Newcastle football legend Ray Baartz believes Emile Heskey truly is the man to bring the Jets back to the top of the league.
Newcastle football icon Ray Baartz has seen his share of footballers come and go, so when he says oft-maligned striker Emile Heskey is the best player to ever represent the Hunter region you better believe him.
In his day Baartz was one of Australia-s most prolific strikers and even signed on with Manchester United for a brief period, before returning to Australia. A member of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame, he knows his strikers and believes the signing of Emile Heskey will equal success for the Jets.
“It-s massive for the Jets to have a player who has played over 500 games in the Premier League and represented England on over 60 occasions,” Baartz told footballaustralia.com.au.
“He is definitely the biggest name the Hunter region has ever had and he lifts the profile of the club immeasurably. Once he was signed it made our push for members much easier and we exceeded expectations in reaching well over 10,000, Emile played a big part in that and will play a huge part on the field.
“We certainly believe Emile will score goals but a big part of his role is being that big target man up front to lay off the ball for some of the other guys to score, we haven-t had the sort of presence Emile brings in the front third since Joel Griffiths was with the club.”
Believing is one thing; results, however, are another and the Jets didn-t get the one they wanted in the opening round against Adelaide, the supposedly weary Reds were expected to have their collective tails between their legs after seeing their Asian aspirations shattered in Tashkent at the hands of Bunyodkor.
Instead it was the Jets that misfired and numerous commentators pointed to Heskey-s lack of impact on the game, with only his ungainly collision with Adelaide keeper Eugene Galekovic receiving the most replays.
In truth though, anyone who expected a Heskey hat-trick was probably being unrealistic. With just one week to get used to his teammates and Gary van Egmond-s instructions, he looked a little out of place and suffered from a lack of decent service from his new teammates.
It-s an assertion Baartz agrees with wholeheartedly.
“He didn-t do as much as he would have liked but at the same time the boys didn-t make it easy for him,” Baartz said.
“The balls sent to Emile weren-t the type he needed, they were either hit in too hard or the balls in the air were not the right type of delivery and that-s something the whole team needs to improve upon, their service to him.”
If the Jets can get their deliveries right this weekend they can reap the benefits when two of the biggest signings the league has ever seen go head-to-head.
Baartz, like all football lovers, is looking forward to the clash of two sides featuring Heskey and Sydney-s own marquee Alessandro Del Piero, revealing the Sky Blues- signing of the Italian star stung Nathan Tinkler into stepping up the search for his own marquee.
“The anticipation of the match is huge. It-s been a while since the league had two players of their calibre going head-to-head and it-s a huge game for both clubs,” he said.
“Our performance will be much improved and so will Emile-s; he has had a week longer at the club and will have settled in to a rhythm with the boys and the style of play a bit better.
“We have always been on the lookout for quality players and when Sydney signed Alessandro Del Piero it spurred Nathan on a little bit to make sure the Jets were on an equal footing.”
While the match should be a great spectacle for football fans, it is Baartz-s hope that Heskey-s signing will help to further enhance football in the Hunter, a region known for producing some fine footballing talent. At Tinkler-s behest, the Jets, like the Tinkler-backed Newcastle Knights of the NRL, continue to develop local youngsters through their “Emerging Jets” program.
“It was also upon Nathan-s insistence that we got the ‘Emerging Jets- program going in conjunction with Northern NSW Football and the FFA, where the talented kids from 10-years-old and up get to be a part of emerging Jets teams, but each team gets their own A-League mentor and Emile will be a big part of that, hopefully the youth of the region can not only enjoy watching him but benefit by learning from his experience.”