Early Doors

Heskey bigger loss than Henry

Early Doors

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It's typical of Emile Heskey's England career that he would be the first of the shamed class of 2010 to announce his retirement from international football.

Just as he did throughout his 11 years of service for his country, he has taken one for the team by putting himself in the firing line so that, should any of his erstwhile colleagues follow suit, it will be easier for them.

Mind you, he was the only one of the 23 who went to South Africa who could also have quit club football in order to prolong his England career.

Still, six different England managers picked him, and they can't all have been wrong, can they? Can they?

Compare that with Thierry Henry, who also chose to reveal he has quit playing for France yesterday. Ever the self-publicist, Henry decided to break his news just before his first press conference with new team New York Red Bulls.

The MLS outfit rather smugly paid tribute to their new marquee signing, claiming they had recruited a top world star at the peak of his powers. The many shots of him shivering underneath a tartan blanket on the France bench beg to differ, and on the pitches of Cape Town and Bloemfontein he was only marginally more effective.

Henry may have collected a Champions League winner's medal last year in the middle of a largely indifferent three years - on a personal level, at least - at Barcelona, but his 2009 will always be remembered for his handball against Ireland. As we all know, had he not double-dribbled before setting up William Gallas's winner in that play-off, the Republic would definitely have gone on to reach the World Cup.   

That shocking assist heralded the start of a miserable year for French football, and for Henry. The public were ashamed to be at the World Cup, there was all manner of in-fighting in the camp, and Henry lost his place in the starting line-up and the captain's armband.

Despite that, he still remained the big man on campus, so much so that he was the man Nicolas Sarkozy called for a meeting as part of the inquest into the disastrous campaign. Just as in his final year at Arsenal, Henry had become too big for the team.

He may be France's all-time leading goal scorer and one of the world's best players over the last decade, but as an international player he had become another sullen, moping albatross for Les Bleus. Laurent Blanc's epic rebuilding job will be easier without him.

For England, meanwhile, Heskey was highly likely to have been in Fabio Capello's next squad. The clamour for casting out the old guard and bringing in young players may be well-intentioned, but would the pragmatic Italian really have thrown a bunch of kids into the side right after their summer break?

Besides, he had already shown that Heskey was a key part of the system that saw England qualify so emphatically, and in South Africa he set up half of the team's goals from open play (in case you missed it, ITV HD viewers, it was the opener against USA). His awful miss when one-on-one with Tim Howard later in the same match, however, will stick in the memory longer.

That performance summed up Heskey's England career. Always working to bring others into the game and create chances, but woeful in front of goal himself. But, unlike so many of the bigger stars in the squad, at least it was clear he was always giving everything, even if it often wasn't enough.

Now that we are deep in the biennial post-tournament gloom, let's not kid ourselves about the way England play. They have always thrived on long balls and set pieces, and there weren't many more effective at gaining them than Heskey. We may be crying out for a new England, and rightly so - but in the long wait for that to dawn (if it ever does), they could have made use of Heskey's limited talents.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "We are working very hard on making certain the players we have at the club who you would call the 'good players' are going to be with us for next season. The board are working very hard in that area. Some players are a bit disenchanted after what happened last season and we want to make sure we get that enchantment back." - Roy Hodgson admits that morale in the Liverpool dressing room was low when he arrived at the club.

FOREIGN VIEW: "Mascherano? I know he has always played well, he has a strong character, is a smart guy. We have so many players in that role good and intelligent. We'll see if he can help us in terms of technical tactics." - If Javier Mascherano is one of those "disenchanted" players, then Internazionale chief Massimo Moratti is offering him a way out.

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