Emile William Ivanhoe Heskey has always been something of an enigma and that doesn’t seem to change with age. The Wigan man is a bit of a Marmite footballer – you either love him or you hate him. He was one of the golden boys of Sven-Goran Eriksson’s honeymoon period, and it seems Fabio Capello too thinks that the 30-year-old has a part to play.
When you think of Heskey and England, it is difficult not to be instantly drawn to the famous 1-5 win in Germany. Heskey put the icing on the cake with the fifth goal of five that evening. Three other goals that night were scored by Michael Owen. I’m not sure what happened to him, but he was on good form that night. In fact, there is an Owen theme running throughout Heskey’s England career. Owen loves playing little man to Heskey’s big man, and for a while they were Eriksson’s preferred pairing.
It was also rumoured to be Owen who convinced Steve McClaren that partnering him with Heskey would be the best strikeforce for England. While the final days of the McClaren reign were not the best time to be involved in the England set-up, Heskey received widespread praise even when other members of the squad were falling short of expectations.
This was something new for Heskey. Normally it has been his team-mates who have truly appreciated his work on the international football scene. To England fans, all too often in the past he has been a lumbering striker who does not score many goals and cannot keep his footing. The black and white figures do not offer much of an escape from this assessment. Heskey has five international goals in 48 England appearances. A goal every 10 games is not the sort of return you would normally look for from an international striker.
Indeed, it was arguably the fans’ lack of affection for Heskey as much as his own lack of form which resulted in him being left in the international wilderness for so long. His club form for Wigan, when he has avoided injury for long enough, meant a return to the England fold was inevitable at some stage.
It is a new and improved Heskey that returned to the international set-up is more mature. He plays to his strengths, works hard, and finally seems to have some decent studs in those notoriously slippy boots. And it seems that Capello prefers the slightly shorter but much wider option of Heskey over Peter Crouch as his ‘big man’.
It remains to be seen whether that goal in Munich will go down as the clumsy striker’s finest hour, or whether there is still time for him to rewrite his England history.