Former Premier League striker and England international Emile Heskey has explained what life was like working under Martin O’Neill during his time at both Leicester and Aston Villa.
Heskey spent four and a half seasons under O’Neill at the start of his career with the Foxes before reuniting with him at Aston Villa a decade later.
O’Neill was highly successful during his time at both Leicester and Aston Villa, as well as his spell in Scotland with Celtic and was eventually appointed manager of the Irish national team.
Despite a mostly promising run which saw Ireland reach the European Championships in 2016, the last year of O’Neill’s spell with the national team was disappointing and led to criticism of his style of management from fans, media and even certain players.
Defender Matt Doherty outlined in an interview that the team “didn’t get much coaching” in training with reports outlining that O’Neill would often wait until an hour before kick-off to name the starting XI.
Speaking to Pundit Arena at the launch of eir Sport’s new season, Heskey outlined that he loved his time working under O’Neill, especially at Leicester, but admitted that his approach would often be simplistic in comparison to say a Gerard Houllier whom he played for at Liverpool.
“I loved him as a manager,” began Heskey.
“There were two managers who were really good for me. Martin because he would tell me to just express myself and play with freedom. I was 18 at the time and played under him from 18-22.
“He was brilliant, I had no complaints. I didn’t need too much coaching I just needed to be told what to do in that sense. Just go out there and perform and express myself and that’s what he did. He gave me little information that would cloud my mind. He’d say ‘Emile, get the ball, turn and run’ so that’s what I did.
“He was brilliant in that sense. Then I moved and went to Liverpool and learned a bit more about football being with Gerard Houllier who you’d have boards of things to go through and you’d go through all stats too, it was amazing. It was tough at first because I’d gone from not doing any of that.”
O’Neill’s style has been referred to as ‘old-school’ by many, including Doherty, with Heskey’s comments confirming that he often preferred the players to take ownership of their own game.
The former England striker outlined that he feels times have changed now and with players wanting more and more information on a variety of different aspect of the game, O’Neill’s approach may not be as effective on this generation.
“It’s a generational thing,” he explained.
“Me, growing up in football, especially in that Martin era, was ‘you’re the footballer, you should know what to do.’ Yes there’ll be a little information, this player is going to come on here and do that, you keep an eye on him etc but players want a little bit more info now where they want to know everything and I get it.
“That’s why you see players always looking over to the bench because they want to know more and more and more info whereas I wanted less.
“In football now you need to be able to do that to give information for everything and sadly he’s probably not there right now.”
Heskey continued by outlining that being told the starting XI an hour before kick-off was a regular occurrence with O’Neill and that he’d often only see the manager 2-3 times a week but the striker was keen to stress that although it is different now, the former Leicester manager had huge success implementing that style on his players.
“An hour before kick-off you sit down, the teams there, see you later. I saw him Tuesday to run us, possibly Thursday, definitely Friday and then the Saturday.
“That was it. But it worked for us, for that era of player it worked for us. We were successful. Martin then went onto Celtic and was even more successful so it worked. Yes, it’s different now.
“Players want more information, they want to see you more, they want more on the training field. It’s just a different generation.
Wes Brown, Emile Heskey, Jack Byrne and Shane Supple were at the Sport Ireland Campus today to help launch a new season of action on the eir sport pack. eir sport viewers can watch every game in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League plus UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers on Virgin Media Sport, which is now part of the eir sport pack, as well as live FA Cup games, SSE Airtricity League games & the Republic of Ireland’s U21 Home Qualifiers.