Emile: YO C. SIMYC. ME? @ CHE? SLAP.
Carlo: SICNR. GG V CTY BTW. MIRL?
Emile: DEF. JST @ VIL USBCA. ABCO BY MON.
Carlo: LOL. WAJ. CID.
Emile: TIA. TBL.
Emile: Hi Carlo. Sorry I missed your call. Me? At Chelsea? Sounds like a plan.
Carlo: Sorry, I could not resist. Good game against Manchester City by the way. Meet in real life?
Emile: Definitely. Just at Aston Villa until something better comes along. Already been chewed out by Martin O’Neill.
Carlo: Haha. What a jerk. Consider it done.
Emile: Thanks in advance. Text back later.
It was at this point that Capello dropped his food tray and tore a strip off the Aston Villa striker. The England manager has strict guidelines about mobile usage and requires his players to leave their phones in their hotel rooms during team meals. Heskey disobeyed the rule and found himself momentarily out of favor with the boss. It must be a familiar feeling for him at the moment. And for good reason.
Heskey put in a shambolic performance against Ukraine on October 10. It was so bad that some are now calling for him to be dropped from the starting 11 in place of, gulp, Carlton Cole. But his 72 minutes of anonymity came as no surprise to Aston Villa fans, who have watched the same agonizing routine on seven occasions so far this season.
That’s why there’s nothing resembling a grass roots mobilization to keep Heskey at the club. In 21 appearances in nine months of play, the 31-year-old has scored a paltry two goals. He hasn’t scored more than eight in a season since 2004/2005 and has tallied just twice for England since being recalled by Steve McLaren two years ago.
Of course, it’s not all about goals. On occasion, the big man is capable of holding up the ball and creating time and space for his teammates. That’s how he’s kept his England spot, and will probably be on the plane to South Africa. But his play for Villa has offered nothing of the sort. Whether paired with the diminutive Gabriel Agbonlahor or fellow giant John Carew, he has been completely ineffective and is the poster boy of Villa’s sudden downturn last February.
He’s got to go. He knows it, and he wants to.
Early last week, he was quoted as saying he might entertain offers from other clubs in order to preserve his place in the national team. He quickly backtracked, however, saying that persistent questioning from reporters had “confused” him a little.
Whatever the case, Martin O’Neill should be just as eager to rid himself of Heskey as he was to welcome him with open arms last winter. It just hasn’t worked out for either party, plain and simple. And while the £3.5 million transfer fee will probably not be recouped in full, at least the manager can sell him with the knowledge that he’ll be making a rival club, perhaps Chelsea, a good deal worse.
Jerrad Peters is the author of We Call it Soccer: Understanding the World’s Most Popular Sport, available in bookstores in April, 2010.