The subtle genius of Emile Heskey’s A-League move

Vince Rugari Columnist

By Vince Rugari, Vince Rugari is a Roar Expert

52 Have your say

    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
    Vince Rugari

    Vince Rugari is an Adelaide-born journalist who cut his teeth on the sporting graveyard of 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. A Port Adelaide fan by birth, he now is a sports reporter for Australian Associate Press

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    The Crowd Says (52)

    • September 20th 2012 @ 5:09am
      Champ said | September 20th 2012 @ 5:09am | ! Report

      This continual huge signings are going to send many clubs bankrupt.. its happened in the AFL and NRL and the exact same thing is starting to happen to the A-League.

      Clubs spend huge on big names and then outbid each other… then realize oh shit we have no money, then our big names leave, then the crowd leaves.. and uh oh

      • September 20th 2012 @ 7:37am
        Bondy. said | September 20th 2012 @ 7:37am | ! Report

        I wouldn’t necessarily call it a huge financial signing apparently he’s on 700,000k thats similar to a NRL players salary I think. He will be assesed in time to see he’s financial worth to the Jets and the A League, he should deliver some solid experience for away games which the Jets lacked a bit of experience last season fighting for points away, their home form wasnt that bad…

        • September 20th 2012 @ 9:38am
          Tigranes said | September 20th 2012 @ 9:38am | ! Report

          Bondy not too many NRL players earn $700K a year

          • September 20th 2012 @ 10:11am
            Ian said | September 20th 2012 @ 10:11am | ! Report

            i don’t know any NRL players who get 700k. maybe benji marshall with his bling was close.

            • September 20th 2012 @ 12:40pm
              Jimbo Jones said | September 20th 2012 @ 12:40pm | ! Report

              Surely some of the Storm players were getting these kind of dollars a few years ago…

      • September 20th 2012 @ 9:13am
        nordster said | September 20th 2012 @ 9:13am | ! Report

        Its really up to clubs and those running them to act responsibly. Boards, chairman etc are stewards for the fans. You cant regulate for good sense. Provided they cant raise massive debts against the club. Just string them up if it goes bad 😉

      • September 20th 2012 @ 10:21am
        trentus said | September 20th 2012 @ 10:21am | ! Report

        Hey Champ, which AFL clubs has that happened to? Or did you just make that up?

      • Columnist

        September 20th 2012 @ 6:26pm
        Vince Rugari said | September 20th 2012 @ 6:26pm | ! Report

        Think of it as an investment. ADP has almost paid for himself already on exposure and media space alone – then there’s jersey sales, etc…

    • September 20th 2012 @ 7:34am
      agga78 said | September 20th 2012 @ 7:34am | ! Report

      No champ, these are two Billionaire’s splashing the cash, both are trying to spark interest in their clubs by signing these star players, sometimes you have to spend money to grow your business. If WSW somehow get Ballack all of sudden everytime WSW, Sydney and to a lesser extent Newcastle play away another 5-10k people turn up to the games which boosts the league as a whole and to be honest the figure of 2 million fans for the season could well be within reach.

      On Heskey, he is clearly a good player you don’t play 15 years in the EPL if your a dud and the reality is if he was Australian he would be a hero As a player I think he is the perfect signing for the Jets a striker who can hold up play to allow the midfield and wingbacks to get forward is perfect for the 4-3-3 system the Jets wabt to play, I always thought Brisbane played some of their best football in the past two seasons early on when they had Reinaldo up front and he was a dud but it allowed the midfield to play around him which was so deadly.

    • September 20th 2012 @ 7:59am
      Minister for Information for the Democratic People's Republic of Football said | September 20th 2012 @ 7:59am | ! Report

      “For a league less than a decade old, in a country that does not yet have an ingrained football culture, this is actually invaluable.”

      Sorry Vince but our football culture didn’t start with the A-League. Ours is a surprisingly mature football demographic compared to some other “new market” countries of the world.
      What’s happening to me? I’m channeling Fozz and Les again. Be gone Fozz! BE GONE!

      • September 20th 2012 @ 8:34am
        Kasey said | September 20th 2012 @ 8:34am | ! Report

        It doesn’t help that our very own federation have thus far failed to officially acknowledge the pre-HAL history. As far as I am concerned, Perth Glory FC is a 2-time Australian Champion club. The NSL wasn’t exactly easy to win and IMHO those championships should be respected.

        • September 20th 2012 @ 9:38am
          Ticker said | September 20th 2012 @ 9:38am | ! Report

          You’re forgetting that at this time the NSL had no salary cap so Glory bought up the best talent in the country at the time, the NSL’s equivalent on Manchester City!

          • September 20th 2012 @ 10:13am
            Kasey said | September 20th 2012 @ 10:13am | ! Report

            I’m not sure I see your point….is there an asterisk next to Man City’s most recent title? Both Man Citeh and Glory still had to win their games, most notably in 2000 Glory failed in the big dance against a plucky Wollongong Wolves outfit. It was the best domestic football in the country at the time and was certainly a tough league to win.

            I’m yet to hear a valid argument against Perth Glory being considered 2-times champions of Australia. Matt Carroll certainly did the FFA no favours in 2005 with his Khmer-like year –zero policy at the beginning of the HAL(thankfully rolled back since then!).

            AU celebrates 10 years of existence in 2013, the AU historical society had a nice display at last night’s ACL game celebrating the Reds achievements in that competition…I look forward to the celebrations of the Reds faithful in 2013.

            • September 20th 2012 @ 1:42pm
              Nathan of Perth said | September 20th 2012 @ 1:42pm | ! Report

              And for a while banned any marketing that might have capitalised on that history (so as not to put the lie to year-zero :P)

          • September 20th 2012 @ 10:16am
            nordster said | September 20th 2012 @ 10:16am | ! Report

            Long live the super clubs….caps are just a cap on ambition…hopefully our league will mature past it in good time. And floors well they just place unsustainable requirements on small to medium town clubs.

      • Columnist

        September 20th 2012 @ 8:49am
        Vince Rugari said | September 20th 2012 @ 8:49am | ! Report

        Well aware mate. I went to Adelaide City games growing up. But Australia still doesn’t have a rusted-on football culture, or a kind of deep folklore – at least on a mainstream level – like other sports. This will play to that, and help in a way.

        • September 20th 2012 @ 8:59am
          Minister for Information for the Democratic People's Republic of Football said | September 20th 2012 @ 8:59am | ! Report

          I guess there’s a bit of a split amongst the football followers in Australia. A lot of people have jumped on board in the last 10 years or so and that’s terrific.
          On the other side of the coin you have the “veterans” like ourselves and like-minded pundits that we find here on the Roar a lot.
          Maybe I was a little harsh on Emile and I’m not going to jibber on about it anymore. What do I know? He might really rip it up in Newy and I will have to eat my words.

        • September 20th 2012 @ 9:00am
          Bondy. said | September 20th 2012 @ 9:00am | ! Report

          Could it be Vince the mainstream media are all aligned with other sports afl/nrl cricket,remember if footballs kept in the dark in this country other sports around it prosper. Aussie rules and Rugby League have been on fta tv since the mid seventys you dont think that helps your sport.

          • Columnist

            September 20th 2012 @ 9:14am
            Vince Rugari said | September 20th 2012 @ 9:14am | ! Report

            Yes, but that’s not quite what I’m saying.

    • Roar Guru

      September 20th 2012 @ 8:24am
      TomC said | September 20th 2012 @ 8:24am | ! Report

      I don’t agree with everything in this article, but I have been really disappointed by the misplaced arrogance that has surrounded the commentary on Heskey’s signing over the last day and a bit. So I’m glad to see something countering that.

    • September 20th 2012 @ 8:26am
      Futbanous said | September 20th 2012 @ 8:26am | ! Report

      Sort of like betting on the nags.or gambling in general,never do it if you cant afford to lose the dough.
      Man City & Chelsea have reaped the benefits of being supported by financiers who have deep pockets.
      Other clubs in Europe also.
      Therefore speculate to accumalate.
      Somewhere in the A-Leagues short history it needed to gamble, if it is to make a mark on the Australian sporting landscape.
      Whilst theres no doubt that developing our own superstars is common sense ,what isnt common sense is the naive belief that these kids can become the equivalent of a young Messi or Oscar in the A-League.
      Because it happens in other sports here,doesnt translate to football.
      They will only become superstars like Messi or potentially Oscar if they play in the top European Leagues.
      That is the perception,that is the reality.
      So the only way the A-League can ever have a genuine football superstar is to do what is being done with ADP & now it seems Heskey. We will never be a big enough league(meaning big enough moolah)to get them in their prime.
      Forget the nouveau crap peddled by Foz ,footballs not all about handing out packets of small mints,domestic leagues are about stars & entertainment,leave the serious stuff for International football.
      Look at England the EPL’s fine, even though the NT still struggles to win major trophies.
      Bring in the big fella to follow the little fella & lets start attracting all Football fans in Australia to A-League matches.

      • September 20th 2012 @ 8:45am
        Minister for Information for the Democratic People's Republic of Football said | September 20th 2012 @ 8:45am | ! Report

        Very true Fut. If we are going to see some real superstars in our national team in the future, some genuine ball-playing maestros, they will have to leave our shores before they turn 16 at the latest.
        They need to be immersed into the football culture of a historic club with pedigree in producing great footballers. They need to eat, breathe and live football. And they need to work hard for it.
        In Australia there’s too many distractions and as soon as someone shows a little spark they are showered with praise surrounded by yes-men hence they think they’ve made it at the age of 19. A 6 month off season doesn’t help either.
        As for the HAL, correct as well, it will never be able to compete with the bigger European leagues but there’s no reason why we can’t get to the level of the J-League. As the quality of imports improve we will earn more cred and also the rest of the players benefit from playing with these seasoned campaigners and learn a lot along the way, especially the youngsters coming through.

    • September 20th 2012 @ 8:35am
      Roger Rational said | September 20th 2012 @ 8:35am | ! Report

      Great article. Heskey is a bit of a donkey, clearly, but his forward partners tend to score a lot of goals because of the space he makes for them.