To the outside world, Emile Heskey had the world at his feet.
But inwardly, as Liverpool’s new £11million record signing, the 22-year-old England centre-forward was finding it hard to adapt to his new surroundings.
“The struggle wasn’t a football struggle it was an off-pitch struggle where I didn't know if it was the right move, if I'm honest. I came from Leicester, with my support mechanism [left behind] in Leicester,” Heskey has told The Sportsman’s Chris Sutton in an exclusive interview. “I’d left my house, I wasn’t living at home with my parents and everyone there.
“All of a sudden I was in another city, it could have been on the other side of the world, it didn’t matter. I struggled with being away from everyone and being on my own, I didn’t know if it was the right move.
“But then I’d go from that, where I’d be upset with nobody around, then I’d go to training and be fine. I’m around the lads, my family within football. Then I’d go from there back to mine and be stuck within these four walls thinking: ‘What do I do?’”
Heskey, speaking as part of The Sportsman’s ‘Sutton’s Big Games’ series, adds that he would make trips back to his home town for the most trivial of reasons following his high-profile transfer in 2000.
“I wouldn’t say [I was] depressed, but I was just anxious. I don’t know what to call it, to be honest with you. I felt lost in a strange place that I didn’t know,” he continues.
“The littlest things would upset me. So when I couldn’t find anywhere to cut my hair I would drive back to Leicester to get a haircut, to then drive back up to Liverpool. It was the smallest of things that would get me upset, and I was out of my comfort zone as such and I had to grow up. And that I did. Eventually.”
And while player liaison officers were available to help Heskey and fellow new signings such as Bernard Diomede, Markus Babbel and Igor Biscan, the striker was reticent to ask for help given his relatively straight-forward switch.
“We had a player liaison, but in my mind it was meant for the foreign lads because they were coming from abroad, they need help to know where everything is to get set up,” he explains. “I never thought it was for me who lived down the road. Liverpool to Leicester is only down the road compared to someone from Croatia or somewhere like that.
“I’d probably have my family move up with me [in hindsight]. I was only 22 at the time, and although I was doing really well within football I was still a young 22-year-old.”
Thankfully, Heskey did go on to achieve success with Liverpool, scoring 60 times in 223 appearances and winning five major trophies in a four-year spell at Anfield. He also played alongside some great players on Merseyside, with Steven Gerrard chief amongst them:
“At Liverpool probably Stevie G [was the best]. Followed closely by Gary McAllister. Stevie was only a young lad when I joined. I was 22 so Stevie was 19 or 20, but you could see the potential on him. He was such a driving force. He played wide right and wide left sometimes but you could see he was going to be a future captain.
“I’d been around senior players at Leicester, those strong characters and players you could go to, and Macca was that guy. He was 36 when he came to Liverpool yet he was at the front of all the running. I was like ‘What are you doing, get back here with me!’
“I expect Stevie to do well in management. I believe he’s a leader, and managers need to be leaders. He’s done that and can pass on that knowledge as well.”
Heskey and Sutton were in conversation ahead of Wednesday’s Merseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton, with the former Anfield front man also explaining why England missed out on glory during his 62-cap career with the Three Lions.