WIGAN, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 25: Mohamed Diame of Wigan Athletic is chased by Carlos Cuellar of Aston Villa during the Barclays Premier League match between Wigan Athletic and Aston Villa at DW Stadium on February 25, 2012 in Wigan, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
This game doesn't matter. Not in any real sense. Villa is safe (unless they manage to lose by 17 goals or Bolton manages to win by 17 goals or some combination of the two, which won't happen.) This game is totally meaningless, for all practical purposes. But, well, all purposes aren't practical. The emotional outpouring in the wake of the departure of Carlos Cuellar should be proof enough of that. Does it make a whole lot of practical sense to let King Carlos go, considering his wages and the austere nature of modern life at Aston Villa? Of course. But it's still very hard, for nearly everyone. And the loss of another old stalwart is going to be similarly difficult for yours truly. In lieu of a preview of a game which absolutely no one gives a damn about, let's reminisce, shall we?
Carlos Cuellar was never really any manager's first choice as a center back. I don't really understand why; he knows how to read the game, he's a great tackler, he can get the ball out of trouble with a quickness but he can also pick a pass and help build through the back. Maybe there's something that I'm missing. I don't know. There probably is. But it was beyond comforting to know, that whenever a Richard Dunne, or a James Collins, or a Ciaran Clark went down, that dammit, there would be a Carlos Cuellar to step in. And on the days that Villa didn't need fullbacks (which were likely greater in number from a philosophical standpoint than the historical record might indicate) the was there to shut down winger after winger, greedy fullback after greedy fullback and whichever other poor souls that might venture into his enormous bubble of defiance,
Carlos isn't flashy. Carlos isn't sexy. But Carlos shuts motherufckers down. Nothing gets past him. He doesn't always look especially comfortable, but when was the last time you remember him genuinely losing his mark? Have you seen him chasing down runners that were in on goal? Sure. Were they his marks? Go back and watch the replay. I'd bet you they weren't. Clearly, that's not to say Carlos is or was some kind of world-class, Pique-esque defender. Given his personality, I'd guess he'd be the first to laugh off any suggestion of the kind. But if he got beat, it was because of his own limitations from a human perspective. Not a lack of focus. Not a lack of effort. I never had any kind of sense that Carlos Cuellar was anywhere but deeply invested in the game.
And now he's gone, after Sunday. And I will miss him. And I'm sure the manager will miss him, because it's quite nice to be able to pencil in a defender anywhere along the back line and not to have to worry all that much. But what makes this whole thing all the more painful is that I feel like he's really going to miss us. I tend to have a very cynical view of professional athletes. I think the vast majority of them are scum of the earth types, and that goes for quite a few of them that I love to death. But there's not even a whisper of Carlos Cuellar being anything approaching such a person. By all public accounts he's a kind, decent, genuine man. We all know that he made Stan Petrov happy. And we also know, rationally, that he probably needs to move along. But goddammit, this is hard.
And now, with the hard part out of the way, we can get a little bit sillier. I'll admit it; I love Emile Heskey. A lot of that is down to the contrarian in me. Everyone hates Emile. And that's fine; I'm comfortable with being on the right, if unpopular, side of history. And I mean that. Because dammit, Emile Heskey is a good player. Maybe not in this current Aston Villa squad, and maybe not even in the current football landscape, but there' real and legitimate value there. I often talk about how smart it would be for an MLS team to sign him up, and everyone laughs and laughs, but they don't understand that I'm dead serious. Emile Heskey may well be a clumsy oaf with a horrible shooting touch, but he's just as often (if not more) a big, imposing force capable of clearing out vast quantities of space and finding lurking attackers with unexpectedly clever link-up play. He is, somehow, both behind and ahead of his time.
If there's one moment that defines what the big donkey is capable of it's this:
If you don't see how big Emile made that goal, well, there's not a whole lot of hope for you. Was his time in a Villa shirt quite so nice? No, probably not. Okay, definitely not. But he had his moments, and his moments were universally stunning (Heskey did WHAT?!?!) and hilarious (Heskey did THAT!!!!) Big Emile won't be a significant miss on the field. Even I know that. But he'll be a big miss in my mind. Because no matter what was happening, I imagined the big man being properly utilized and setting up bags of goals. It's not really hos fault that none of his managers got the message about his transformation to the world's most unlikely trequartista 3/4 of the way through his career.
But I digress, as I tend to do. The result of this game is completely meaningless in the eyes of most supporters. And this dat will quite rightfully be a celebration of Carlos Cuellar. I'd never want a thing taken away from him. But as the seconds tick along, give a thought to Big Emile as well. Sure, maybe he didn't match your expectations, or justify the money spent, or whichever other number of reasons there are to look back on his time here with less than positive thoughts. But even if you can't acknowledge the good things he did, at least be thankful for the jokes.
I don't really know how to wrap all of this up. I just know that the rational side of my brain thinks I ought to be happy (room in the wage budget!) while the sentimental side of my brain is really, really sad. The rational part of my brain is the part that I trust the very most, but if I didn't listen to the sentimental side from time to time I'm pretty sure I'd be a heartless asshole. So, farewell Carlos and Emile. I'll miss you. And, at least for now, I'm super, super sad.