Friday, September 28, 2012
Heskey ready to fire up the A-League
Emile Heskey is the latest big-name arrival in the A-League, and the sweltering conditions which greeted the former England and Liverpool striker in Australia gave a glimpse into the season ahead.
Heskey's signing with the Newcastle Jets follows that of Italy and Juventus icon Alessandro Del Piero with Sydney FC, while Shinji Ono has agreed to join start-up club Western Sydney Wanderers for the upcoming season. The profile of Australia's top flight has subsequently lifted in recent weeks, with the A-League evidently becoming a realistic destination for players plying their trade in Europe.
After stepping off the long flight from the United Kingdom, Heskey was hit with sultry Spring air on Friday, while a thunderstorm lurked overhead. The 34-year-old, who was met at the airport by a throng of Jets supporters, became immediately familiar with the expectations and environment which will provide the backdrop for the next stage of his career.
As he battled the jetlag and heat, Heskey appeared to be slowly settling into his new home at Hunter Stadium. His two sons, Jaden and Reigan, kicked a ball around on the pitch, while his wife Chantelle moved into the stands chasing the shade. Heskey, meanwhile, seemed to enjoy the atmosphere and revealed the city of Newcastle in New South Wales had the perfect feel for he and his young family.
"They spoke to me about being a family-oriented club, and I'm from Leicester so I know what that feels like and that's where it all started for me," he said. "I had interest from Greece, Turkey; I know this is a little bit further away but it's something that just felt right."
Heskey, though, is not the first former Premier League player to move Down Under. Dwight Yorke started the trend in the A-League's inaugural season, playing a pivotal role for Sydney FC before former team-mate Robbie Fowler had stints with North Queensland Fury and Perth Glory. Heskey will now link up with former Leeds United front-man Michael Bridges at the Jets.
After speaking to those players, Heskey was convinced he could help promote the A-League while at the same time participating in a top-level competition. Though he has played on the world's biggest stage with these Premier League stars, Heskey still appears a man humbled by his achievements.
"I know there's a lot of talent here, but hopefully I can slot in and do well," he said. "I know everyone around the world watches the Premier League. But you don't realise how big it is because you're still in that bubble, until you come out of it you don't actually realise how big it is.
"Even before (Del Piero) there were players coming down here like 'Yorkey', who I spoke to about it and he loved it. Robbie Fowler loved it. I know Harry Kewell, obviously he's Aussie but he absolutely loved it as well. Franny Jeffers came as well. So players like that, there will be more and more coming over here."
When asked of his first impressions of the fiery September weather, Heskey quipped: "It's better than England."
In reality, playing throughout an Australian summer will pose a challenge to Heskey, Del Piero and Ono. Indeed, much of the legacy they will be able to leave on football in the Southern Hemisphere will likely boil down to how well they can adapt to the unique yet harsh environment they find themselves in.
"I'm sure I'll get used to it very quickly," Heskey added. "As I said, I spoke to Robbie (Fowler) about everything and he said where he was (North Queensland and Perth) it was actually hotter and more humid, but he actually got used to it very quickly, so hopefully I can do that as well."
Critics have pointed to Heskey's goalscoring record as a reason to doubt his credentials as a marquee player in the A-League. But with 62 caps for England - including appearances at two World Cups - he has earned the right to the Australian public's respect. Time will tell if he will light up the summertime competition, but as he becomes acquainted with his new home, the anticipation created ahead of next week's season opener is reason enough to be optimistic.