Heskey brings his 'A' game to Newcastle 

  HE might not have generated the avalanche of publicity or become the marketing icon that Alessandro Del Piero has been for Sydney FC.

And there is no chance that hordes of English paparazzi will swoop on the Hunter Valley to chase his every move, as several Japanese crews did when Shinji Ono made his debut for West Sydney Wanderers.

But Emile Heskey is not complaining. 

The big striker is not exactly low-key. It’s hard to be low-profile when you have played at two World Cups, represented England 62 times and spent the best part of a decade and a half at the top level in the Premier League. 

But the big man is not one to draw attention to himself because, at 34, the Leicester-born and raised son of Antiguan immigrants to England simply doesn’t have to boast about his record. 

His CV, which also includes stints at some of England’s best-known clubs, including Liverpool and Aston Villa, both former European champions, speaks of a player of quality.

Tall, strong and speedy, it’s easy to pigeon-hole Heskey in the expectation that he is a battering ram of a forward, a man who relies more on his physical gifts than technical prowess. But that sells the striker short.

Many who have lampooned and criticised him, particularly for his low goals-to-games ratio for England (seven goals in those 62 games), have often failed to understand the roles he has been asked to play,  especially when coaches stationed him on the left of the attack, a tactic designed to create space for others through the centre.

Whatever stick he has had to take – and there has been plenty of it down the years — doesn’t appear to have shaken Heskey’s self-belief, nor his even temper.

He has arrived at Newcastle and gone quietly about his business, doing his talking on the pitch. 

Five goals in seven games is a terrific introduction, especially for a man who knew little about the league or opposition teams or defenders two months ago.

Now he has had time to catch his breath and review his opening seven weeks, Heskey says he is both pleased with his own initial contribution and at the standard of the competition in which he has come to play.

He has signed a contract for seven months and will consider his future in January, after his family (he is a father of five young children) come to spend time with him at Christmas. Should things continue to go well with the Jets, there is every chance  Heskey could extend his time Down Under.

‘‘I could have stayed in England when I finished with Villa. I had a few options, mostly in the Championship. When you have grown up as a young lad in England you always say to yourself that you might like to play abroad. ‘‘I had opportunities earlier in my career and I chose to stay in England, but at the end of my time with Villa I thought it was probably the right time to sample something different. 

‘‘It’s been a decent start and I am enjoying every minute of it. We have got some good young lads here and I hope I can help them in a learning curve. 

‘‘From a playing perspective I have fitted in reasonably well ... I have been playing this game a long time now and I can fit into different systems and structures. It’s not a major problem for me.

‘‘Before I came I spoke to Robbie Fowler and Dwight Yorke, and Bridgey [Michael Bridges]  is here as well, so  it kind of sold itself to me. I played with Bridgey from the age of 17 in the England set-ups, so he was someone I knew well and could talk to.’’

Heskey said the A-League was enjoying a growing reputation in England. 

‘‘It’s getting quite a bit of publicity. People talk about it a bit. Those were big players who came out here so you get to see and hear a bit of the league. When I spoke to Robbie before I came out he didn’t have anything bad to say about it at all. That was important to me.

‘‘I am taking it a day at a time, and staying on is something the manager and the owners will also have to think about. We will probably start considering it all a bit more in January. But right now I am happy with how things are going and hopefully we can kick on again.

‘‘The standard is not bad. In England there are Australian players coming over all the time and playing and doing well. 

‘‘You can’t really compare it with the Premier League, but here the football that teams are being encouraged to play is really good. Coaches want to get the ball down on the ground, play to feet, pass and move. It’s good football to be playing. 

‘‘People can put themselves about when they have to, but the football being played is, I think, really quite attractive. 

‘‘It’s far from being just a physical, muscular game here.’’

Being a well-known face and the marquee man in a developing league is just one new type of pressure for a player who has been dealing with expectation since he was 17, when he first broke into the Leicester set-up.

‘‘I have grown up with pressure, having broken through so early and playing for England so young ... From the age of 14, I was playing against 18 and 19, sometimes 20-year-olds. It was something I was used to, the pressure and the physical aspect.

‘‘I was lucky I got my break, but it’s like I say to a lot of young lads, when you get your break that’s when you have to take the chance. You probably only get one or two opportunities. Hard work is the key a lot of the time and your ability will shine through.’’

There have, of course, been memorable highlights in such a long career: games, achievements  and performances that stick out.

‘‘To play for the national team on the world stage is one of the best things you can do. Playing in the Euros for me was the breakthrough in 2000, then playing in ’02 with the World Cup was huge.

‘‘Making my debut with Leicester was a massive achievement. I didn’t really know much about it. Mark McGhee was the manager at the time; we had a lot of injuries and sickness so I got my chance. It didn’t go brilliantly but it was a good experience for me. 

‘‘When Martin O’Neill came in, that’s when I started playing regularly and we had a good side at Leicester, we got promoted, finished in the top half of the table and won the League Cup. People said we probably overachieved, but it was a good time.

‘‘The 5-1 win with England in Germany is another great memory.  It was a great day for us. We lost our final game at the old Wembley, so we knew this was a massive occasion for us. Going 0-1 down it was hard for us, but we dug in and got the great result. We showed great heart away from home. I scored the last goal and it was Sven’s [Sven-Goran Eriksson’s] first competitive game in charge.’’

Having played at such a high level for so long, Heskey has lined up alongside some  top-drawer performers. But ask him who the best he played with are, and he answers quite quickly, citing one former England colleague from Liverpool’s biggest rival, Manchester United, and another an Anfield teammate with whom he played during Liverpool’s treble-winning season in 2000-01.

‘‘Paul Scholes or Gary McAllister. Scholes was unbelievable. He didn’t talk much, but his ability shone above everything.

‘‘Gary Mac was an experienced older player for us at Liverpool and he really helped us younger players a lot in the 2000 season. His ability speaks for itself.’’

Most top-flight footballers are handy at other sports as well, and looking at Heskey’s build and background it’s tempting to wonder whether the England cricket team missed out on a potential star bowler at the expense of the soccer team.

Not a chance, says the player.

‘‘It’s our national sport in Antigua. We have Sir Viv, Curtley Ambrose, really big names, but I wasn’t a huge fan. When you have it thrust in your face too much ... I didn’t like it.’’

EMILE HESKY: ‘‘The football being played is, I think, really quite attractive. It’s far from being just a physical, muscular game here.’’

EMILE HESKY: ‘‘The football being played is, I think, really quite attractive. It’s far from being just a physical, muscular game here.’’


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