The subtle genius of Emile Heskey’s A-League move
England's Emile Heskey. AP Photo/Tom Hevezi
Emile Heskey to the Newcastle Jets. It’s not official, but it soon will be. So, erm, what happens now?
The A-League cognoscenti seems to be divided – is this a step forward? Is this the kind of signing the trailblazing Alessandro Del Piero was supposed to usher in?
Should we be excited? Or is this another chapter in the hilarious book of Hunter marquee flops? Jardel, Zura… Heskey?
Certainly not the latter.
Indeed, the mere comparison of Heskey to two forgettable plodders is unfair to a guy who has carved out a strong, successful career at football’s apex – particularly when few Australians can dream of doing the same these days.
You don’t go to two World Cups, play 62 times for England and make a name for yourself in arguably the world’s toughest league by accident.
Heskey is a top player.
Just because Brisbane can pass the ball around a bit now and the standard of the competition has risen, doesn’t give A-League fans the right to turn their noses up at a seasoned pro who could actually be the perfect foil for Gary van Egmond’s young Jets side.
Let’s not kid ourselves. We are not yet a league of tiki-tacticians.
A degree of strength and physicality is still required to succeed, and probably always will be in Australia. Muscle and nice football are not mutually exclusive.
For example, Bruce Djite, who is a ‘handful’ personified. He’s not a prolific scorer, but he does a job that four A-League coaches have wanted him for.
Others have coveted him.
Is the A-League beyond the days of the lumbering target man? Not when football as a whole isn’t.
Besides, that question assumes that a lumbering target man is all Heskey is when, again, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
While he’s known for awkwardly bashing centre-halves over like bowling pins or missing opportunities that the proverbial grandmother could have scored… he can do other stuff too, y’know. Unselfish stuff.
Like holding up the ball, or making space for other players – imagine James Brown or James Virgili running onto a measured Heskey flick-on.
Watching him run around, eating inexperienced or unaware A-League-level defenders alive is going to be an experience in itself. Even now, at 34, he is still capable of the odd flash of class.
But that name. Emile Heskey.
Those letters, arranged in that particular order, seem to arouse something in the part of your brain that snickers whenever a waitress shatters a glass, or when some poor soul trips over themselves on the footpath in front of a busload of schoolkids.
Del Piero he is not. It’s hard to see the Sydney Morning Herald transforming its back page into a News of the World-themed tribute in Heskey’s honour.
There will be no roast beef and mild English mustard sandwiches named after him in Newcastle eateries.
And if they made any Aston Villa shirts with his name printed on the back, only in the most optimistic dream sequence would there be even a gentle spattering of them at the airport awaiting his arrival.
But Heskey, the would-be cult hero, the enduring enigma, will bring something else to the table.
Is he crap or is he unfairly lambasted? When Nathan Tinkler is footing the bill, it doesn’t truly matter. The point is you’re talking about him.
And not just talking about him – because talking about Emile Heskey transcends regular football banter.
A-League fans have now inherited one of the most divisive, notorious players in Premier League history.
The Emile Heskey joke book now belongs to the Novocastrians. ‘Doing a Heskey’ can now happen, for real, on Australian soil.
For a league less than a decade old, in a country that does not yet have an ingrained football culture, this is actually invaluable.
We have some heroes and a few villains, but not nearly enough. This guy is somewhere in between, and for the past 15 years nobody has been able to quite figure out where.
So bring on the circus. Let’s have the debate when Heskey’s inevitable scoring drought begins.
Let’s argue that he’s worth it for the assists and influence or that he was never really that good anyway.
And let’s laugh together when he skies one into Row Z at Hunter Stadium.
Not every marquee is going to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up like dreamy Del Piero can. Some players are known for creativity and guile, others for clumsiness and graft.
Some players are like Emile Heskey. Embrace it, warts and all.
Vince Rugari is an Adelaide-born journalist who cut his teeth on the sporting graveyard that is the Gold Coast. He fancies the round ball and the Sherrin, and used to be a handy leg-spin bowler before injury curtailed a baggy green push. He is a Port Adelaide fan by birth, as painful as that has been recently. He's now sports editor of The Area News in Griffith, NSW.