James McCarthy: Wigan’s unheralded, lung-busting gem

After playing a vital role in their desperate scramble to avoid relegation in the last two seasons, Wigan’s Irish midfielder is helping Roberto Martinez’s side attempt the great escape again with a series of battling performances at the heart of the side.

McCarthy will also turn out for the Latics at Wembley this Saturday in the FA Cup semi-final with Millwall, a huge achievement for a side that continues to fight above all expectation with a squad that, with the likes of McCarthy, has been assembled sensibly on a small budget.

 

Profile

22 year old McCarthy was born in Glasgow and after numerous trials with childhood club Celtic, he was turned away after the club had already taken on a large quota of players. He then joined Hamilton Academical where he became the youngest player to turn out for the club in the 21st century.

His full debut, against Airdree United in 2006 came a day short of his 16th birthday, his talent being spotted from a very young age.

He continued to break club records with his goal in a Scottish Cup defeat against Livingston, aged just 16 years and 55 days, making him the youngest ever scorer in The Accies’ history. He earned a reputation for being an unheralded force in the side, allowing others to thrive as he went about his business quietly and intelligently in midfield.

His performances helped Hamilton gain promotion to the Scottish Premier League in 2008 and he duly signed a three-year contract extension in the summer, going on to play 37 times in the club’s first year back at the top in 20 years. It was a successful year as the club finished a respectable 9th place and McCarthy, who scored 6 goals, was rewarded for his quality by winning the SPFA Young Player of the Season.

Despite reported interest from Chelsea and Liverpool at the time, the Blues were said to have scouted the midfielder at least four times, it was Wigan Athletic who acquired his services for £1.25 million in the summer of 2009 with the promise of first team football appealing to the player ahead of approaches from Spurs and Wolves who made no such guarantees.

Martinez initially eased McCarthy into the team, handing him 20 matches in his debut season, scoring his first goal in an FA Cup tie with Hull before marking his full Premier League debut with a goal against Wolves.

An impressive start to the following season was stalled by a foot injury that ruled him out for three months, though he still managed to make 24 appearances, helping Wigan to stay up and managing to earn a five year contract extension the summer of 2011.

He has grown into an integral member of Martinez’s squad since, making 33 appearances in total last season and then going on to make 31 so far this year. He has cemented his place in Wigan’s midfield alongside James McCarthur, who McCarthy also played alongside at Hamilton, pulling the strings in Martinez’s favoured 3-4-3 system.

Despite being born, raised and receiving his education in Scotland, McCarthy was influenced to play for Ireland by his grandfather, and he has gone to represent them at all youth levels since receiving an invitation to play for the Republic at the age of sixteen.

He has yet to score for Ireland but has eleven caps to his name, plus an inclusion to the country’s Euro 2012′s squad from which he later withdrew after his father was diagnosed with cancer.

 

Strengths, style and weaknesses

McCarthy can play in defensive midfield, but mainly operates as a centre-midfielder in a double-pivot with Scotsman McArthur in a 3-4-3, he has appeared 30 times there so far this term.

Comfortable on the ball, he is also able to mix it in the engine room of Wigan’s side, attempting 87 tackles so far this season and winning 74% of them. He has also made 51 interceptions at an average of 2 per game, showing his effectiveness at patrolling the areas in front of his defence. His dogged attitude towards midfield play has also conceded a lot of fouls, impeding players with 49% of his attempted challenges for which he has picked up 8 yellow cards.

However, his defensive contributions hasn’t managed to detriment McCarthy’s creative influence and he remains a very tidy player, averaging 59 passes per match at an accuracy of 87.9%. Despite his 28 chances created, he seldom manages to get forward, taking just 19 shots in this campaign and scoring just 2 goals. He has also managed just 1 assists from his 31 matches so far.

His main work is carried out in the centre of the park, using his vision to feed the ball forward rather than leave his disciplined station in-front of the defence. With the pace and movement of Arouna Kone, Jean Beausejour, Franco Di Santo and Shaun Maloney in front of him, McCarthy is not short of options, able to avoid going long, as indicated by his avoidance of the long ball, attempting just 157 in contrast to his vast amount of short passes, over 1,300 in total.

It shows that McCarthy is always on the lookout for a pass, constantly willing to keep the ball moving, in-keeping with the Martinez philosophy of ball-retention.

Despite only being 22, McCarthy, having been exposed to professional football since the age of 15, has bags of experience to call upon, vital in Wigan’s annual fight for Premier League survival. It is this strong know-how, in tandem with his youthful endeavour in a midfield partnership with his 25 year old counter-part James McCarthur that is providing a solid back-bone to Wigan’s run to the latter stages of the FA Cup and has given them a great chance of avoiding Premier League relegation for an eighth successive year.

 

Transfer situation

Whilst there can be no doubting McCarthy’s ability or his worth to this Wigan side, there is a growing feeling that the club, who continue to operate on one of the smallest budgets in the Premier League, may not be able to hold on to their battling midfielder for much longer.

Arsenal and Liverpool have both recently been linked with the Irishman who has done little to dispel speculation, saying “it is always nice to (receive links with other clubs) but I remain a Wigan player and we shall see what the end of the season brings”.

Although McCarthy has said he’s happy at the club, he may have to leave to further his career and become a more permanent inclusion in the Irish team, Giovanni Trappatoni has only picked him eleven times in the last three years despite his emergence in the Premier League.

With his career still in its relative infancy at just 22, McCarthy’s ambition may want to move to something higher than yearly battles with relegation. The possibility of an FA Cup success, together with yet another great escape, could provide him with the perfect chance to leave Wigan.

There is no doubt however, that the Latics will demand a big fee for their energetic, dynamic midfielder who has been a revelation since his bargain move in 2009.

 

Written by Adam Gray

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Special Feature: The Top 10 Best Premier League Matches Ever

Over the last 20 years, we have been privileged to see so many brilliant players and wonderful goals illuminate the Premier League, leading to a plethora of breathtaking football matches. But which of these games stand-out, leaving an ever-lasting imprint on our memories?

The following is a list of my top 10 games of the Premier League era. As with previous lists, there were a mixture of commodities to determine the rankings, such as how defining the game was in relation to the season, for one or both teams, the shock factor, the dramatic element and, of course, the goal-laden excitement.

 
10. West Ham 5-4 Bradford City: February 12, 2000

A memorable game that saw the talented, but controversial Paolo di Canio play the leading role.

The drama started after just 5 minutes, when the Hammers ‘keeper Shaka Hislop was stretchered off with a broken leg. He was replaced by third choice custodian, Stephen Bywater, who was making his Premier League debut. He went on to have a nightmare afternoon.

Bradford arrived at Upton Park deep in the relegation mire, but their attacking efforts were rewarded after 30 minutes, when Dean Windass headed home from a Peter Beagrie corner, with the young Bywater left rooted to the spot. Trevor Sinclair and John Moncur quickly reversed the scoreline, before the somersaulting Beagrie levelled it up for the Bantams on the stroke of half-time.

In a dramatic second half, the error-strewn Bywater gifted Jamie Lawrence two goals to give Bradford a 4-2 lead, but it was then that Di Canio stole the show. He was denied three penalties (and to be fair to him, he would have won all 3 on any other day) in the space of just a few minutes. After the third had been turned down, the Italian made his way over to the dugout in a petulant demand to be substituted by manager Harry Redknapp.

A few minutes later, West Ham were finally awarded a spot-kick, after a foul on sub Paul Kitson. Di Canio, who had now returned to the action, then engaged in a comical tussling match with a young Frank Lampard, who had the ball ready to take the penalty. After a minute or so of jostling, the reluctant Lampard stepped aside and Di Canio converted from the spot.

The promising Joe Cole made it 4-4 on 70 with his first ever Premier League goal, and Di Canio made amends to Lampard in the final minute by setting him up for the winning goal to cap an eventful day’s play!

Despite the defeat, Bradford went on to survive relegation (for one more season at least!) following their last day win over Liverpool.

 
9. Manchester United 1-6 Manchester City: October 23, 2011

City’s title-winning credentials were emphatically displayed as arch-rivals United were crushed in their own back-yard. And, like the previous game on this list, the mood was set by an enigmatic Italian.

City had started the campaign with a more attack minded mindset, and took the game to United. Mario Balotelli started the fireworks (not literally, thankfully, this time!) by opening the scoring on 22 minutes, before famously revealing his ‘Why Always Me?’ t-shirt.

Jonny Evans was sent off just after half-time for bringing down Balotelli 20 yards from goal, and City took advantage. Super Mario and Sergio Aguero both netted from close range following fine work from the brilliant David Silva, and although Darren Fletcher pulled a goal back for United, sub Edin Dzeko added a 4th, before City notched twice on the break in stoppage time; Silva and Dzeko completing the rout.

It was a significant statement of intent from City, who duly went on to win the title. The defeat was United’s joint worst in Premier League history.

 
8. Tottenham 3-5 Manchester United: September 29, 2001

In one of the best comebacks in Prem history, United stunned Tottenham with 5 second-half goals on a scintillating afternoon at White Hart Lane.

Spurs started strongly, and the late Dean Richards marked his debut in fine style with an early goal, before Les Ferdinand made it 2 with a clinical finish, following a fine through ball from Gus Poyet. Just before half-time, Christian Ziege headed home from close range, after being left unmarked at the far post by everybody’s favourite Sky Sports pundit, Gary Neville.

United were transformed in the second half, though. Andy Cole reduced the arrears with a header, before Laurent Blanc met a beauty of a David Beckham corner to score his first United goal. The visitors were rampant, and it was no surprise when goal machine Ruud van Nistlerooy made it 3-3, again with a header.

Spurs were stunned, even more so when United completed the turnaround; Juan Sebastian Veron, with probably his finest moment for the club, smashing home from inside the box following good link-up play with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The icing on the cake came with 3 minutes left, as Beckham made it 5 with a stunning strike from 25 yards.

 
7. Liverpool 4-4 Arsenal: 21 April, 2009

Fernando Torres (when he was good) was the catalyst for the home side, netting twice in a game that see-sawed like none other seen in the Premier League.

Andrei Arshavin, who also used to be quite good, outshone him with a 4 goal blast that was still somehow not enough to seal the 3 points for Arsenal. It was the Russian who put the Gunners ahead on 36 minutes, side-footing home a cut-back from Cesc Fabregas, though Torres levelled matters with a fine header just after half-time.

Yossi Benayoun scrambled Liverpool into the lead on 56 minutes, though Arshavin feasted on their defensive ineptitude with a quick-fire double (67,70). With one of his best ever Prem goals, Torres made it 3-3, superbly controlling a cross before twisting to hit a 25 yard strike past Lukasz Fabianksi, but Arsenal retook the lead in stoppage time, Arshavin combining with Theo Walcott on the counter attack to score his 4th.

That still wasn’t the end of the drama, though, as Benayoun hit goal number 8 of an eventful night just seconds later.

The draw did put Liverpool momentarily back on top of the table, but any realistic ambitions of winning the title had gone.

 
6. Man City 2-3 Fulham: 26 April, 2008

Fulham were mathematically relegated at half-time of this fixture, but a superb second-half comeback was the catalyst for a remarkable great escape.

City were yet to establish themselves as a force at the top of the table, but still had a bunch of talented players. Stephen Ireland opened the scoring with a fine 25-yard curler, and Benjani (remember him?), doubled their lead following a sumptuous through ball from Elano on 21 minutes.

Half-time scores elsewhere were not looking good, and with a woeful away record, the Cottagers looked doomed. But they continued to attack, and were rewarded when Diomansy Kamara scored from close range, past a fresh-faced Joe Hart on 70 minutes. Fulham were then awarded a penalty nine minutes later, following a shove on sub Erik Nevland, and Danny Murphy stepped up to score at the second attempt after Hart had saved his initial effort.

After Fulham ‘keeper Kasey Keller had miraculously denied Martin Petrov, the visitors came forward looking for a winner. In dramatic fashion, it arrived in the last minute, Murphy playing the perfect through ball to Kamara, whose rifled finish sent the away fans into delirium.

The win gave fresh belief to Fulham, who survived the drop with a last day win at Portsmouth. It was a fine achievement by Roy Hodgson’s men, who built on their escape to qualify for Europe the following season.

 
5. Wigan Athletic 3-2 West Ham: May 15, 2011

Wigan came from 2 goals down to relegate West Ham in this crucial relegation dogfight at the DW Stadium.

Going into the game, the Hammers’ survival prospects looked slim, but not insurmountable. Failure to win would be fatal, but Wigan themselves needed the points to keep their hopes of staying in the division alive.

It was the visitors who made the better start, Demba Ba glancing home a free-kick on 12 minutes. He doubled the lead on 26, notching on the goal-line after Thomas Hitzlberger’s free-kick has been headed towards goal by James Tomkins.

With Birmingham losing, West Ham fans began to believe, but their hopes were dashed after a second half-collapse. Charles N-Zogbia halved the deficit for Wigan with a wonderfully pinpoint free-kick, before substitute Conor Salmon equalized on 68 minutes.

With a point no good for either side, the finale was end-to-end, and it was Wigan who nicked the crucial 5th goal on 94 minutes, N-Zogbia cutting inside onto his left foot before firing underneath the body of Robert Green, to the delight of Roberto Martinez and the Wigan fans.

Wigan went on to secure survival on a dramatic final day with a win at Stoke. West Ham, at least, bounced straight back by winning the Championship play-off final the following season.

 
4. Arsenal 4-4 Tottenham: October 29, 2008

Two stoppage time goals gave Harry Redknapp’s Spurs a share of the spoils in this thrilling North London derby at the Emirates Stadium.

It was Redknapp’s first game in charge since leaving Portsmouth, and his new charges were off to a great start when David Bentley opened the scoring with a sensational 40 yard volley. Arsenal were level on 37 minutes, though; Mikael Silvestre heading home a Robin Van Persie corner, with the erratic Heurelho Gomes caught in no man’s land.

Arsenal took the lead a minute after half-time through skipper William Gallas, and Emmanuel Adebayor poked home on 64 minutes to increase the lead. Darren Bent capitalized on a Manuel Almunia error to make it 3-2, but the two goal margin was quickly restored through Van Persie.

The real drama came in stoppage time. With the Spurs fans flocking to the exits, Jermaine Jenas scored what looked so likely to be just a consolation with a fine left footed strike. But, unbelievably, just seconds later, a looping 30 yard volley from Luka Modric cannoned off the post, and Aaron Lennon was first to the rebound to send the home crowd into stunned silence.

 
3. Newcastle United 4-4 Arsenal: February 5, 2011

Newcastle became the first side in Premier League history to come back from a 4-0 deficit with a sensational second-half comeback against Arsenal.

The Toon were blitzed in the opening 10 minutes, with goals from Theo Walcott, Johan Djourou and Robin Van Persie, and the Dutchman netted his second on 26 minutes to put the Gunners in total control.

But the balance of play changed in an astonishing second period. Abou Diaby was sent off on 48 minutes, following a clash with the lovable Joey Barton, and it was he who scored from the penalty spot to give Newcastle a consolation on 68 minutes. After seeing a close-range strike wrongly ruled out for offside, Leon Best finally got on the score-sheet on 75.

The unthinkable became possible when Barton converted his second penalty, following a questionable Laurent Koscielny foul on Mike Williamson, with 7 minutes remaining to make it 4-3, and the unthinkable fight-back was complete with a stunning first time volley from 25 yards by Cheick Tiote with just 3 minutes remaining.

 
2. Manchester City 3-2 QPR: 13 May, 2012

“An amazing, amazing day, the like of which we’ve never seen!” – so said an understandably excited BBC commentator on the most dramatic afternoon of football in Premier League history.

Both Man City and QPR went into the game at the Etihad with something to play for. QPR needed a draw to cement their place in the Premier League, whilst City needed the three points to cap a remarkable turnaround in fortunes to win the title.

In a game of such magnitude, despite it looking, on paper, to be a home banker, no City fan was expecting it to be easy. But surely no-one could have predicted the eventual conclusion would play out as it did!

There was little goal-mouth action to speak of, until ‘keeper Paddy Kenny spilled a Pablo Zabaleta strike into his net 5 minutes before half-time.

To QPR’s credit, they started the second half well, and Djibril Cisse equalized following an error from Joleon Lescott. Despite going down to 10 men, when Joey Barton was sent off for a kick at Sergio Aguero, QPR moved into a shock lead on 66 through Jamie Mackie.

City continued to attack, but Kenny was equal to everything. It seemed destined that the title was going to elude them, as Man United were winning at Sunderland, but a headed goal from sub Edin Dzeko and a calm finish from Aguero, both in stoppage time, won the title and sparked mass hysteria on a truly unforgettable day!

 
1. Liverpool 4-3 Newcastle United: 3 April, 1996

This surely has to be the greatest game in Premier League history. Matches the City-QPR game for drama, and the quality of the two sides was of the highest standard.

Both teams went into the game with title aspirations. Newcastle had slipped from the summit after holding a large advantage for the majority of the season, but still had games in hand over Manchester United. Liverpool, meanwhile, were outsiders for the trophy but would increase the pressure on the top two with victory.

Liverpool struck first. Stan Collymore received the ball on the left wing, before crossing superbly for Robbie Fowler to head home at the far post for goal number 27 of his extraordinary season.

The lead was short lived, however, as Les Ferdinand equalized on 10 minutes. Faustino Asprilla waltzed into the box and squared the ball to Ferdinand, whose shot on the turn had enough power to beat David James in the Liverpool goal.

The visitors expertly hit Liverpool on the counter attack for their second goal just 4 minutes later. Upon receiving the ball in the middle of the park, Ferdinand sent David Ginola away with a superbly clipped through ball, and the Frenchman outpaced Jason McAteer to clinically convert past James, to the delight of Kevin Keegan in the opposing dugout.

Three goals came in quick succession in the second half. Liverpool equalized through a Fowler rocket after a cross from Steve McManaman, but Newcastle were soon back in front, Asprilla netting with a beautiful chip after James decided to rush 30 yards from goal. Liverpool were undeterred, and Collymore levelled an absorbing contest at 3-3, netting from close quarters following a teasing ball from McAteer.

Both teams chased a winner, and it was Liverpool who got it in the final minute. After a period of interplay between John Barnes and Ian Rush, the ball was laid off to Collymore, who smacked it past Pavel Srnicek to send the Kop into ecstasy, and leave Keegan slumped in despair.

The defeat had huge ramifications at the top of the table. Newcastle’s form suffered and Man United went on to reclaim the Premier League title.
Games that just missed out

There was a long list of games to choose from, meaning that some classic encounters have missed the cut. Man United’s dramatic 4-3 win over rivals City, their goal-filled 8-2 thrashing of Arsenal and their last gasp 4-3 win over Everton in 2004 were close omissions. Staying with United, their back-to-back defeats against Newcastle and Southampton in 1996 were considered, whilst Arsenal’s 9 goal North London thriller with Spurs, their 3-3 draw with Leicester and the Kanu-inspired 3-2 win over Chelsea were not far away.

Other close calls included Wolves’ dramatic comeback against Leicester in 2003, the 11 goal bonanza between Portsmouth and Reading, Spurs’ 4-3 win at West Ham in 2007 and the 4-4 between Norwich and Middlesbrough in 2005.

 

Written by Nick Wolf

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Wigan: The Latics’ Premier League Romance Could Be About To End

Wigan’s rise from the old Division Two to the top tier in just two seasons and subsequent plucky existence in the Premier League remains a good old fashioned underdog story in a game that looses further touch with common sense by the week.

Chairman Dave Whelan, despite his many outspoken imperfections, would not sack his manager for gaining two promotions in two years with his side sitting fifteenth at the top table, he would probably back him if he guided his team to relegation which seems increasingly likely with Wigan four points and four places below Southampton and staring a return to the Championship down the eye after eight dogged years competing with the very best.

The Latics have won just five times in 23 games and the weekend’s defeat to Sunderland became their eleventh winless game from their last thirteen matches. They are known for being risers to the occasion when it really matters, they had four points less at this stage last year before a great climax to the season eventually kept them up, but as Sunderland condemned them to their seventh home defeat of the season, the most in the league, it looked likely this year could see their stay of execution under the amicable Roberto Martinez finally ended.

Wigan’s football remained as stylish as ever as they slipped to the 2-3 reversal to Martin O’Neill’s in-form team, as expected under Martinez who has refused to compromise his continental roots despite desperate streaks of form that have become habitual at the DW. It has been the strangest of back-stories, the Spaniard landing in the obscurity of an unestablished club in Division Three, they were only elected to the Football League as recently as 1978, who has gone on to become a sophisticated hero in the rugby-fanatical lands of north Lancashire.

Dave Whelan, one of the few remaining working class hero owners involved in the game, has led a one-man crusade against extortionate season ticket prices, they have the cheapest in the Premier League at £250 and remarkably, the 6th cheapest out of the whole 92 clubs in the league pyramid.

It is hard to imagine how a club like Wigan, living on a paltry attendance of an 18,000 average despite the attractive prices, can survive amongst the behemoths of Arsenal, Manchester United and co. but they do, and they do it with fluid football on the pitch to boot, it would take the sternest of hearts to wish the league would lose Wigan who continue to fly the flag for the little guy amongst the rich and powerful.

One wouldn’t expect to find tactical innovation in the unfashionable setting of Wigan, but Martinez’s 3-4-3 is a pioneering system driven by the brilliant James McCarthy in the heart of midfield allows for high pressing and neat passing which is a product of Martinez’s Spanish footballing education.

Against Sunderland however, defensive fragility caused by the recent long term injury to Ivan Ramis which could tip them closer to the brink of relegation, saw an early David Vaughan own goal cancelled out by three strikes that the home side, despite Angelo Henriquez’s late header, had no tangible answer to.

The second half display which saw vast improvement and Martinez “pleased”, had come too late and it left the Latics a meagre five points from the last possible thirty on offer. Attacking has also been a problem despite the neat build-up that Martinez presides over, twenty five goals have been scored in the league but the side remain short of a consistent source of goals.

Arouna Kone, a summer budget signing from Levante, is top scorer with just 6, while Franco Di Santo, despite showing glimpses this season of a talent that once swayed Chelsea to his services, has been once again frustrating in front of goal, he has just four. Martinez will be hoping Manchester United’s Angelo Henriquez produces his proposed talent to bridge the quality gap that has gone missing in losing Victor Moses and hasn’t yet been sufficiently been replaced.

The likes of Mohamed Diame, the midfield powerhouse now at West Ham, Hugo Rodellega and Charles N’Zogbia who have departed for Fulham and Aston Villa respectively in recent years have been relied upon to provide the quality needed for Martinez’s modest outfit to barely survive, but this season such individual threat seems worryingly absent.

Jordi Gomez, Jean Beausejour and Roger Espinoza provide an exotic influence in servicing Di Santo or Kone in attack, in front of the energetic midfield of James’s McCarthy and McCarthur, but there appears to be nobody wiling to step up and make the difference like Moses did last year and form is suffering as a result.

Defeat to Sunderland is just the latest setback in a long line for Martinez and he will set about trying to guide Wigan on another belated change of course back to safety with fourteen games left, yet it is increasingly looking ominous that the small Lancashire will finally lose their flimsy Premier League status after eight years at the top spent proving small clubs can cut it with the best without selling their soul.

It will be sad to lose them.

 

Written by Adam Gray

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Emile Heskey: The Man, The Myth, The Legend

Heskey

Emile Heskey. Emile William Ivanhoe Heskey. Born in Leicester, Heskey is a professional footballer that played for Leicester City, Liverpool, Birmingham City, Wigan Athletic, Aston Villa, and currently plays for the Newcastle Jets, in Australia.

He made 696 appearances in English football, scoring 151 goals in a span of 18 years. He also played regularly for the English national team, winning a total of 62 caps and scoring 7 goals.

Heskey may have received his dubiously fair amount of critics over the years (even comedian Michael McIntyre had a go at Emile and the England team during one of his shows), but the fact remains that Heskey has to be considered one of the most successful English strikers of the past decade.

Emile Heskey started off his playing career at Leicester City, his hometown club, making his first appearance against QPR in the month of March, 1995. However, Heskey had already been submitted to criticism early on; after only scoring 6 goals in 98-99 season (4 less than last seasons total) he was condemned for a low scoring ratio.

This didn’t discourage certain key people, such as Michael Owen, and the England U-21 manager, Peter Taylor, who saw Heskey for the talent he could be.

Heskey joined Liverpool in 2000 for 11 million pounds, a Liverpool transfer record at the time. The 22 year old didn’t take long to settle in, and scored 3 goals in 12 appearances during his first season with the Reds. Heskey played his best football at Liverpool, complimenting Owen and Fowler superbly, and was an integral part of Houllier’s team.

During the 2000-2001 season, Heskey had arguably his greatest season of his professional career, notching 22 goals, as the Merseyside club secured the FA Cup, the League Cup, the UEFA Cup (now the Europa League) and the UEFA Super Cup (in which he scored in a 3-2 win against Champions League winners Bayern Munich).

Despite the fantastic season, it was only really downhill from then on for Heskey, who, at the end of the 2003-2004 season, departed for Birmingham City.

Heskey signed a 5-year contract worth around 4 million pounds with Birmingham City for the 2004-2005 season, but failed to make the impact that he was once penned to make. Despite a good first season, winning both the fans and players player award, his second season at St. Andrew’s was poor, scoring only 4 times as Blues were relegated, and Heskey moved on.

He went back to the Premier League with Wigan Athletic, who paid 5.5 million for the 28-year old. He stayed at the club for 2 and a half years, years which were unfortunately plagued by injury and rumors of a transfer back to Liverpool to play Champions League football, rumors which turned out to be false, as in the January window of 2009, Heskey signed for former team Birmingham’s rivals, Aston Villa.

Heskey’s career never really picked up after Liverpool, and he will continue his football at Newcastle Jets, in Australia.

Heskey, while never praised as much as he should’ve been, was never undaunted, and kept playing his football; something many footballers should think about doing today.

In a world where big-scoring strikers and fast wingers make the headlines, Heskey remained a solid and stoic reminder that the under-thanked are sometimes the one that should be idolized.

Thanks Heskey, and good luck in Australia.

 

Written by Cormac O’Brien

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