“IF Heskey can play for England so can I.”
That’s how it all seemed to start, the tiresome ‘banter’ about Emile Heskey that seems to have dogged him for years and seeps into every conversation about the man that won 62 caps for his country and played over 500 games in the Premier League.
All by some kind of fluke if some people are to be believed.
Earlier this week, discussing Heskey’s return to Anfield today, I said to a colleague he was a good player, particularly in the 00-01 season. The screwed up face of incredulity that formed his response said it all. He was waiting for the punchline. There wasn’t one. Heskey was far from perfect of course, and as Gerard Houllier once, perhaps a tad too honestly, said he was a “rough diamond with many errors in his game”.
But the diamond shone plenty of times for Liverpool and that shouldn’t be allowed to sink in a sea of shit jokes and video compilations. Heskey lacked a bit of belief, a bit of composure at times. But then he would probably say being shunted out to the wing on occasion hardly helped matters on that score. He had a mistake in him – he wasn’t deadly in front of goal – but the same can be said for hundreds of players, and the good times shouldn’t be allowed to be airbrushed by a gang of England following banter merchants.
Someone has even gone to the trouble of making a video entitled: Emile Heskey – Worst Football Player Ever. He wasn’t – and I imagine still isn’t – the worst football player ever. And no you couldn’t play for England. He could, though.
So why am I arsed? Because Heskey played a key role in one of my most enjoyable seasons following the Reds: the 2000-01 season. In that campaign, like you need reminding, Liverpool lifted the League Cup, The FA Cup and the Uefa Cup. And finished third in the league.
And the £11million man — a club record when he joined from Leicester aged 22 in March 2000 — played a key part in all that, scoring 22 goals in 56 matches and forming a deadly partnership with Michael Owen, who bagged 24. While Owen was all pace and dead-eye finishing, Heskey was all about power, strength, instinctive finishes and aerial ability. He scored a spectacular goal or two as well. The lad could hit the ball.
Owen, remember, won European Player of the Year after that. And that was in no small part due to Heskey’s contribution to the front pairing.
In terms of goals, Heskey was just under a one in four man for the Reds, scoring 60 in 223 appearances and after winning the 2001 Treble and the League Cup in 2003, he left the club for Birmingham in May 2004 having won 52 per cent of the games he played in for Liverpool.
Interviewed by The Echo this week, he said: “Everyone could achieve more with a bit more self-belief, can’t they? I’m happy with what I achieved.
“I think you’ve got to look at it and up to now I’ve got four League Cups, FA Cup, UEFA Cup, Super Cup, Charity Shield, I played in two World Cups, two Euros – I’m happy! That’s not bad.”
He’s got a point. Thanks for the memories, Emile.
Pic: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda
Emile is in that pantheon of players that you don’t realise how good they are until they go. if we had a 23 year old Heskey leading the line in Sturridge absence this season we would be sitting a lot higher in the table i know that much!
Can someone check the number of assists he’s made, especially to Owen? Pretty sure Owen wouldn’t have been as phenomenal in terms of number of goals scored had he not had Heskey alongside him. Also let’s not forget that with Owen in the team it was always going to be hard for any other striker.
Some people love to make their criticisms of players too personal and way too over the top. I was never Heskey’s biggest fan, just like I have not been with Borini since his arrival either, but there has to be a more nuanced evaluation and argument over a player’s strengths and weaknesses than just saying “he’s not LFC class and needs to just pi$$ off”.
With that being said though, if Borini is LFC class, then with a stroke of luck, I definitely could have made it into the team also! lol
Many players have admitted they didn’t like playing against Heskey, that says enough. LFC class is a thing of the past, get over it. The club has been upper mid-table since the early 90s, occasionally punching above its weight. The rot started under KD letting his Paisley side (and Paisley + Fagan prompted signings) age, but there was little competition at the time. Then TV money brought Man Utd to the top (part owned by Sky who pushed the hell out of them), Arsenal rebuilt, and then oil money joined the party. LFC failed to capitalize on the new money thanks to Moores and a stream of pricks, and the club has fuck all chance to buy its way to the top table. FSG have solidified upper mid, and stopped the rot, but they cannot afford to push up the table, and they will not pay the kind of wages needed to attract the cream of players that’ll do that. Once the stadium is near complete, expect them to flip the club for a nice profit.
Apologies, not Heskey related. Not sure how we arrived here but…
Did the rot start under Dalglish? I’ve never seen it that way myself. I think we just had 4 major events in a 12 month period that conspired against us. Dalglish resigning, Souness getting appointed, Moores taking over and the formation of the Premier League. We thought we could do what we’d always done and the trophies would keep coming. It was lack of leadership which made us miss the boat. 91 onwards but yeah, I’d agree with your points.
You then make your comments about FSG but I find it a bit of a dichotomy. FSG bought the club because they considered them a sleeping giant not exploiting their potential (the things we blame Moores for not doing). FFP was a huge part of their decision. If it’s rigorously enforced then we’ll be the main benefactors in Europe. So, this time we won’t miss the boat like we did with the Sky era, we’ll be ahead of the game. The mistakes of the past are being rectified but it’s still not good enough. Then you say we’re a upper mid table team in one breath and in the next criticise them for not getting the cream of players. Hello! The cream don’t go to mid table teams. I think you’re confused as to why someone would buy a football club. Obviously FSG are in it to make money. Originally the cries were they’ll sell it in 2 years for a profit. Then they had no intention of developing Anfield. Their model is simple. If it comes off then they win but most of all we win. That’s why it’s acceptable. I think your views have been distorted by Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour. They’re exceptional cases and it’s not hard to see their motives. I wouldn’t want either associated with our club.
Would you be good enough to inform me what you think an owner should be about and what you think they get from it. FFP means it’s down to the club to make itself successful. It needs the right leadership, the days of sugar daddies are over. It annoys me not because I like FSG, I couldn’t care less about them. I just hate seeing people moaning about stuff they clearly don’t understand.
Those ‘ageing’ players were still at the top of the table when Kenny resigned and many of them had a good few years left in them. I loved Souness the player, he was one of the best midfielders I’ve ever seen and the greatest captain of them all, I don’t mind him as a pundit, but as a manager he was dire: no-one should buy into his narrative about his time at the club. It wasn’t the ageing players that let Kenny down but the poor signings and decision making (particularly around Peter Beardsley) that let him down. Had we promoted from within there’s every chance we’d have remained at the top.
Not quite Torres levels of plunging standards but the Heskey of the cup treble and the Heskey who played out his last couple of seasons with us are like two different players. He went from the prototype of Drogba to being scared of his own shadow. I’m trying to think whether there was a specific game or moment where you could go ‘he’s gone there – he’ll probably just be a decent journeyman forward for mid table-relegation scrapping sides’. Was there a big injury I’m forgetting?
Never quite as prolific as we hoped, but my enduring memory is that players appeared to absolutely love him, and that was enough for me.
Tom M. There was an FA cup replay vs. Palace early 2003 when he was clean through from inside our half, not a single player to beat and he just rolled the ball at the keeper. It was 0-0 at the time and we went on to lose 2-0, i think. That could’ve been one of those moments. His form up to that hadn’t been great from memory but from when he signed to late 2002 his was unplayable most weeks.
I remember an outrageous flick on the edge of the box which chipped the keeper and completed a rout against Ipswich i think it was. Loved his perfect hattrick vs. Derby plus his winner v Bradford on the opening day in 2000. Don’t forget his derby goal at Goodison too.
He was definitely a good player for us and just couldn’t replicate it for England which doesn’t bother me. The days he was playing and not scoring for Villa and getting his England place probably adds to this myth that he was no good.
My frustration with Heskey was never that he was a bad player; it’s that he seemed to have all the ingredients to be a great one, but never rose above “good”. So big, so strong, so fast, with such a wicked shot — and yet he never quite seemed to find a way to put it all together. He did a good job for us, which is not to be forgotten. But I think he could have been remembered as one of the greats had be ever consistently played to his potential. (See also: Collymore, Stanley.)