For years, the British press has maligned Emile Heskey. Yet for the duration of the decade, English managers have found reason to call him into the national side. Even in his club career, he has been maligned during several Premier League stops, beginning with Leicester City in the late 1990s through today with Aston Villa.
Elements of the British press have consistently shown in their handling of Heskey, they still don’t understand football, beyond the obvious. Some might as well be naive American sportswriters used to writing about Baseball, based on the misunderstanding and misinterpretation of Heskey’s qualities.
Emile Heskey is a striker. We are told by writers who normally don’t understand the evolution of tactics or the team game that Heskey must score goals. These self styled arbiters of how football should be played and how footballers should be judged have consistently thought Heskey’s inclusion in the England side a waste.
The two best performances of the Steve McLaren era were achieved with Heskey on the pitch. The victories over Israel and Russia both by 3-0 score lines. In both matches Heskey pitch presence made a huge difference, with the big attacker taking up space and flicking the ball on well to on rushing attackers or midfielders. Heskey’s tidy play in both matches was a major factor in England’s success.
It was the performance against Russia that had many football writers in that country hailing Heskey as England’s secret weapon. Yet skepticism persisted in the English press, and some match accounts claimed the results had been achieved “inspite of Heskey’s presence.” When England failed to qualify for the Euro 2008 tournament after Heskey missed the decisive qualifiers via injury, the tact still did not change from many writers.
Under Fabio Capello, Heskey has become a regular, bordering on an automatic pick. The things he does off the ball, finding space in the attacking third and holding his position serve a tactical maestro like Fabio Capello well. His play also enhances the scoring prowess of this around him: England led UEFA World Cup Qualifying in goals scored, and almost every single one of those goals was scored while Heskey was on the pitch.
Yet, some media personalities in the Britain still do not get it. They do not understand how an attacking player does not have to score goals himself, but simply enhance the ability for the team to score goals and win matches.
Continental football analysts consistently state that those in Britain do not understand tactical football and lack the sophistication to break down tactics. This generalization is somewhat insulting to the outstanding writers such as Jonathan Wilson, David Conn, Amy Lawrence and others who have immersed themselves in football culture from abroad.
But it often times is true of the tabloid writers, and those looking to create controversy, who seize on stereotypes and report about the matches in a lazy fashion. The British press often times sees what they want to see and misses the whole picture as to squad selection and tactical setups. This is unfortunate for the home of football, and a nation that aspires to be the leading light in football punditry and analysis.