the old Wembley with my parents watching. Everything about what happened for me – the 5-1 win with England in Germany – was all down to starting here.

A quality I’ve always admired about Heskey’s style is just how much hand-work he’d put in for his team. Throughout his career he’d outmuscle opponents, turn defenders, win flick-ons, hold the ball up and run tirelessly all day.

Basically Emile was England’s best build up man during his era. His play would often allow more prolific strikers to flourish. The obvious main benefactor being Michael Owen, for both club and country.

The two struck up a great understanding and Owen would be prolific as Heskey did most of the hard work. It was the ideal big man, little man partnership.

Most famously the two would destroy old rivals Germany in Munich. It’s crazy to think but that 5-1 away victory for the Three Lions was almost exactly fifteen years ago. It was all part of the supposed ‘golden generation’ for English football with the likes of Gerrard, Cole, Scholes, Ferdinand and Beckham coming together at the same time.

Leading the line was the Liverpool duo of Owen and Heskey and they gave their best displays that night. Owen helped himself to a stunning hat-trick, with Emile expertly nodding the ball down to him for his second.

But for Heskey his glorious moment came on the seventy-third minute as England fans had just finished a rendition of ‘God Save the Queen’. Beckham played a through ball to Scholes, who in turn looked up and played in Heskey. The big man was like a train powering in on goal as he steadied himself with a touch on his left onto his right foot. The striker then slotted the ball beyond Oliver Khan and history was made!

Emile Heskey would then produce another iconic moment as he ran towards the corner flag, brought out an imaginary putter and sunk his put to celebrate his great moment.

Now a lot of England fans moan about Heskey’s strike rate as an international forward. Yes seven goals in sixty-two caps isn’t an extraordinary stat I give you that, but look at his all round game and the other things he brought to the table.

Michael Owen was far more lethal playing alongside his Liverpool teammate than he was with Alan Shearer or Wayne Rooney up beside him. In twenty-five appearances alongs side Heskey, Owen would score thirteen times while Emile scored four. His scoring form wasn’t that much worse than Teddy Sheringham or Peter Beardsley, yet they are remember fondly for the link-up play they provided for their number nines.

See Heskey’s job wasn’t really about scoring goals, it was about softening up the opposition and being useful to those playing around him. International defences hated playing against him as they couldn’t handle his power, willingness to run, arial ability and his speed. It would tire them out and then someone like Owen would take advantage of any mistakes.

His selflessness was needed in that England team of egos and talent. It needed a player to put in a shift whether it be up front or on the left wing and do it without any fuss.

His time at Anfield ended in 2004, after four and a bit seasons with Liverpool. He’d leave with a UEFA Cup winners medal, two more League Cup wins, a Super Cup and an FA Cup triumph. He also managed to score sixty goals for the club.

His former boss at Liverpool Gerard Houllier would say this of him:

“Some people like to criticise Emile, but I can produce plenty of facts and figures to back up how important he is to us, and how many goals we have scored that he has been involved in”

See that’s another thing about Mr Heskey, you cannot find a bad word about the guy when it comes to those that have worked with him. He seems like a genuine stand up type of guy!

Former Reds captain Steven Gerrard sums it up well here:

“Maybe Emile is the sort of player only appreciated by team-mates. If you play with him week in, week out you see first hand all the effort and hard work he does for the team.”

After Liverpool he had varying amounts of success at Birmingham, Wigan and Aston Villa. In 2010, Fabio Capello recalled him for England’s World Cup squad in South Africa, mainly because they failed to find a replacement for him in the first place.

As I’ve previously alluded to, people love to beat the big guy up with the stick that he didn’t score enough. But his 11o Premier League goals isn’t too shabby a tally. It has him in the top twenty Premier League all-time goalscorers, ahead of stars like Ruud van Nistelrooy, Didier Drogba, Ryan Giggs, Fernando Torres, Cristiano Ronaldo, Dimitar Berbatov, Paul Scholes, Peter Crouch and Matt Le Tissier.

In 2012, Emile decided to have a crack in Australia and he bagged ten goals in forty-two A-League appearances.

He would return to England and play for Bolton Wanderers under former teammate Neil Lennon, who would then try and persuade the now thirty-seven year old to join him at Hibs this summer. Heskey politely declined.

Everyone remembers the prolific scorers, the flamboyant playmakers and the heroic centre-backs. People also like to take an interest in the bad boys and the gobby footballers who all too often have too much to say.

I like to shine a light on the players who were outstanding professionals, who worked their bollocks off, were successful and didn’t bitch and moan when things weren’t going all their own way.

So Emile Heskey I salute you!

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