There won’t be a throng of dribbling fans awaiting him at Sydney airport. There won’t be newspapers dedicating their front and back pages to his arrival. The football cognoscenti won’t be fawning over his every touch and the media won’t wilt at his charm.
He’s no ADP but Emile Heskey could be the pivot that launches the Newcastle Jets into the Hyundai A-League’s top end.
Heskey’s move to Newcastle is perhaps one of the strangest signings we’ve seen in the A-League for some time; not because he’s a bad player but he’s not exactly a household name or even the style of player Australian football is supposed to be interested in anymore (if you believe those who decide such things).
The former England forward must be used to criticism and snide remarks by now. From his early days at Leicester, Heskey has never quite lived up to other people’s expectations.
A battering ram of a forward with the capacity to cause havoc in defensive lines by himself, he always seemed to be on the verge of greatness. But Heskey never developed into a prolific striker, much to the frustration of fans and media commentators alike.
His big move came when Gerard Houllier signed him for Liverpool in 2000; the following season, playing alongside Michael Owen, was his finest, scoring 22 goals in all competitions as Liverpool won the League, FA and UEFA Cups.
But he was unable to maintain that consistency in front of goal. Many said he was a confidence player, other just decried him as a donkey but whatever the reason, Heskey became the forward you built a team around but rarely chipped in with goals.
Overall, he scored 111 goals in 512 Premier League appearances – 15th on the all-time scorers list. Don’t know about you, but that’s a record I’d be pretty proud of.
For those who see goals as the only indicator of success, Heskey became a figure of fun. Even when news broke of his transfer to Australia, the UK Daily Mirror ran the headline, “Pom-shell! Emile Heskey and his 'wider contribution' are heading to Australia”.
And some of the blog comments I’ve read over the past few days suggest plenty of people in this country share that view.
But for those who see goals as the result of playing well, Heskey has a lot to offer his teammates and is a certainly much better player than most people in Australia are in the position to be even slightly sniffy about.
Unless they know better than Houllier, Sven Goran Eriksson, Martin O’Neill and Fabio Capello.
When Gary van Egmond re-joined the Jets at the beginning of last season, he was left with someone else’s squad, and a group of players that had gone through pre-season training to play in a very different style than he wanted them to.
For all Nathan Tinkler’s woes and faults, Hunter Sports Group should be applauded for the long-term planning they’ve put in the Newcastle Jets, as van Egmond was given the time and support he needed to restructure his side, and this season the Jets have one of the youngest and most exciting squads in the competition.
This isn’t a necessarily a side that will be at their peak in 2012/13. But if van Egmond can keep them together, there is a great deal of potential in the red and blue. And Heskey is perfectly placed to draw that out.
That sniggered-at “wider contribution” might not have much currency for England, but Heskey provides the perfect pivot for the likes of James Brown, Marko Jesic and Ryan Griffiths, receiving and holding the ball, drawing in opposition defenders while his teammates exploit their pace and space.
Those qualities that have drawn so much criticism are precisely why van Egmond agreed to sign him.
At 34, he’s not the devastator he once was but won’t have any issues with the A-League’s physicality. He might not score too many, and perhaps even hoof the odd one out of the stadium but, let’s be honest, we’re used to that.
And after more than a decade in the Premier League, Emile Heskey deserves the respect of everyone in Australian football.
The views expressed in this article are purely those of the author and do not reflect those of FFA or the Hyundai A-League.