Tactically-speaking, Heskey will be a perfect fit for Newcastle Jets
In his excellent autobiography Jamie Carragher describes Emile Heskey as having “the ability to be a Liverpool player but not the mentality.” Newcastle Jets will be hoping the pressure of being their marquee man does not expose the same cracks in his confidence.
Despite scoring 22 goals in his debut season at Anfield, Heskey never seemed convinced he was good enough to be Liverpool player. Shorn of self belief, the chances he missed rather than the ones he scored began to characterise his game in his later years at Liverpool and stints at Birmingham, Wigan and Aston Villa to the extent that missing an easy chance is often referred to as ‘doing a Heskey.’
With this in mind the mixed reaction to his signing with the Jets appears somewhat appropriate. His hardworking style makes Heskey very much a players’ player rather than one who is likely to be the darling of supporters. But whilst marquee signings are very much about generating interest in the A-League they are ultimately judged by their impact on the pitch and the former England international will be no different.
It is highly likely that the 34-year-old will occasionally ‘do a Heskey’ but he will make the Jets a better side. On first glance he seems unlikely to fit into van Egmond’s preferred up tempo possession based game but a deeper look shows he will add more to the Jets than just a physical presence.
Flanked by any of the highly mobile wide attackers available to the Jets Heskey will provide a focal point from which they can make runs off safe in the knowledge that he will hold the ball up. Nothing curbs a player’s willingness to get forward like a striker who repeatedly gives the ball away, having spent over a decade holding off the best defenders in the Premier League he has the tools to continue doing this. There is also the issue of drawing defenders in to him. His frame makes it almost impossible to get the ball off him when he has it under control and defenders will be drawn out creating space for the wide players to come inside into or midfielders to burst forward past him.
There is also his ability to stretch the play as he is surprisingly quick and does offer a threat in behind. If defenders try to stop him receiving the ball short they run the risk of getting exposed in behind and in attacking midfielder Bernado Ribeiro the Jets have a player capable of finding the former Aston Villa man.
The obvious one is Heskey’s physicality which creates an option to go long. Few would wish to see this but it could have a positive effect on their short passing game and their ability to play out from the back. To combat a possession game most teams will attempt to press high and aggressively to force their opponent into error. If the Jets have an option to play the odd long pass into Heskey it could prove an effective means of combating pressure and forcing opponents back.
I am not suggesting to launch it up to him and play off the knockdowns but rather to play in to him, in a similar way Gerard Pique does for Barcelona when he elects to stretch the game by playing a long diagonal to stop the opposition from being able to press high. In Heskey the Jets will have an option to mix up their play making it more difficult for the opposition to devise a means for stopping them.
He may not have the pedigree of Alessandro del Piero but few in the world do, however, Heskey will make the Jets a better side and that is what any new recruit should do. Maybe even ‘doing a Heskey’ will find a new meaning in the A-League, fingers crossed.
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