Why Heskey HAS to start for England at the World Cup

Emile Heskey is undoubtedly a football pariah, a player who divides opinion and for my money someone that is vital to England’s chances at the World Cup.

I’ve seen many things over the past few weeks about people calling for Heskey to be dropped from the England side, with many even going as far as to say he should be left out of the squad altogether. Quite frankly this would be a bizarre thing to do. Capello’s England have shown they play better with Heskey in the side than without so why is there still an argument?

Heskey’s critics will always point to his poor goal scoring record as proof he’s out of his depth on the international stage and whilst 7 goals in 57 caps is a somewhat dismal record it does not show the work he does for his team providing space, knocks downs and defending from the front.

England’s two most successful striker’s of the last decade, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney will most likely point to Heskey as their favourite strike partner for the international side and although he lacks a goal threat himself, the space he provides occupying centre halves down the channels with his willing running provides room for England’s more talented players such as Rooney, Gerrard and Lampard to exploit.

Heskey was brought back in from the international wilderness by Capello to great success throughout the qualifying campaign and he’s integral to England’s style of play. He was identified by Capello precisely because of the qualities he does possess rather than the ones he doesn’t. His main strength are his work rate, strength and ability to occupy defenders in areas they don’t want to be in. England are built around the theory that our two most talented players, Rooney and Gerrard can work in tandem to devastating effect. Under Capello that has often proved to be the case because of the space that Heskey’s running provides them.

His critics will always point to his lack of goal threat but with more team’s than ever before defending from the front he’s a key cog in the Capello machine. To deride Heskey for the very role he was brought into do shows a lack of understanding about the complexities of the modern game and smacks of double standards. Striker’s are not just there to score goals anymore, if you can get someone who can score and work hard such as a Torres or Eto’o then everyone’s a winner, but these types of players are extremely rare.

England play better with Heskey in the side, it’s clear for everyone to see. To discard him now and in turn break up the successful partnership he currently has with Rooney so close to a major international tournament strikes me as nothing short of madness.

Capello is not s stupid man, far from it; he’s a brilliant footballing mind. He’s adapted England’s style of play to get the best out of its most talented players and the system he has in place needs Heskey, he’s integral to its success. The main challengers to his role in the team are Crouch, Cole and Zamora and whilst they all have their own merits it’s simply too late to bed in new players to a team that’s performed so well up until now.

Most people point to the fact that if put through one on one Heskey would be one of the last people you’d want to see there, but this ignored the fact that he’s done it before in an international tournament (see England 3 Denmark 0 World Cup 2002) and against quality opposition. Granted this was 8 years ago but he’s a completely different player now and one that occupies the channels and drags defenders to area where they don’t want to be. The likelihood of him being in a position such as this is fairly slim.

To tamper with a side that is working according to plan smacks of short termism, Heskey is vital to England and vital to getting the best out of Rooney who plays best as a deep lying striker/playmaker which he can undoubtedly do when paired with Heskey. As the old adage goes, ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ and I’d argue this very much applies to Heskey and those questioning his England place.

Written By James McManus