Monday, 31 January 2011

Is Andy Carroll the new Emile Heskey?

Ok, when you’ve stopped laughing let me take you back to Filbert Street on Sunday December 17th 1995.

Leicester City fans were struggling to find some warmth ahead of their game with Norwich City. Days earlier the Foxes' boss Mark McGhee had walked out to join Wolverhampton Wanderers and as news began to filter through from the Euro 96 draw (England would kick off against Switzerland then play the Auld Enemy before facing a tricky tie against the Dutch) ex-Norwich boss Mike Walker, at the game for Anglia Television, was expected to be unveiled as Leicester's new manager.

Then news began to circulate that Norwich had turned up without their manager Martin O'Neill - a target for Leicester a year previously and the man who would ultimately replace McGhee.  The game (a 3-2 thriller) was also notable for contribution of the 17-year-old substitute who came off the bench to grab the winner for the home side. Emile Heskey had arrived.

Now he's a national figure of fun, it's easy to forget in what high regard he was held as a youngster.  In his defence, I should also point out he's the Premier League's all-time 15th highest goalscorer. With 109 goals he has one more than Wayne Rooney and, let's face it, seeing as neither of them could hit a cow's arse with a banjo at the moment that's probably how things will stay.

Emile, the goal is the box made of string at the end of the pitch

But I'm not here to defend Heskey; I'm here to freak out Newcastle and perhaps Liverpool fans by highlighting the similarities with Andy Carroll as the latter have tabled a club-record £30m deadline-day bid for the striker.

Both were home-grown lads who progressed from trainee to full-time pro at their local club and both made their debuts aged 17. Heskey is 6ft 2ins, Carroll and inch taller.  Hell, they were both even born in January (Carroll on January 6th; Heskey on January 11th).

To date Carroll has scored 14 goals in 41 Premiership games.  After 41 Premiership games, Heskey had scored 12, although he was often deployed on the right wing (and even occasionally at right back) in O'Neill's mend-and-make-do team. 

Incidentally, Heskey played more Premier League games much earlier in his career than Carroll, so by the time he was the age the Geordie is today he had made 120 Premier League appearances and scored 32 goals. He also had two League Cup winner's medals and a runner-up medal to boot.

Is that the way to mediocrity or success?

Both players were capped by England at Under-21 level before progressing to the full team. Heskey's first start came a month after his 22 birthday, while Carroll's first start came a month before his (although Heskey had several sub appearances before that) and both players won plaudits for their performances. Heskey terrorised Roberto Sensini so much the defender (who was a central part of Lazio's Scudetto-winning team that season) was substituted before halftime to make a tactical change.

Not only did the performance win Heskey the man of the match award, it also led to Gerard Houllier parting with £11m to make him Liverpool’s then-record signing two months later. 

The following season (2000/01) he scored 22 goals in 56 games and picked up FA, League and Uefa Cup winners medals as part of Liverpool’s historic treble-winning team. He even got on the score sheet as England trounced Germany 5-1 in Munich, but this was when the Golden Generation were shiny and new and not rusty and old.

This is not really relevant, but it makes good viewing

You could say it was all down hill from there, although that would be a little unfair to Birmingham, Wigan and Aston Villa.  Yet it's reasonable to argue that 2001 was when Heskey peaked.

So where does that leave us?  I don't know, I'm just making this up as I go along but I think it's got something to do with the danger of potential not being realised and young players - and strikers in particular - being overvalued in the transfer market, an issue I've discussed before.

Here are some other statistics to muddy the water. In his first 41 Premier League games Wayne Rooney scored seven goals. Maybe Carroll will turn out like him. Or maybe he'll turn out like Michael Owen, in his first 41 Premier League games he scored 23 goals. Now, whatever happened to that likely lad? Ask a Newcastle fan, they'll know.

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