Emile Heskey was once the butt of all England football fans’ jokes.
The national side usually have someone fans can mock and deem not fit to wear the Three Lions, from the obvious in Carlton Palmer to the unfortunately maligned Frank Lampard.
For years, baffled fans questioned what Heskey would bring to club or country. It was certainly not goals, as five in 50 games for England testifies. His one salvation was a leading part in the 5-1 demolition of Germany on home soil but even then he was eclipsed by Michael Owen.
Then, slowly but surely, the attraction of Heskey became clear. He won’t be among the top scorers every season, I am sure even he'd admit that after a career that has seen less than one goal in every four games.
But his quiet, often off-the-ball performances allow other more naturally gifted players to shine. It is said that England players believe Heskey is an integral part of the squad and recently he has become a perfect foil to Wayne Rooney. I am sure his teammates at Wigan would say the same.
Now the once-mocked is on the verge of playing an equally important role in the destiny of the title race this season.
Depending on who you read and believe, Heskey could help Aston Villa in their attempt to finally break into that coveted top four spot or he could be pushing for something even higher.
National and regional newspapers today stated that Liverpool were keen on re-signing the big frontman. The fact that he barely sparkled at Anfield the first time around—59 goals in 219 games—proves Heskey’s amazing turnaround if nothing else.
Wigan boss Steve Bruce has repeatedly said Heskey, and any number of his teammates, would not be sold in the transfer window, but reports suggest he has signed Colombian striker Hugo Rodallega for £4.5million as a possible replacement.
And with Heskey’s contract up in the summer, the Latics might be understandably keen to cash in on one of their prized assets with £4million muted as a possible fee.
But which club would most benefit from his signature? I firmly believe that Aston Villa could finally achieve their own holy grail and nab the final Champions League position from Arsenal this season.
Under Martin O’Neill, the club has signed wisely, creating much more strength-in-depth and are now competing and beating the top four.
Quite rightly, the likes of Ashley Young and Gabby Agbonlahor are attracting the headlines but the 4-5-1 formation deployed offers little scope for change. Without the increasingly injured John Carew, their only other striking options are the cumbersome Marlon Harewood and the potential of Nathan Delfouneso.
Enter Emile Heskey. He would be the perfect foil for the pacy youngsters and give the side an attacking dimension they currently do not possess.
Sadly for Villa fans, the same could be said for Liverpool. Whether Robbie Keane comes good or not, and he surely will in time, the squad is currently made up of two real strikers—the Irishman Keane and Fernando Torres.
Presuming the majestic Spaniard now remains fit, it is an ominous and awesome front two, ably supported by Steven Gerrard. But most Premiership champions need a third or indeed fourth true striker—you only have to look at Old Trafford to see that. Put Heskey into the Liverpool mix and you have an unbelievable mix of guile, power, pace and finishing ability.
Manager Rafael Benitez yesterday played down talk about transfer activity this month, but a swap deal involving out-of-favour winger Jermaine Pennant, has been mentioned and would represent excellent business for the current league leaders.
In a rollercoaster career, it seems incredible that Emile Heskey could finally help end Liverpool’s painful quest for the title. But with rumours that the player himself has his heart set on a return to Merseyside—and talks that Villa might switch their attention to Sunderlandstriker Kenwyne Jones—one wonders whether Heskey could cap a remarkable turnaround with a Premiership winners’ medal.