- Emile Heskey has played four major international competitions with England
- Former Liverpool striker coaches Leicester women’s section
- He talks to FIFA.com about his new job and the prospects for the England team
Emile Heskey is one of the players who have marked the history of Leicester. Local glory turned national hero, he won two League Cups with his hometown club, before signing a famous treble with Liverpool and honoring 62 caps for the England team.
Within a golden generation steeped in individual talent, Heskey perfectly embodied humility and a taste for work. Michael Owen still readily cites him as his best attacking partner. It must be said that the man has never spared his efforts to open breaches in the opposing defenses.
At 43, Heskey has returned to Leicester to begin a coaching career at the club which saw him start as a player. But against all odds, the former England international has not started this new life within the team surrounding Brendan Rodgers but as an assistant for the women’s section of the Foxes.
Jonathan Morgan, the official coach of the team, does not hide his admiration for his second. “We still laugh about it,” he confided recently. “When I was a kid playing with my buddies, I would say his name every time I scored a goal.” Today, he in turn discovers the simple and modest man behind the former professional footballer.
For FIFA.com, Heskey looks back on the reasons for his retraining, discusses his international career and the qualities of his successors.
Emile Heskey, how did you end up coaching the Leicester City women’s section and what do you think of this new experience?
To be honest, I really enjoy it. I had been a club ambassador for some time now, but I am training with UEFA which requires experience on the ground. So I asked if I could lend a hand somewhere. Susan Whelan, the CEO, told me that we were about to join a women’s team that had previously been independent. So I offered my services as an ambassador. Finally, I joined the technical team and I must say that I am very happy. My only regret is that the coaches recently played a small tournament against the girls and we lost eight out of nine matches! [rires]
Were you surprised when you were asked to become a coach?
Yes. I liked my role as ambassador. I was providing services off the field. But when Jonathan asked me to be a coach, I was like, “Why not?” As soon as I entered the field, I was won over. I had already tried my hand at this towards the end of my career. I had worked with the Bolton U-21s but this time I got a lot more involved. I work individually with the players and I propose different tactical scenarios. It helps to see football differently. For over 20 years, I only had to worry about myself. Now I have taken a new point of view. I try to put myself in the shoes of the players, to get my message across as effectively as possible so that my ideas find concrete translation on the pitch.
It is a particularly interesting time for your club: the women will play in WSL 1 for the first time, while the men occupy the first places in the Premier League.
Indeed. This club has made impressive progress. We are part of the teams that count in the Premier League, since the title won with Claudio [Ranieri]. For two years, we have been fighting for a qualification in the Champions League. The women’s team is not left out in terms of ambitions. We have been in the lead all season. We come to WSL 1 at the best time, when sponsors and media coverage are more important than ever. We are going to discover a championship of an excellent level.
As you said, regardless of recent investments, several top players are already playing in WSL. Are you excited to see your team take on the biggest stars?
It is the essence of football. Player, I was always up for a challenge. Today I can’t wait to see our players take on Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and their stars. I am curious to see what they are capable of. But beware: Leicester is not there to make up! We want to be competitive! We have great ambitions for our women’s section. It is not just a hobby.
Are you going to be part of this long-term adventure or do you plan to give your career a new twist?
Frankly, I would love to continue here. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but it would be great to support this team as it progresses. I know that the club expects a lot from its women’s section. I really want to live this first season in WSL 1 and attend matches at King Power. More generally, it’s nice to participate in the evolution of women’s football. I hope he will soon reach the level that should have been his for a long time already.
This is the first time that you have worked with female footballers. Have you been forced to change your approach? Is it a satisfying experience?
I was very happy … until they started beating us in training or I was asked to run with them! [rires] Frankly, they are fabulous. Between us, everything went very well straight away. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I had never worked in women’s football and wanted to change some things. I found in front of me a very receptive group. Since we have been working together, I have already seen some changes.
On the men’s side, qualifying for the World Cup has just started in Europe and England seems to be off to a good start. How do you see the current team?
I think Gareth Southgate inherited one of the toughest jobs. There are so many contenders for a place in the England squad that just putting together your squad is already a challenge in itself. But I would say the future looks pretty good. There will always be debates around the absence of such and such a player, but that is part of the game. What we ask of Gareth is to win matches and find the right balance. I have no doubt that he will carry out his mission.
As a former center-forward, what do you think of Harry Kane?
He is extraordinary. When I look at him, I see a born goalscorer. We can always count on him. As a coach I know that players like him, those who always find a way to score, no matter who the opponent is, are worth their weight in gold. Harry has never been at fault with England. He’s an excellent captain. I have said in the past that forwards do not make good captains because they are too selfish; that says a lot about my esteem for him. He knew how to take on this role perfectly. For me, whatever attacking device Gareth chooses, Kane should be the first name on the scoresheet.
You scored in England’s most famous victory in World Cup qualifying: the 5-1 triumph of Three Lions in Germany. Would you say this is your best memory in the national team?
Yes. It is an unparalleled feat. We must not forget that a short time ago we had lost at Wembley against the Germans. They had been undefeated at home for over 50 games and, to make matters worse, we conceded the opener after eight minutes of play. To win that way, under these circumstances, is phenomenal. Sven [Göran Eriksson, le sélectionneur de l’époque] had prepared this match in a very intelligent way, on the tactical level. Even led to the score, we never panicked. We used our highlights. It was truly an unforgettable evening.
Is this victory worth more than participation in the World Cup?
It’s hard to compare. Every child dreams of scoring in the World Cup. I have fond memories of the 1994 edition in the United States because Romario was one of my favorite players. I still remember his goals and the tandem he formed with Bebeto. It was magical. When I was finally able to take part in the World Cup, all these wonderful memories came back to me.
When you think back to that victory over Germany, do you understand why a lot of people think England could and perhaps should have won the World Cup in Korea and Japan? Is this a feeling that you share?
Absolutely. We lost in the quarterfinals against Brazil, the future winner of the event. Still, I feel like we should have won this game. Michael [Owen] opened the scoring but then we didn’t make the right choices. We backed off too much and in doing so we gave carte blanche to one of the best attacking lines in the world at the time: Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho. They achieved these fabulous things that day, but tactically we lacked foresight. And then, the Brazilians had a bit of success. It’s a shame because I would have loved to win a title with England. This generation had so much talent …