Maliciously maligned – Emile Heskey


(Some) football fans seem to actually not know that much about football. When it comes to forwards, their main purpose is to score goals, surely? When evaluating a striker, the simple-minded football supporter will simply divine the number of goals scored by a player by the number of games played, and the smaller the result, the worse the player.

Take Emile Heskey (who recently gave an exclusive interview to the fan-generated analysis site for example. Seven goals in sixty-two England appearances – rubbish! Even during his Anfield career Heskey only scored forty times in one hundred and fifty games, a goals-per-game ratio of around one goal every four games. That’s as far from phenomenal as you can get unless you’re El Hadji Diouf.

Yet, when Liverpool snapped up Heskey for £11 million from Leicester City the then Leicester manager Martin O’Neill was heart-broken, even going as far as to say that big Emile was “irreplaceable”. As one of the most successful managers in recent English football history, it’s hard to dismiss O’Neill’s reaction, even though Heskey’s scoring record had been the afore-mentioned one in every four games at Filbert Street too.

Gerard Houllier was as delighted with Heskey’s capture as O’Neill was despondent. “You take a player because he is a talent and because you think he will work out well for the team,” said the Liverpool boss at the time. “I think at his age he is not the finished product. Like every player here he will want to progress and improve. You take players not for the number of goals they score but for the role they can play for the team.”

Heskey was slow to establish himself at Anfield, but quickly endeared himself to the crowd with a series of whole-hearted appearances. He was big, strong and had pace, was excellent in the air and when in top form could be unplayable. With Gary McAllister’s probing passes finding Heskey with pin-point accuracy, big Emile was as vital to the 2000-01 Liverpool side as every other player. He ended the season with twenty-two goals from fifty-six games, a far cry from the ‘one goal every four games’ ratio.

Liverpool were driven by the little man/big man combination of Heskey and Michael Owen up front, so much so that this combination saw Robbie Fowler leave Anfield for Leeds United. It’s no coincidence that the razor-sharp finisher Owen enjoyed his most prolific years for both club and country when combined with Heskey, and of course no one can forget that epic night in Munich when England defeated Germany 5-1, with all the goals coming from Liverpool players (Owen 3, Heskey and Steven Gerrard).

Both Owen and Heskey left Liverpool in 2004 and Anfield has not seen such a successful striking partnership (aside from perhaps Luiz Suarez and anybody) since. Heskey may not have been the most frequent scorer in Liverpool or England history, but combine him with a natural target-finder and there was no more perfect foil. Uneducated football fans really need to understand the game a little better before they pass scathing judgement.

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