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How Olivier Giroud went from Ligue 1’s top scorer to the French Emile Heskey

That's in no way a criticism of Emile Heskey or Olivier Giroud

As football evolves, so do the positions played by the pawns within.

Sweeper-keepers were introduced to nullify the distance between high defensive lines and the goal, kicking the Joe Harts of the world to the touchline in favour of the Alissons and Manuel Neuers.

False nines allowed attackers who would normally be bullied by powerful centre-backs to draw the hulking man-mountains into uncharted territory

Then there’s the ‘Olivier Giroud’ role, formerly known as the ‘Emile Heskey’, which requires a very specific set of attributes.

For a start you need to have shoulders broad enough to handle the criticism that comes with long barren spells without a goal.

Giroud hasn’t found the back of the net in a Chelsea shirt since scoring the winner against Liverpool on 6 May.

The man with the beard crafted by angels went through France’s entire World Cup campaign without scoring and, going further back, had drawn a blank nine times in a row before burying a spectacular volley against the Netherlands.

Shoulders so broad his shirt won’t fit over them

AP:Associated Press
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Shoulders so broad his shirt won’t fit over them

During the 2002/03 season Heskey went 17 games without a goal for Liverpool, failing to score in October, November or December.

Yet 2002 also marked the peak of Heskey’s England career in which he was capped 11 times, more than any other year.

Those 11 caps amounted to one goal- the third in a 3-0 World Cup win against Denmark- so the big man wasn’t continually called upon for his ability to find the back of the net.

Which takes us to the second attribute required for the role. One which is harder to measure using cold hard facts and figures.

Mirror image

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Mirror image

Giroud raises the levels of the players around him, just as Heskey did for club and country.

Take Eden Hazard’s low-key Goal of the Season contender against Cardiff.

Giroud possessed the awareness to read Hazard’s dummy, stepping away from his marker before playing the ball back around the corner to the Belgian.

No combination has been more potent in the Premier League this season than Giroud and Hazard.

While the former is yet to get off the mark, the latter is the league’s top scorer.

Pick him up and take him home

Getty Images - Getty
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Pick him up and take him home

Heskey’s partnership with Michael Owen was similarly prolific, both for England and Liverpool.

Across his entire Premier League career Heskey assisted 53 goals, only two behind Paul Scholes.

Every little helps

News Group Newspapers Ltd
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Every little helps

Talk to any of Heskey’s former team-mates and they’ll wax lyrical about his ability to unnerve defences, leaving space for others to operate.

Likewise, France boss Didier Deschamps paid Giroud the highest compliment by saying: “It is when he is not in there that we realise his value.”

And let’s not diminish Giroud’s goalscoring feats. This is a man with 32 international goals- more than Zinedine Zidane and Karim Benzema- and a Ligue 1 golden boot to his name.

That golden boot was earned when Giroud outscored Eden Hazard, Loic Remy and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to fire Montpellier to a Ligue 1 title in 2012.

Ol’ big ears

AFP
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Ol’ big ears

But his ability to win physical battles and bring others into play means Giroud may have settle for not always being the star man.

Not that he’ll complain, especially if his efforts help Chelsea win the Premier League title after four years away from the summit.

A World Cup-winning Premier League champion has a nice ring to it. Almost as nice as ‘The French Emile Heskey’.


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