FeatureMy Liverpool Story… with Emile Heskey
As part of the 'My Liverpool Story' series on Liverpoolfc.com, Emile Heskey is the latest to tell the tale of his Reds career in his own words…
It was a difficult choice to leave Leicester City and make the move to Liverpool in March 2000.
They were, of course, my hometown club and it was somewhere I was comfortable and had enjoyed a rapid progression through the youth ranks into the first team.
But there comes a point where you start thinking about what you can achieve yourself in the game. In the five years I was there we’d been to Wembley four times: a play-off final and three League Cup finals. We’d won two major trophies and done well in the Premier League.
It felt like it was becoming the normal thing to be going to Wembley and challenging for honours. I have to admit that after having that taste of success I was extremely determined to have more of that.
I was an England international too and I felt I could push myself on. It would’ve been an easy decision to stay in my comfort zone, but it was something I wanted to do.
My uncle, who played a huge role in my life growing up, was a massive Liverpool fan so I was a supporter of the club. When I knew they were involved in trying to sign me I didn’t want to go anywhere else; there was only one place I was ever going to end up.
Everyone knows Liverpool is a huge club but if I am being completely honest, I didn’t know the magnitude of it until I was inside it. It’s what you’re representing, both near and far. It’s got a huge tradition and history attached to it and with that comes pressure as well whenever you pull on the badge.
It’s something I’ve spoken about before, but I struggled quite a lot when I first joined. I was homesick being away from my family. It seems an odd thing to say given it wasn’t actually that far, but you have to remember I was only 22. I was still young, I was naive, I’d only been in football and I hadn’t really had any huge world experience from being sheltered within that. One thing I will say, though, is that it made me grow up very quickly. I had my partner and my kids, but I lost my support network outside of that.
Football was my saviour. It was where I found peace and being in that circle was where I gained huge comfort. Looking back, maybe I should’ve asked for some help, because the club had things in place, but you just don’t want to burden anyone and I worked through it.
It felt like my move to Liverpool had been a long time coming. Gerard Houllier was obviously a huge figure in bringing me to the club, but I actually remember Liverpool showing interest in me right back to when I played against them at Keele University for Leicester at 16 years of age.
The boss first saw me himself when I played for England U19s when Michael Owen and I went up against France. They had everyone that night: Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet, William Gallas, Mikael Silvestre and others.
We held our own and he seemed to follow my progress through Leicester right up to bringing me to Liverpool for what was a club-record fee at the time.
He was a great coach. The attention to detail and information he would give you was second to none. It was overload at times, but it was brilliant. You would never step onto the pitch wondering about something. If you needed to know it, you already did.
As a player I was very quick, I was a runner, and I loved the ball at my feet. Martin O’Neill was very simple with me at Leicester, he would just say to me that those were my strengths so go out and do that. Houllier, though, he was a bit more analytical, you’d sit down and go through every detail. We had sessions where we wouldn’t touch the ball at all, we’d just work on shape, which was completely new to me. We’d just move as a unit in and out of different scenarios. It was fascinating to go into an environment like that.
I imagine that any Liverpool fans who experienced the 2000-01 season will remember it with great fondness – I hope so anyway.
From both a team and a personal point of view, I’m not sure much more could’ve gone right. I scored 22 goals – the most in a single season throughout my career – and started all three of the finals we reached. To win a League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup in a matter of months was a dream come true.
We had some phenomenal players and that really helped me produce some of the best football of my career. You’re playing that many games that you would think it would be tough, but we just seemed to get into a rhythm, and it suited us as a team.
In that scenario, you don’t actually spend a lot of time out on the training pitch because you’re recovering and then going again, so it was more just about taking information on board and attacking games.
However, by the end of the season I do have to admit I was running on fumes both physically and mentally. It’s only now when I sit and reflect back on what we achieved that season that I really take on board what happened. To win a treble is just incredible.
There were so many memorable goals and moments it’s impossible to list them all. When you’re playing it’s difficult to actually saviour it because you’re always looking for that next high and that next buzz. At Liverpool that comes in the form of trophies. It’s almost part of the philosophy and mindset when you’re at one of the bigger clubs and that’s how it has to be. You’re there to go and get the next one, it’s what is required.
One fixture I always loved playing in was the Merseyside derby. I played against Everton not long before joining Liverpool and it was a tough game, it was the Premier League so you expect that, but when you’re facing them in a Liverpool shirt it is a completely different prospect.
I was probably quite naive thinking it was just going to be another game when I joined, because when I got into the match it was like playing against a team possessed.
There is just something else in that fixture. It means something totally different to everyone involved. I loved scoring in the derby games.
The seasons that came after that initial success we maybe didn’t deliver the trophies that we should have with the group we had. Sometimes it comes down to a bit of luck but also if the club is kicking on enough and moving to the next level as well.
I think Houllier built the right team and then for various reasons we maybe just didn’t progress onwards enough after that. To win the trophies we did, though, that’s exactly what I came for and that’s the pressure that you thrive under as a player.
I scored when we won the UEFA Super Cup final against Bayern Munich and we went on to win the League Cup again against Manchester United in 2003. My goal against Roma too is something that is always mentioned whenever I bump into supporters, it was a special night with the game being a must-win and Houllier’s return to the dugout.
I enjoyed every minute of being a Liverpool player. I often wish I had stayed one more season, I would’ve won the Champions League then!
In all seriousness, I never liked to overstay my welcome anywhere, and an offer was accepted for me and once that happens you have to seriously consider it.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I felt like I would’ve suited Rafael Benitez’s style of play but when he arrived in the summer of 2004 I left after four great years. I don’t live with regrets, though, because I had a career I am very proud of.
Liverpool fans seemed to take to me, and I like to think that was because a big part of my mentality was putting the team before anything else. I’d come from a background where if someone needed help you helped them. It’s hard graft for everyone, so if your mate needed a boost then you go and help them. That was where I came from and that translated to how I played football. I never wanted to ditch that because it wouldn’t have been me.
Whenever I come back to Anfield now it brings back so many fantastic memories. I absolutely love visiting. There is just something so special about the place, it has an energy that is unmatched. It was a privilege to play there and to represent the club.
All the best,
Emile was speaking to Liverpoolfc.com’s Joe Urquhart