As it goes this ad, which played during the 2002 World Cup, isn’t that bad. Francesco Totti finds himself playing footie, alone, in his back garden – rounding imaginary opponents before slotting the ball into what appears to be a child’s goal – as is his wont.
Depending on where in Europe you lived at the time Totti in his live commentary references Christian Vieri or Michael Ballack on his way to scoring: “Totti beats Ballack; nutmegs Vieri” and so on. This becomes important later. What will also become apparent is who Il Capitano tackles in the UK version.
His imaginary game of solo footie over, Totti leaps into his Fiat Stilo – an appalling car – and zooms off down the road, just like every multi-millionaire footballer. Stopping at some lights, Totti notices a message on the Stilo’s multimedia screen. Why, it’s Vieri (or Ballack) taunting Totti by revealing that he was offside (or warning him not to count his chickens in the German version) all along in his fictitious soccer match. All of which is quite smart and fairly well-executed, if you ignore the obvious absurdities inherent in it.
What tipped this over the edge was the UK version. Who had Fiat signed up for this amusing battle of Europe? David Beckham perhaps? Or Michael Owen? Moving down the food chain a little, but still a name, perhaps it was Big David Seaman? Nope. Not even close. Not even Paul Scholes. The man lined up by Fiat to represent Engand in this ad – against Totti, Vieri and Ballack – was Emile Heskey.
Now, the much-maligned Heskey has his strengths in my book. His unselfish style, physical attributes and hold-up play to name three. But did Totti even know who Emile Heskey was? Is it that likely that the two would swap matey footballing banter via text message? Is that why Heskey felt the need to sign off with a cheery ‘Emile Heskey’. More to the point, how did Heskey know about this impromptu game that Totti was enjoying in his own back garden? There are more questions than answers, as anyone who watched A Question of Sport in the early 1990s will know.
Perhaps the biggest question of all is whether, even years later, Totti has ever heard of Emile Heskey.
Sadly history does not record the Heskey version. I couldn’t find it anywhere. Maybe Heksey has a copy.