Friday, July 16, 2010

The greatest sarcastic tribute in soccer history?

Simon Burnton in the Guardian wrote a classic sarcastic "tribute" to English footballer Emile Heskey, on the occasion of Heskey's retirement from England's national team.

Clearly, you never want to use Burnton as a job reference or select him to make a best man's toast. Well everyone else would enjoy either of those.

"So farewell then, Emile Heskey, England international. We have seen the last of your lumbering runs, felt for the last time that bizarre combination of exhilaration and resignation which comes when you thunder clear on goal. We will wonder no more what the manager's thinking when you start loitering with intent near the fourth official in the 68th minute, and never again hear the words "yes but his link play is world class" in heated post-match discussions down the pub that always draw in one bloke you've never met before who was walking past on his way to the bog and couldn't help overhearing.

Consider yourself free, Emile. Free from the burden of our expectation. Free from long summers spent toiling through (the early stages of) major tournaments when every other footballer of your ability is quite rightly and deservedly enjoying a nice holiday. Free to resume a far more relaxing life on Aston Villa's bench, blissfully protected from rain, snow and our attention.

We will recall with fondness the great 5-1 victory over Germany in 2001, in which you combined so well with Michael Owen and scored your third goal for your country, in only your 17th game. Who would have thought on that balmy night in Munich that 45 subsequent appearances over 10 years would bring just four more, against Denmark, South Africa, Slovakia and Kazakhstan?

Who could have imagined back then, as you terrorised opponents with your bulk, your youthful vigour and your habit of falling over with almost virtuosic ease, that all but two of your seven international goals would come in three- or four-goal victories, that you would muster only two decisive strikes in your entire international England career and that those would come in friendlies against South Africa and Malta?

But it wasn't about the goals with you, Emile. It never was. It was about all the work you put in off the ball. The work television cameras, obsessed as they are with following the ball, completely missed and which - as a result - all but a handful of us have not only already forgotten but never actually knew about in the first place. The kind of shift that made Tony Cottee, your partner in those glorious early days at Leicester, call you "the dream guy to play with". And in many ways you were, Emile. The kind of guy who always managed to make the players around you look good, both intentionally and otherwise.

"I have enjoyed every moment of my England career," Heskey said as he announced his international retirement today. And haven't we all? Don't answer that question."

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