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Football Insights - Emile Heskey

Football Insights - Emile Heskey

With the Premier League teams given the green light to resume training and a possible June start being discussed, former Liverpool and England striker Emile Heskey took time out to give his exclusive insights on Preject Restart and all things involving his former teams Liverpool and Leicester.

Find out what Emile spoke about exclusively to Genting Casino.



Project Restart

Do you think the success of the first weekend of games in Germany offers hope for the return of football in the UK?

Someone’s always got to take the plunge and take the first step in restarting football and we’re now all watching Germany to see how it goes and if they can actually do things differently. It’s a great thing to watch, I watched the Borussia game and a bit of the Bayern game this weekend.

Do you think it is right that the Premier League is resuming, given the criticism it has received in some quarters?

It’s great that the Premier League are pushing to restart the rest of the season. It’s important not just for the players, but for the wellbeing of people, it would be really nice to have a bit of sport being played at the moment, in time. However, it’s got to be done in a safe environment for players, referees and everyone involved in the game.

Steve Bruce claims that players would need 5-6 weeks pre-season to be match fit, with Danny Murphy claiming they could be ready in 2. How long do you feel players need given the current circumstances?

You can’t gauge match fitness until players are back in training. Players have been keeping their fitness up during lockdown, but general fitness isn’t the same as match fitness. We have pre-season every year and some people say that takes two weeks, others say it’s a little longer, but you can’t gauge this until you can look at people and see where they’re at. Pre-season fitness isn’t the same as match fitness, you could do a pre-season for six weeks and still not be match fit because you’re playing too much. They haven’t done the stop and start running and intensity which you have to do in a match, which means we don’t know what state the players are in until they’re all together.

Troy Deeney, Sergio Aguero and Danny Rose have all spoken out about their belief that it is too soon to think about returning. What's your view on this?

The communication around returning to football has been woeful, we’ve sat on the sIdelines. They’ve left it until the week before to communicate and discuss with players, when really, they should’ve been engaging with players around when you want them to come back. They should be engaging with the players, the referee and everyone involved in making the game what it is.

These problems were all around six weeks ago, if teams had engaged with the players about when they were coming back and what they were going to do, they could’ve avoided. This is especially true for someone from a BAME background, because we hear that BAME people are more susceptible [to COVID-19] and these are the ones who are falling on the front line. So again, the communication has been woeful.

Troy Deeney is reportedly refusing to return to training over concerns about bringing something back to his 5-month-old son. How do you think clubs will and should deal with situations like this? Can you see clubs disciplining players who refuse to return to training?

Clubs will probably deal with players not returning to training with a fine, but I don’t think that is a problem for players – they’re not worrying about money, they’re worrying about their family and the people they love. God forbid something happens to Troy Deeney’s child, what is the club going to do? They couldn’t bring that child back. You have to be mindful about what this person is going through, and you can’t force Deeney out of his house if he doesn’t feel safe.

Would clubs receive backlash for fining players, like Deeney, who refuse to return to training?

Fans feed off media, so it depends on however it’s portrayed in the media the fans read, then you’ll see the backlash. If it was the other way round, the fans would be feeling the same. The situation isn’t nice and these are the precautions you have to take and he has taken the precaution for his young child, as it could be troublesome if he caught it [COVID-19].

Can you see some players waiving their wages if they refuse to come back through health and safety concerns? 

I don’t’ think wages are the issue, it’s health and wellbeing, which is the problem for players. So if players waive their wages, so be it, at the top end, if they need to do it, they’ll do it. I don’t think wages are a massive issue for top end players.

With League Two's season looking to be concluded, what ramifications do you think this has on the leagues below, and above? Will this change the game for the future?

I think this will change the game for the future, League Two are already looking at salary caps, which are already in place in the USA and Australia, where I played. All of your squad has to be under a certain threshold and they’re looking at implementing these things.

However, you have to remember that lower division teams are built of their fan base and that’s what they need. So if they’re being told they can’t play with fans, there’s no point playing as that is where they generate money to keep things going. Not all of them have rich Arab owners, so they’ve got to be able to have fans and that’s what makes the club.

Do you think football's reputation has suffered due to the discussions around Project Restart? Is criticism fair, or is this just a case of an industry trying to get back to work live any other?

I don’t think the criticism of the Premier League is fair, I’m guessing all industries are in discussions about returning so I don’t see why football is any different. Germany being able to return shows you that you can actually do things safely, but I know we’re probably a little but further down the line than Germany.



Liverpool

The Premier League will support a Liverpool trophy presentation if they win the title, and if it is safe to do so. How much would this mean to the club and the fans?

If a celebration went ahead for Liverpool, it would be extraordinary, if they can do it safely. I was lucky enough to be part of an open top bus tour when we won the treble at Liverpool and the amount of fans there was amazing. The joy that it brought to the city was outstanding, out of this world so the fact that you could still do possibly do that, if and when they do break their 30-year drought, would be unbelievable.

If Liverpool do win the league, do you think it will be still be considered a triumph despite the current situation? Or will it be tainted to an extent?

Liverpool winning the title shouldn’t be tainted, if they do win it. I don’t see why it would be when they were 20-or so points ahead and two wins away from actually doing it. I don’t see why it would be at that point, but there’s always some Debbie downers to put it down.

Would you consider Jurgen Klopp as the best manager that Liverpool has had in its recent history? Is it between Klopp and Benitez?

Klopp and Benitez are up there with each other. It’s all about progression, when you look at when Benitez took over Liverpool won the treble, League Cup and then the Champions League, it took Liverpool to a different level. You have to give Brendan Rodgers his props too, we, as pundits, talk about Rodgers Liverpool as one of the most fluid attacking teams in the league, at that time. Everyone wanted to attack like Liverpool, so you have to give him that. Klopp has taken that to another level, where, defensively, Liverpool are unbelievable. Alongside this, they have the attack mind and fluidity that Brendan had during his time. 

If you could choose between Bentiez or Klopp, who would it be?

I would say Klopp, because of the magnitude of what he’s achieved and how tough it’s been. He had to get the team defensively solid and that took time. He was taking his time and he was still trying to build. Now that he’s got that defensive set, he can work on the rest of the squad. It’s also because of the type of person and manager that he is, the love that he gets from the players shows on the pitch.

Loris Karius won't be returning to the club and has cancelled his contract with his loan club, Besiktas this month. Where do you think he will go next? 

Karius is still young, but the Premier League may not be an option if he leaves Liverpool. If he makes the decision not to come back to Liverpool, he will have other options and suitable takers. Whether he goes back to Germany, or another team, abroad, he will have options. Returning to the Premier League may be difficult because he received bad treatment in the Premier League by fans and media after his mistakes. It’s difficult for goalkeepers, they’re the last line of defence, if I make the mistake up front there’s still a minimum of eight players, but goalkeepers are the last line so it’s tough.

Pedro Chirivella is rumoured to be taking his time signing a new deal with Liverpool – could he be looking to leave the club and would it be a huge loss?

Pedro Chirivella is young, and will want to be playing football. Jurgen Klopp may be planning to plug him into the squad next season if he can but as a young lad at 22 / 23, Chirivella will want to be playing games. He’ll always want to be playing regularly as it’s an important time in your career – when I was 22 I’d just joined Liverpool. You want to be playing regular football, and experiencing it, and he will aspire to be playing for the Spanish national team and putting himself in that arena with the best of the best. He’s at one of the best clubs in Europe anyway but young lads are wanting guarantees of playing regular football and a certain amount of minutes or starts per season.

Liverpool are tipped to beat Manchester City to sign Leicester centre-back Caglar Soyuncu. Do you think he'd fit in well at Liverpool?

Soyuncu would fit in well at any club. He’s taken the role of centre back at Leicester, which was a very important role, following the footsteps of Wes Morgan and Johnny Evans, and no one knew what to expect of him. But he’s taken it by the scruff of the neck and he’s really improved and given something extra as well as he’s good on the ball. I don’t see him going anywhere, even Liverpool, as Leicester don’t need to sell unless they want to and they don’t have a ready-made player to fall into his spot. However, if Leicester did want to sell, Soyuncu could go to any of the top clubs. 

Diego Llorente could be headed to Liverpool, would he be a good addition to the club?

Liverpool’s recruitment is very specific, they’ll be looking at years down the line and Llorente is only 26. Liverpool have Gomes, Virgil Van Dijk, the Rolls Royce, and a few other defenders and they’ll be looking at cementing a more established defender who can play alongside them all as Gomes is developing. Gomes can play right back and centre back, but I think his best position is centre back – it’s going tobe tough to get Trent Alexander-Arnold out of his right back position! Having someone like Llorente come in and give a solidness as well as the experience is great.

Erling Haaland has been described as 'ideal' for Klopp's Liverpool, would you like to see him at Anfield?

Haaland, at 18, would be fantastic for Liverpool. He’s unbelievable and for such a young lad who is taking everything by storm, he’s taking everything in his stride. He’s one of those players who doesn’t worry or think too much and he just does what needs to be done. Any sort of player like Haaland would be great – if he came to Liverpool and played alongside Salah and Mane playing on the wing with Firminio as another option, he would be outstanding.

How big is his potential compared to the Mbappe and Sancho, the other young starts tipped for greatness?

Haaland is up there with the Mbappe and Sancho and when it comes to potential and you look at goals, he’s up there with the best of them. This is what you go off sometimes, especially as a young lad, he will only grow bigger, confidence-wise, he’ll only get wiser with the way that he plays and he’ll only get cuter with the way that he finishes. The sky is the limit, so it’s up to him to keep that momentum going, because it’s not easy to keep it going.

If you had to choose one between Haaland, Mbappe and Sancho, who would you choose?

I’d choose Sancho for Liverpool, out of the three. Mbappe is a phenomenal player who is another player who keeps on rising and is only going to get better and better. He’s focused more to keep the consistency going at that age is just phenomenal. It’s difficult, because for Liverpool you’d choose a player who was more on the wing than central. But again, Haaland’s goals are a key factor. I’m going to patriotic and say that Sancho would be great, being an England player and an entertaining player as well. I would say someone like that would be great to get on the wing and terrorise defences. 

Who has been your player of the season so far?

Virgil Van Dijk, Kevin De Bruyne or Jordan Hendeson should win player of the season. Van Dijk has been fabulous, I think but De Bruyne has been outstanding as well. Henderson has had a wonderful season being a lynch pin, and someone who is a driving force within the Liverpool midfield. It will be out of those three players and that would be okay with whoever should get it.

If Liverpool win the Premier League, what's the next goal for them to look to achieve? Is it winning the title in consecutive seasons, or to reclaim the Champions League?

It would be great to win the Premier League back to back for Liverpool, having not won it for 30 years. Knowing where Liverpool came from and being a successful team in the Eighties, it would be nice to do it back to back and really start reclaiming those sorts of honours. 



Leicester

As the table stands, Leicester sit at 3rd, not too far behind Manchester City. If the season resumes, do they stand a chance at coming runners up to the title?

Anyone stands a chance at coming 2nd in the Premier League, but Leicester’s focus will be to consolidate their Champions League space. I don’t think they’re overly thinking about finishing 2nd, but that Champions League space is huge, especially for a club like Leicester to be in that tournament, along with the financial gains you get from it being phenomenal. I think they’ll just be looking to consolidate the Champions League space but players are a little rusty and you don’t want to be losing games early on when the season does resume.

What do you think success look like to Leicester at the moment? Surely securing Champions League football would exceed their expectations at the start of the season? 

Securing Champions League football wouldn’t have been the focal point for the start of Leicester’s season, it would been getting into the 7 or top 8, but now they’re in there and showing consistency, why not? Why not look towards Champions League football? Why not look towards consolidating that next season??

How much of a boost would it be to the club to be at the very top end of the Premier League again?

Being at the very top of the Premier League would be huge for a club like Leicester. You’ve got to remember that everyone else said it was a miracle, and they’re able to get in the Top 4 now. It’s huge to do it on merit and the only way is up now for Leicester to keep pushing away. 

Jamie Vardy has been at Leicester for 8 years. How much of an impact has he made for the future of Leicester?

Jamie Vardy has made a massive impact for Leicester, with his goals his way of playing, he’s taken Leicester to another level. He’s an international player, retired from international football, but he’s shown that he can adapt. He’s scored goals, he’s scored over 100 goals for the club now and he’s been phenomenal for Leicester. Now Leicester have to look at who could come in and take over from him.

Is there anyone you could see taking over from Jamie Vardy, when the time comes for him to retire?

Leicester can’t ask for another Jamie Vardy – you won’t find one, especially now. However, goals wise, Iheanacho is doing very well but he’s a totally different player to Jamie Vardy, and that’s the thing. We can’t look at players and say ‘we want another Jamie Vardy’, especially now when players are totally different. Jamie Vardy is kind of a throwback, he’ll chase anything that comes off, creating goals, scoring goals, and be that leading and driving force to upfront to tackle players – we don’t really see that anymore. It’s more tactical technical now, whereas it sometimes is that players like Jamie Vardy that you need, which he has shown at Leicester.

Soyuncu has received a lot of interest from top clubs, how much of a loss would he be to Leicester? Leicester seemed to replace Harry Maguire fairly easily – do you see anyone in the current squad that could step up and fill the Turk's position if needed?

Leicester don’t need to sell Soyuncu but if they did, they would have to buy a replacement for him. I don’t think that Leciester are in a position where they have to sell, which is great for a manager for the owners to say they don’t have to sell. Leicester would have to delve into the market and unearth that little gem who would replace Soyuncu. Over the years, Leicester have done that very well, finding the little gems which step in and the players that you need, especially when it comes to centre back. You need someone who can step in and just do it straight away – you don’t need someone who needs time to find their feet.

Who can you see Leicester bringing into the squad during the transfer window? What do you think they need to add if they are to have a genuine tilt at the title in the 2020/21 season?

Leicester should bring in a centre back and a forward in the next transfer window. The forward should complement the likes of Vardy and Iheanacho and give them a little bit of a challenge. They should bring in a centre back and possible a centre forward, they’ve got Ndidi and Maddison so they’ve got the wings covered in that sense but I think a centre back in case they haven’t got that much cover. They have some young lads coming through but they’ll need a bit of time. But centre back and possibly a centre forward, they should maybe look at and make sure they’re sorted in those positions. 

There's not been many transfer rumours surrounding Leicester, why do you think that is? Is Brendan Rodgers' happy with the squad he has right now?

Looking at Leicester, Brendan Rodgers might be happy with what they’ve got at this moment in time. They’re not going to add just for the sake of it. the manager will sit down with the director of football and they’ll sit down with the chief scouts and see what they feel they need. If they feel that they need the centre back they’ll go out and get one, identifying who they could possibly get. Leicester won’t buy for the sake of buying.

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V: 1.14.1 All rights reserved. August 2021
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