Deconstructing The Emile Heskey Myth
By Rob Casey
Sunday 20 Jun 2010 13:34:00
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Though it’s plain to see for most English fans that Emile Heskey embodies everything that’s wrong with the England style of play, it’s baffling how many people have not only bought The Emile Heskey Myth, but genuinely seem to think he’s an essential part of the side. Well, it’s time to put them straight.


The Myth goes something like this: He may not be the most technically gifted player in the squad, and he may not score many goals for a striker, but Heskey’s tireless and unselfish play allows the rest of the team to play better by having him there. He is the ideal partner for Rooney, giving our best player the freedom to drop off him, which ultimately benefits the team. Therefore, we need Heskey up front.


Allow me to explain why this is entirely wrong.


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Firstly, it must be acknowledged that Heskey DOES have strengths, though these are wildly overstated. It is true that he works tirelessly (perhaps more than anyone against Algeria) and that he is unselfish (to a fault). His work-rate and commitment to the cause are second to none and no English supporter should ever criticise Heskey for his efforts. After all, it’s not his fault that he keeps getting picked. For these reasons, I admire the man. He embodies everything we want to see in the English spirit. But tactically, he’s the wrong choice in every way.


His lack of skill and poor scoring record are givens, so I won’t focus on those. Instead, the great myth that he brings the best out of Rooney is what simply does not stand up to close (even distant) scrutiny. Indeed, it is statistical fact that Rooney scores more frequently alongside Crouch than he does alongside Heskey. Of all Heskey’s strengths, Crouch has them in greater abundance. But even if you disagree with this, it’s his role within England’s formation that is the main problem.


Because it’s believed that Heskey is so good at holding up the ball, England use him as a target man. (This is a fault with picking Crouch as well, to be fair.) Defence and midfield resort to hopeful long-balls and we have a tendency to abandon patient and purposeful build-up play which favours our technically able stars. We’re not used to this style of play and we’re not very good at it, but the selection of Heskey seems to demand it.


But surely this allows Rooney to play deeper, allowing him more freedom? Well, yes, that’s true. But it does not benefit Rooney or England to allow him that role. Rooney loves to get involved in the play and will frequently drift into midfield to pick up the ball if given the chance. This leaves Heskey on his own up front, with little chance of us ever scoring.


Why has Rooney had such a great season at Manchester United this year? Because Sir Alex Ferguson has played him as a lone striker and banned him from dropping deep. He is the target of their play and a talented midfield have more options in terms of supplying him with chances that he puts away better than anyone other Englishman. We need him in the box for England, and Heskey prevents him from being there.


And what about Gerrard? Selecting Heskey alongside Rooney forces Gerrard to play on the left, in order to accommodate Lampard and Barry in the centre. Most of us will acknowledge that this doesn’t bring out the best in Gerrard either. If Heskey was dropped and Rooney played alone up front, we could push Gerrard forward into the hole behind Rooney. This is his best position, and the role he employs to great effect for Liverpool, supporting Fernando Torres. We could then perhaps put Joe Cole out on the left.


So dropping Heskey would allow both Rooney and Gerrard (our best players, potentially) to play in their favoured and most effective positions. So far in this tournament they have both been poor, and so have we. It’s time to get the best out of them, and that means no room for Emile.


Without Heskey we’d change our shape to something nearly every player in the team is more used to. It’s as if we’ve been playing 4-4-2 all this time to accommodate him. Truly bizarre.


Please don’t get me wrong. I admire how Heskey has made such a successful career out of limited assets. His is a great story. But it’s a story that belongs to English football’s past. An old-fashioned centre-forward, there’s no room for players like him in the modern game, especially at international level.


Thanks Emile for everything you’ve done so far, but no thanks. England needs a new direction.


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