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My Favourite Player #18 - Emile Heskey

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Have you heard the joke about Emile Heskey?  You know the one "Emile plans to open a pub when he retires because hes great at putting shots over the bar" or how about...You see there's plenty about and it's one thing that always scunners me, how can a man who won 6  trophies for Liverpool and 62 caps for England be labelled as a joke?

It was in March 2000 that Gerard Houllier managed to convince the Liverpool board to pay out a fee of 11m for 22 year old Emile - a club record at the time. Most pundits thought it was a gamble but Houllier knew what he was buying. In Emile he had a powerhouse of a centre forward, someone who could hold the ball, run at defenders and was great in the air - sure, he was rough round the edges and wasn't exactly prolific in front of goal but that didn't matter to Houllier.
Houllier believed that he could educate and polish him into a complete player and help become the perfect foil for our other strikers. Fowler and Owen, as good as they both were, did not possess the brute force Emile did, something that would bring a new dimension to the Liverpool front line.

  "He's big and strong and the important thing is that he will give Liverpool a different dimension. Robbie Fowler and Michael are two of the best strikers in the Premiership and they are both fast, but I think signing Heskey gives them a different option. He can change the game for them." Ian Rush on Heskey    
Heskey made his debut against Sunderland at Anfield a few days later and had an immediate impact. Most fans had barely had a chance to sit down as the game kicked off and within 60 seconds he had won a penalty kick as he was bundled over by a Sunderland defender in front of the Kop. Patrick Berger took the resulting spot kick and smashed it down the middle. Liverpool had chances to wrap up the game but some things never change - despite being on top for 70 mins of the match Sunderland went up the park and equalized through a Kevin Phillips penalty. Although the game finished 1-1 the signs were there, for the last two months of the season Heskey was to play another 11 times scoring 3 times, finishing the season with 3 goals in 12 appearances. In the remaining fixtures the Anfield Faithful had seen what the boy could do and if he could get a partnership going with Owen or Fowler then surely success would come - and boy did it come!

During the summer most Liverpool fans were eager for the season to start. We had finished 4th and missed out on Champions League qualification on the last day after losing at Bradford, a result which meant we had to settle for the Uefa Cup. The previous season we had seen glimpses of a partnership between Heskey and Owen but who knew where it would take us.

Houllier had decided his tactics were going to be 'Big man Little man' meaning that Heskey was number one and the second striker would be one of Fowler and Owen. With the latter being quicker, Heskey and Owen were often the preferred pairing. It was in 00/01 when Heskey really left his mark and proved Houllier was right to spend so much on him and prove all those doubters wrong if for a couple of seasons or so.

Something just clicked with Heskey that season and he was like a man possessed. He scored the winner on the opening day of season against Bradford and just never stopped scoring. For a man who 'wasn't prolific' he finished the season with 22 goals, some important goals at that. Who can forget that perfect hat trick away at Derby, when he ran riot, powering home a thumping header and an unstoppable right-foot shot, before completing the set with a left-foot finish from a Barmby cross.
Heskey with the perfect hat trick at Pride ParkHeskey had it all that season - pace, power and he was as strong as a ox with the ball. The Kop loved it, seeing Heskey pick the ball up and just charge towards the opposition goals at pace, defenders not knowing what to do tackle or snuff him out and before they knew what to do he would let rip with that right foot of his. His left foot wasn't bad either it got the fans roaring, we loved it.
Heskey  was to score 22 goals as we won the Quadruple of League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup (plus the Super Cup) but it wasn't just his goals that I admired as I watched him more and more - it was his all round play. It's here where I finally understood why Houllier had wanted him for so long and why, rather than accept defeat and look elsewhere for another centre forward he continued in his battle with Martin O'Neill for 6 months to sign him. I saw why he was so important to Houllier's vision for the team.
  "You take players not for the number of goals they score but for the role they can play for the team."
Gerrard Houllier on the lack of goals from Heskey when signing from Leicester By the time opposition managers sussed him out they would stick two men on him sometimes even three. All That did however was create even more space for his partner in crime up front - mostly Owen who at that age would usually finish it off. 
Heskey and Owen CelebratingMaybe it was the change in tactics, maybe it was a one off but Heskey never reached those goal scoring heights again for Liverpool.  He scored 13 times the following season and went from goal scorer to goal provider especially for Michael Owen who benefited greatly when playing next to big Emile. If you look at the partnership of the two they scored 117 goals between them in 4 seasons (172 games to be precise) A lot of the goals Owen scored were due to Heskey doing all the leg work - using himself as a battering ram with Owen doing the easy part of putting the ball in the net. It was your typical big man wee man routine, and while Owen won all the praise for his finishing and won European footballer of the year, Heskey went along with his business quietly doing what was good for the team rather than what was good for Emile.
  "Id play anywhere the boss told me to
Emile Heskey In his third season at Liverpool Houllier had decided to use Heskey as a more of a left mid than a centre forward - to the detriment of the player. Out on the wing he seemed to lose everything he was good at. Up front he would collect the ball and run straight at the heart of defence or win long balls and flick ons for Michael Owen, but on the wing he was hampered. He became more defence-minded more often than not and was only visible in games when defending. His confidence was dwindling and the longer the games went on you could see the man who once was a terrifying giant was now terrified mouse. If only Liverpool had Dr Steve Peters back then he might have kept Heskey's confidence sky high. Things might have been different and could have led to greater things but he was never the same. Maybe Houllier was to blame for continuing to play a man so out of form and continuously out of position - who knows, all we know is that he wasn't the same.  He had the odd flash of brilliance here and there and similar to the Spaniard at Stamford bridge fans would proclaim he's  back but it never did materialize. Maybe he just lost that hunger, maybe he had peaked at 23. All ifs and buts of course but we were never again to see the beast we had seen in his early years at Liverpool - the dominating centre forward who charged at defenders and bullied them, making loads of space for his partner.

At international level for England he again brought the best out of his team mates up front. I spoke about his partnership with Owen but people seem to forget that in the qualifiers for South Africa Rooney loved playing up front with him and was most productive when playing up front with Emile. Although he never hit the heights at international level (does anyone ever peak for England) he was part of the team that beat Germany 5-1 on their Owen patch.
 Heskey making it 5 in Germany So I hope I've helped put Emile in a different light. Maybe Im alone in thinking it but for me Heskey although he may not have been the greatest player to wear the Liverpool shirt, had other attributes. He helped the teams in others ways - he might have stopped scoring on the pitch but he still did all the leg work for his partners and was the perfect foil for others. All the headlines went to Fowler, Owen and even Gary Mac, while Heskey was a footnote so I hope that one day we might look back at his time here, watch the season review of 2000/2001 and remember fondly a man who is often lambasted for being a flop. He did all right you know, winning 6 trophies in 4 years.

The 5th Benitle:
On the 18th day of Christmas...Emile Heskey's popped out of the cracker. Many thanks Azi for your perspective on an oft-misunderstood player.

agree with you i really rated heskey too great read fella :)

I remembered him who help Leicester City with his own money to save his hometown club.  :wellin

Gifted Right Foot:
good read mate.  i love the big lad.  saw an interview with him the other day and he still speaks very highly of the club. 


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