Date: 8th March 2010 at 11:26am
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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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