For the last decade, Emile Heskey has been a bit-part figure in the England squad. It is hard to believe that, given the criticism and scorn he has received at International level, the Aston Villa striker has amassed 57 caps to date.
It is the accompanying statistic which causes the most concern, that being a rather miserly 7 goals. The trademark reaction to his lack of goals for England has been to emphasise his importance as an accompanying striker, mainly to Michael Owen. This theory appears to have only been based on a handful of appearances, and in closer scrutiny of statistics, it emerges Heskey has only contributed three assists for his country. After his re-birth as a vital foil for Owen, it was accepted for a period of time that the striker, in his own way, contributed positively to the England set up, albeit it ultimately to no avail in terms of English success in Competitions. However, with expectations having rarely been higher, and England being labelled one of the favourites to win the World Cup in South Africa, can they afford a place to a striker who does not score goals?
To try to provide a substantial reason for his call up, the first port of call would be the striker’s form this season. However, three goals and two assists in the Premier League would provide absolutely no foundation on which to consider Heskey a worthy addition to the England squad. Kevin Davies, Bobby Zamora, Carlton Cole and even Matt Derbyshire – plying his trade at Olympiakos – all boast better records this season to Heskey. This makes his call up at the age of 32, even to the provisional 30-man squad, somewhat bamboozling. After his stagnant league form is weighed up, this leaves only International experience that would give Heskey the nod over other strikers. Such is his high regard in the England set up, he was once handed the captaincy after Michael Owen was substituted against Serbia and Montenegro in 2003. The height of the criticism he received came on the back of a poor performance at the 2004 European Championships, then after the emergence of Peter Crouch into the England set-up, Heskey went into somewhat of an International exile. A valuable contribution during Euro 2008 re-established Heskey as a seemingly pivotal member of the England squad.
His wide range of International tournament experience is advantageous, however this would be considered more beneficial were he not a striker. The bottom line remains he is not, and has not been for years, scoring goals consistently, or even assisting goals. It is difficult to find an example of a similar situation with any other of the top International teams, where one of their top strikers in contention for a start has provided so little in terms of goal return in recent times. His work-rate and passion have never been in doubt. If England want to have the cutting edge over their opposition at this year’s tournament, Emile Heskey is unlikely to be the name that will strike fear into the cream of the planet’s defenders.