The Heskey Debate
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The Heskey Debate

The Heskey Debate

The Heskey Debate

I’ve watched with great interest the debate that has existed over the pros and cons of Emile Heskey as an Aston Villa player since we signed him last year. I’ve never weighed in with my opinion to be honest, basically because I’ve not had the opportunity to see the lad play live. Watching a player/team on telly is never going to give an accurate insight or perspective…

Heskey tackling

With all that said, I’ve finally had my opportunity to see the boy play now, and to be honest I’m firmly in the corner of Martin O’Neil and his coaching staff on this one (ie. I truly believe he should be playing when fit, although rarely for 90 minutes).

Before I offer my point(s) of view, I’ll start by saying that I’m a lifelong Villa fan, having stood on the Holte End as a boy and young man, before emigrating in the early 90’s. Since then, I’ve become a professional coach and have obtained all of the coaching licenses and handled some very good teams and players. I say this not to “toot my trumpet” but simply to make the point that I maybe see things a little differently nowadays. Maybe my views echo those of the staff at Villa Park a little…..

Before the cup final I was probably on the “he’s not good enough/overrated” side of the fence. I thought that he was a passenger in many games and simply didn’t do enough for the team to justify inclusion. So, I was more than a little interested in watching him play last weekend….

What I saw was a very intelligent, hard-working footballer. “On the ball” he is an average premier league striker/target man. He doesn’t score many goals – British fans insist that this is the hallmark of any forward, and I can understand why. BUT, his movement off the ball is simply second-to-none. He creates space when checking into the gaps between the back four and midfield; he attracts defenders away from other players and areas; he is rarely, if-ever challenged fairly by a (minimum of one) defender and rarely is beaten cleanly in the air. He works back to help the midfield constantly and drags defenders away from the place where defenders like to be and should be. He gets physically punished and rarely wins free-kicks. He defends from the front – he shapes the way other teams play out of the back because of how he moves and pressures….

Heskey Back Of Shirt

When Wayne Rooney scored at Wembley it was like someone turned on a switch in the brains and mouths of all those surrounding me in the stands. Suddenly everything was Heskey’s fault. Scapegoat maybe??? Two women behind me started saying “Heskey’s useless, we’ll never win with him on the park,” in reaction to Gabby mis-placing a pass! Seconds later a ball was deflected towards him from about three yards away – he had virtually no time to react yet managed to get a toe to the ball at least. “Useless t**t Heskey” they cried all around me… Now if Jimmy Milner or Gabby had done the same thing it would have been “ooh, great try son, good effort, he’s class that Milner.”

I saw comments on the Reading report reactions today, suggesting that he was “always going to miss” the one-on-one with the ‘keeper. If you get a chance, watch the replay – first he had to regain his balance as he was bearing down after being chopped from behind (he chose to ride that challenge rather than go down) and he then placed the ball across the keeper, who was starting to go the other way – the ‘keeper threw up an arm – good save….. a bit lucky to be honest. By the way, I was praying for Vidic to foul Gabby at wembley – ‘cause I’ve got even less confidence in Gabby in those situations….

Imagine if the missed header by Richard Dunne late in the game (and it was a miss) had been good ole Emile? I doubt he’d have been given a rousing round of applause while he lay prone on the ground as united counter-attacked. In fact, he’d probably be getting blamed for us not leveling the game even now. Thank goodness Phil Dowd was a bigger figure of hate! Come to think of it, imagine if he’d made the mistakes that led to both united goals that were made by our two centre-backs…..!?

I have absolutely no doubt that the fact that Emile Heskey is a former Birmingham player affects the way he is treated by our fans. Can we please get over this? He’s too good for the noses – that’s why he’s with us… (while we’re on the subject, I’ll jump up on my “stop wasting energy singing about the blues when you should be supporting our team” soap box).

Emile Heskey is not perfect, far from it. He should score more, of that there is no doubt. But, despite getting little or no respect from his own fans he continues to give his best in a Villa shirt, even when we’re singing ferociously about a supremely gifted forward from Norway who decides when he wants to play or work for the team (which he rarely does); tries to play like a little quick guy despite being a natural target man, and yet could, if he wanted, win games single-handedly.

I’m not Martin O’Neil, and I’m glad I’m not. But if I was, I know who I’d be playing the majority of the time. Emile Heskey is a great professional and makes those around him better. If you don’t believe me then ask Houllier, Capello, McClaren, Eriksson, Bruce, Rooney, Owen…… If John Carew wants to be “the man” as he clearly does, then perhaps he should spend less time blowing kisses to the crowd and more time being a professional.

Regardless of your own feelings on the subject, I’ll leave with this….. Players DO get paid very very well, better than coaches by the way! And we SHOULD expect, as fans to be able to have our own opinions. But if there is a single person out there that thinks players are not/should not be affected by negative comments, moans and groans from the stands then you’re simply being unrealistic. They’re not going to be getting any better anytime soon while that sort of behavior continues. Confidence is a powerful, but very delicate emotion….


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Date:Monday March 8 2010
Time: 11:25AM


Unseen work, garbage, some people like to imagine they are more intelligent than the rest of us, it is obvious to the majority for a reason, sod all goals, sod all assists, runs around, falls over, he creates space because the opposition defenders are scared he's going fall on top of them
10/03/2010 19:09:00
Unseen work, garbage, some people like to imagine they are more intelligent than the rest of us, it is obvious to the majority for a reason, sod all goals, sod all assists, runs around, falls over, he creates space because the opposition defenders are scared he's going fall on top of them
10/03/2010 19:09:00
Agree with astriel - if he provided a lot of 'unseen' work, his assists would be a good deal higher than 1....
09/03/2010 18:46:00
Agree with astriel - if he provided a lot of 'unseen' work, his assists would be a good deal higher than 1....
09/03/2010 18:46:00
agreed Mason, at times he has obviously been asked to play as good as the 5th midfielder role but then, as an attacking midfielder he should still wade in with a few more than he does so he is a bit buggered for excuses!
The Fear
09/03/2010 16:49:00
I notice there is a common agreement on here that Heskey doesnt score enough goals but does a lot of 'unseen work'...isnt that the work of midfielders ?
09/03/2010 16:14:00
Personally i don't think any amount of him making runs has assisted in us scoring goals or winning games. If you're going to play him deep, then play someone better there, maybe milner with someone else in centre mid i.e a 4-4-1-1. Someone who holds the ball up better than Heskey and someone who is more creative and can lay the ball off to the wingers or full backs...........
09/03/2010 15:35:00
One other note - this heskey opens up space for owen and rooney is hilarious. Oddly enough these players score bundles of goals even when they are playing without heskey. Just a brief bit of analysis and I couldn't find ANY result showing that a striker is more prolific when playing next to Heskey (including owen, Rooney, gabby and carew). So I'm pretty certain that strikers who operate with Heskey don't actually benefit that much in terms of goal scoring. Now I haven't done any rigorous statistical testing but preliminary stats don't show any statistically significant benefit to playing next to heskey so I'm pretty certain that the result would carry over. This also talks to how many assists Heskey provides each season. So strikers aren't really more prolific next to heskey and he provides a very low number of assists. Sounds like a waste of space to me.
09/03/2010 11:17:00
I could run up and down the pitch all day but would I be premiership class? No chance. Effort is all good and well but Heskey does not have the talent to play at this level. Look at the stats - heskey has the lowest number of shots, shots on target, goals and assists out of our three strikers. So in other words, he is the worst at doing what he is put onto the pitch to do - play as a forward. Gabby is a very incomplete player still and JC only plays for 5-10 minutes some times but yet they still offer more as a striker or forward. Its simple statistics - they are unbiased. Yet virtually every statistic you look at has Heskey at the bottom of the pile. In fact this year is actually one of his worst as a professional player! He has provided one, yes only one, assist all season in all competitions. So for someone who runs around like a headless chicken, he actually doesn't provide any opportunities for anyone to score. And we don't really need to comment on his goal scoring record or lack of goals scoring. So what does he offer that I won't? Cause seriously I'll take 1/4 of what he earns per week and I will happily run up and down the pitch for 90 minutes!
09/03/2010 10:53:00
Heskey would be a good player in the Coca Cola division but i don't think he's good enough for the Premier League , I thought he was overrated when he played for Leicester and couldn't believe it when Liverpool bought him but thought he played well for Wigan so thought he had matured into a decent player so i wasn't too disappointed when he signed for Villa . He made a good start scoring in his first game and things looked rosy but it didn't take long for him to start tripping over the odd blade of grass and looking like he was out of his depth . I don't think it is a coincidence that the end of our fantastic season coincided with Heskey's signing , we had a season of two halves .. Fantastic first half with no Heskey .. Drab second half with Heskey .. I do appreciate the effort he puts in but we need effort and a certain amount of skill as well . I think that we need to be using Carew and the Fonz the same way we are using Carew and Heskey now . Start the games with Carew and bring Delf on as a sub and I'm sure Delfouneso will be outshining all our strikers (even Gabby) in a very short time .. And play Luke Young at right back .. Then lets win the F.A Cup and finish 4th
08/03/2010 22:39:00
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