Emile Heskey: Time’s up, curtains down
From striking a menacing presence on the pitch to being the subject of internet memes and even a knighthood petition; it seems like Emile Heskey has been around for a long time.
But following his stint with Bolton after the 2015/2016 season, the former England international knew his time as a professional footballer was up.
But I never had that feeling again. You know it in yourself, it’s your time to finish
Speaking on the sidelines of the JSSL International 7s event launch in Singapore as its Guest-of-Honour, Heskey told Fourfourtwo: “Generally when I finish a season, I have a week off, then I can’t wait to go back into training. I start training on my own; jogging, weights and playing football with my friends.
“I said to myself, I’ll go away, have a holiday, and if I’m raring to go again, I’ll go again, I’ll find a club. But I never had that feeling again. You know it in yourself, it’s your time to finish.”
The 39-year-old insisted that injuries did not force the decision. He said: “To be fair it’s only my ankles that hurt at times, apart from them everything else is fine. Injuries were no problem at all.
“But at some stage, you just have to be realistic to yourself and say enough is enough. 21 years I did it for. How much can you do it for? You’re going to realise that it’s going to come to an end.
“I see the bloke in Japan (Yokohama FC’s Kazuyoshi Miura) scoring recently, and he’s 50. I just can’t see myself doing that. I’ve done it since the age of 16. Not that I’ve had enough, but time has run its course.”
True to his soft-spoken nature, Heskey saw no reason to announce his official retirement.
“I watch players do it all the time and I’m like…for me it’s just like well, I’m going down this path, and that’s it,” he said with a shrug.
LOOKING BACK ON A MEMORABLE CAREER
He went on to make 150 appearances for the Reds, before stints with Birmingham, Wigan Athletic, Aston Villa, Newcastle Jets, and finally Bolton.
I look at things realistically, and the career I had was great, with two great clubs
But Heskey insisted his was far from a journeyman career.
“Depends on how you look at it, you say journey, but I’ve seen a lot worse journeys. I look at things realistically, and the career I had was great, with two great clubs,” he said.
His final appearances in the Premier League were for Aston Villa, where he reached the League Cup Final and the FA Cup semi-final in 2010, playing twice on the coveted grounds of Wembley Stadium.
While he appreciates the chance to play on the national team’s home ground, he admitted that the current stadium, which opened in 2007, did not match the old ground in terms of atmosphere.
“In all fairness, I was lucky enough to play at the old Wembley. I’ve got to be honest, the feeling was better in the old Wembley than it was in the new,” the former England striker shared.
In all fairness, I was lucky enough to play at the old Wembley. I’ve got to be honest, the feeling was better in the old Wembley than it was in the new
“The old one had pure history and atmosphere; you could feel the crowd, and the new one was just big.”
Being a Liverpool fan since young, Anfield stood out as the ground he most enjoyed playing on.
“Just the atmosphere, the historical nature of the club, being a supporter when you’re younger, to go in and play in there,” Heskey explained.
“Telling your friends that you’re going to play for them and eventually you do play for them. Things like that.”
Fondly remembering his time scoring at the Kop End, he breaks into a wide grin, maintaining he has “no regrets” over his departure from the club in 2004.
After all, he won the FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup treble in his second season with the Reds.
Even now, the amicable Heskey gets stopped by strangers thanking him for his contributions to the club.
He said: “I’m like wow, that was so long ago. I still get that now, which is great.
“Even though I won trophies at Liverpool, you never know how you’re perceived really. And I’d like to think I was perceived as a success. At the end of the day I was part of a team that won three trophies.”
While he is widely known for playing up front for the Merseyside club, his time with Australian outfit Newcastle Jets from 2012 to 2014 stood out as one of his personal milestones.
Despite having to adjust from the dreary cold in England to the scorching heat in New South Wales, Heskey hoped his “brilliant” stint Down Under, though in the twilight of his career, is something for his young compatriots to emulate.
He added: “In all fairness I wish more and more English players would go abroad and play, at a young age even. You see a different culture, a different aspect from football, you see everything differently.
“I managed to do that late in my career, and it was nice to actually visit Australia, and for them to see me as I am, and not just see me on the television, because the Premier League is massive over there. I enjoyed every minute of it.”
In all fairness I wish more and more English players would go abroad and play, at a young age even. You see a different culture, a different aspect from football, you see everything differently
Indeed, over the years, fans and neutrals alike have watched Heskey shrug off defenders with his strength, laying off for his strike partners with his excellent hold-up play.
Yet a constant criticism of him has been his lack of goals.
While he plundered an impressive 22 goals in 56 appearances in his first full season (2000/2001) donning red, critics have pointed out that an overall 130 goals in 633 club matches was a poor return for a striker. Seven goals in 62 national caps did not aid his case.
Heskey replied, slightly tersely: “You score 100 odd goals, what can anyone say to you?
“At the end of the day we forget that sometimes football is a team sport, we worship specific people, for their specific roles they play, but then forget that without the masses, there will not be this one person.
But you’ve got to know your role, you’ve got teams who have several players that you might not necessarily think are great players, but they played their role, and they played their role well
“I just played my role, and I’m happy to, but people always forget about that. You need someone to do more than just goals, and that’s hard. (Didier) Drogba’s found it. (Romelu) Lukaku does it, (Diego) Costa does it. There’s few and far between.
“But you’ve got to know your role, you’ve got teams who have several players that you might not necessarily think are great players, but they played their role, and they played their role well. And they’re part of a structure that’s bringing them success.”
Indeed, the battering ram of a forward proved the perfect foil for his then-strike partners Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler.
In Heskey’s four full seasons with Liverpool, Owen struck 99 times in 181 appearances, his best-ever scoring record.