England on hunt for another World Cup hero with 21 on his shirt

The consensus at the moment seems to be that Aston Villa’s Emile Heskey will partner Wayne Rooney in attack against the US.

Intriguingly, Heskey will have the number 21 on his back. Another famous forward once wore the very same number for England during our one and, so far, only successful tournament.

Can Emile Heskey do a Roger Hunt and secure a special place in English football history for himself?

Back in 1966 Roger Hunt had just completed one of his most successful seasons. Liverpool were league championship winners for the second time under Bill Shankly. Hunt’s contribution of 30 goals in 37 appearances made the 28-year-old the club’s highest scorer for the eighth successive campaign.

Such was Hunt’s standing that he became only one of three strikers chosen by Alf Ramsey for the 1966 World Cup squad. The others were Jimmy Greaves and Geoff Hurst.

Hunt kept his place in the first XI throughout the tournament, playing all six games and scoring three goals in the group stage (one against Mexico and two against France).

And so to the final itself and Hurst’s still controversial second goal. One player instinctively raises his arm in celebration as the shot bounces down and away from the goal, his body language and demeanour suggesting he immediately believed the strike had crossed the line.

Hunt was a predator, who would eventually amass nearly 300 goals for Liverpool and score 18 in 34 games for England. To this day Hurst maintains Hunt would have followed up were he in any doubt about the ball crossing the line.

From the free-scoring Liverpool forward to the non-scoring Villa man.

Let’s get something out of the way. I like Emile Heskey. I admire his ability to distract defenders and bring faster players into the game, a trait he shares with Hunt.

If you doubt this, watch Heskey pull defenders out of position, much as Hunt does for Bobby Charlton’s long range strike against Mexico.

Sadly Heskey hasn’t had the best of seasons, scoring only five goals in 42 appearances. Looking back even further, he scored a mere 27 goals in the last six seasons, three less than Hunt scored in 1966 alone.

Heskey is also 32 now, four years older than Hunt in 1966, and clearly past his peak, which Hunt was not.

All of this suggests we may not have a hero in waiting with the number 21 on his back this time around.

That said, if England reach the final and a Rooney shot cannons off the bar onto the line before bouncing, a lurking Heskey will probably put the rebound away.

Perhaps this is Capello’s masterplan – Heskey as the ultimate impact player. It’s the best theory I have to explain why Heskey is still in the squad.

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