In a wide-ranging interview with OTB, Emile Heskey went into detail on how Martin O’Neill and Gerard Houllier influenced his career and what it was like seeing Stephen Ireland perform up close.
Heskey made his breakthrough at Leicester City when he was 17-years-old and his career took off when Martin O’Neill came into the club.
One of two managers who Heskey credits with being the best he played for, he explained the contrasting styles of O’Neill and Gerard Houllier - whom he would work under at Liverpool.
“Martin O’Neill was great, he was fantastic. He’s a manager that doesn’t give you too much information. If you give a young lad information, they get overloaded.
“Which wasn’t good for me personally. I was quick and strong and at that stage, he would tell me, ‘get the ball, turn and run, take people on and create chances.’ That was it, that’s all I did.
“It took me to a certain stage and then when I went to Liverpool I needed to learn about football. You need to learn about different tactics,” the former England striker said.
Heskey could immediately notice the differing styles of Houllier and O’Neill. Where the Frenchman was organised and well-prepared, the future Ireland manager was ad-hoc and focused on individuals.
That approach from O’Neill left Heskey ill-prepared for life at Liverpool where he tells the story of falling asleep in the first two or three of Houllier’s detailed team meetings.
However, Heskey explains how he and the Liverpool team benefitted from all the information.
“You understand that you’re learning more and more. On the training pitch, we had poles everywhere and he would go to one and ask us where we needed to be.
“You’re just moving around the pitch for 45 minutes with no footballs working on shape.
“The majority of us enjoyed it. That’s what football was all about, we were learning. I really enjoyed it and that’s why I say those two managers helped me a lot,” he said.
Stephen Ireland and Heskey crossed paths at Aston Villa and, unfortunately, Ireland didn’t enjoy the same success under Houllier as Heskey.
“If you looked at the way Stevie trained you’d have him in your team straight away. I don’t think there’s a better trainer than Stephen Ireland.
“I don’t know what it was because he wasn’t a person that would be outspoken unless he went to the manager's office and told him off there. But on the pitch, he wouldn’t be one for mouthing off.
“He wouldn’t say anything in the dressing room that would annoy a manager and make him say, ‘you’re out of this club.’
“If you were watching training, the physical stuff and the ball work, he would be your first [choice]. But I don’t know why there was something there that managers didn’t pick him,” Heskey said.