How Emile Heskey could save Manchester United's season
Here’s a suggestion that will have them rolling with laughter, or burying their heads in their hands, at Old Trafford – Manchester United should sign Emile Heskey.
There, I’ve said it. Not sure that I really wanted to, but with each passing game that United struggle to convert chances and leave Wayne Rooney tearing his remaining hair out, the glaring lack of a physical presence up-front in Sir Alex Ferguson’s team becomes ever more obvious.
Ferguson’s recent United teams have not required the attributes of the archetypal ‘big-man’ up-front. When you have Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez to call upon, there is no need for a focal point at the top of the team.
But Ronaldo and Tevez are history at United. They were always going to miss Ronaldo’s unique talents when he completed his £80m move to Real Madrid last summer, but the general consensus was that Tevez, having scored just 15 goals in all competitions last season, would not be missed.
Ferguson’s assertion that Michael Owen, recruited on a free transfer from Newcastle, would fill the 15 goal hole created by Tevez’s departure to Manchester City appeared logical.
But for whatever reason, Owen has fallen out of favour at United. Since his Champions League hat-trick against Wolfsburg on Dec 8, he has started just one game. Even the Senegalese youngster Mame Biram Diouf has emerged as a rival for a first-team place.
Then you have Dimitar Berbatov, who continues to suggest that his £30.75m transfer fee was at least a third too high.
Berbatov is playing through the problem of a long-standing knee injury, so his performances and goals return must be considered with that injury in mind.
But if United had greater attacking depth, the Bulgarian could undergo the operation that would allow him to return fully fit and capable of weighing in with the goals that his price tag demands.
With none of his strike partners convincing the sceptics, Rooney is left to produce the magic on his own.
Incredibly,Rooney’s 15 goals make him the Premier League’s top scorer this season. He is playing well, but not hitting the coruscating form of seasons past, so his achievement is even more remarkable.
Just how many goals would he have conjured up had he been able to line up alongside a regular partner and one who would ease the physical burden and allow Rooney to do what he does best?
This is where Heskey comes in. Everyone knows that Heskey is one of those striker who tends not to score many goals, but that is missing the point.
What he does, and both Owen and Rooney have testified to this, is enable his more predatory team-mates to find the back the net.
He leads the line, roughs up defenders and holds the ball up just as a centre-forward should.
Sure, he is no Mark Hughes or Alan Shearer, but then who is nowadays? In a shrinking pool of target men, Heskey is probably as good as it gets – that’s why Fabio Capello is likely to take him to the World Cup.
Alongside Heskey, both Owen and Rooney have enjoyed their most fruitful goalscoring runs in an England shirt. They both love playing with the Aston Villa forward.
He is not what you would describe as a Ferguson player, but the United manager has surprised the observers before.
When United lost the league title to Leeds United in 1991-92, Ferguson attempted to recruit Mick Harford from Luton Town in a bid to inject a goalscorer and extra physical presence into his struggling forward line.
That move failed to come off and United conceded the title. The way things are going this season, they could lose an awful lot more unless they find somebody to make a difference up-front.