Emile Heskey: I was on the floor and started crying. Then I found a barber | Jamie Jackson

The former England striker talks about homesickness in Liverpool, falling asleep during Grard Houlliers meetings and picks his favourite player from the golden generation

Emile Heskey exudes a Zen-like calm whether discussing criticism of his goalscoring or recalling crying. The former Liverpool and England striker is at the Alderley Hotel in Cheshire to discuss his new book, Even Heskey Scored. The title was chosen because, he laughs, this is what everyone said.

Yet if his career numbers are low for someone who played most of his career as a No 9 seven goals from 62 caps, 110 in 516 Premier League games his 53 assists in the top flight is a clue to his real worth. The figure stands at only two fewer than the vaunted master-creator Paul Scholes. And when Heskeys seventh place in the all-time appearance chart is factored in, alongside a 21-year, seven-club career that ran from 1995 to 2016 and took in Leicester City, Liverpool, Birmingham City, Wigan Athletic, Aston Villa, Newcastle Jets and Bolton Wanderers, there is further evidence of why he was so successful.

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I play for the team; it wasnt anything that really bothered me, Heskey says of his strike return. I know forwards will go out and if [the team] score five and they dont, they are fuming. I dont care. I still got to the top 1% or whatever of the game.

He offers a response to critics. Your son is eight, Heskey says. So if I tell you by the age of 24 he wouldve represented England youth all the way through, would have made his debut at 17 and gone to three cup finals in four years for his hometown team [Leicester], then been sold for a record to Liverpool one of the biggest clubs in the world; then hed go on to win the treble [FA Cup, League Cup, Uefa Cup] that first season, represent England at two World Cups, in the European Championship, and play in one of Englands most memorable games to date, winning God knows, six or seven trophies by the age of 24, how would you feel?

The international match cited is the 5-1 victory over Germany in Munich in September 2001, Heskey scoring the fifth, before performing a mock DJ-style celebration.

This highlight has top billing in what was, as he says, an impressive career. Heskey was only 18 when he was in the Leicester side that beat Crystal Palace in the 1996 First Division play-off final, drinking a full bottle of champagne afterwards, which, he writes, finished me.

Heskey had made his debut in the previous season under Mark McGhee but by now Martin ONeill was manager, the Irishman proving a particular influence on Heskey. All he asked was: Son, be quick. Get it and run. Martin allowed me to be free and Grard [Houllier, at Liverpool] taught me about football. I tell people, and they laugh with Grard you were in a meeting for hours: pitch black watching video for hours. I used to fall asleep I was so tired.

Heskey
Heskey causes panic in the Germany defence during Englands famous 5-1 win. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Sven-Gran Eriksson, the England manager from 2001 to 2006, was the same. I liked him, Heskey says. Very meticulous in preparation. I cant remember him coaching. But when you go on that pitch you knew everything.

Yet Steve McClaren, Erikssons successor, caused bemusement when recalling Heskey, via phone, for the first time in three years in September 2007. He said, Ive spoken to Michael [Owen] about you. Its like thank you but why would you? says Heskey. Id played how many seasons in the Premier League its not like you dont know me. I probably have to thank Michael for getting me back into the national team.

After Alan Shearer retired in 2000 Heskeys pace and presence made him Owens strike partner for three years until Wayne Rooneys emergence. He expresses surprise at Owens recent spat with Shearer – which centred on loyalty and their time together at Newcastle United given how close they were, laughing and joking all the time with England.

When Heskey joined Liverpool in March 2000 the club paid a record 11m for him. By then Heskey had claimed two League Cups in 1997 and 2000 and been given his England debut by Kevin Keegan in a 1-1 draw with Hungary.

Yet homesickness marked his beginnings on Merseyside. It lasted six months, says Heskey. I had to grow up very quickly because I had kids, I had a girlfriend. I literally laid on the floor and started crying. I was like What have I done? I dont know if I have done the right thing. But the weirdest thing was Id go to training and I would be all right.

Then like a drop of a hat I found a barber, I found friends, a routine. Yes, it was a tough time but it was weird, I was silly and, looking back, you think: why didnt you just go and sit with mates?

The other mention of tears relates to an ONeill rollicking. I wouldve been a teenager, Heskey says. He just laid into me at Southampton away, at full-time. I was crying, but I [had] missed a few chances.

Heskeys honesty and self-awareness are striking and denote a particular type of intelligence. Im a peoples person, he says. I understand them [and] Ive got a calming nature as well. He laughs. Even though I can lose the plot sometimes. I got sent off once in a friendly. Before, on the phone, I had a full-on argument where Im telling this guy I am coming for you and I guess that had something to do with me getting sent off.

Heskey, now 41, played with a glittering array of footballers that included Scholes, David Beckham, Rooney, Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell and Steven Gerrard. While he nominates the latter as the most talented and Campbell his toughest opponent, he rates Cole the finest footballer of Englands so-called golden generation.

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