By Emile Heskey
Since retiring, I have worked in the media which, when I reflect, is strange because as a player I had a love-hate relationship with them and avoided the spotlight.
As a pundit you have a responsibility to the viewers to give honest opinions and that requires highlighting the positive and negative aspects of players’ performances.
Any criticism I give will always be constructive and not for the sake of causing controversy or generating headlines. I analyse the game and, if I highlight an error, I will identify what could have been done better using my experiences as a player and a coach.
When I was playing, I didn’t have a problem with that, as I saw it as an opportunity to improve through utilising the observations of someone knowledgeable about the game.
Informed feedback can be appreciated, but you lose players’ respect if you attack them without justification. The same applies to coaches in the dressing room when speaking to players.
To be able to provide insightful analysis requires work, and you can’t only rely on your time as a player. I think the days of the stereotypical ‘lazy pundit’ are ending as fans rightly demand more.
I prepare thoroughly for every media appearance. As well as following football closely every day, I do specific preparation for each game I’m covering. This includes accessing a video database to watch team and individual clips from previous matches.
With the evolution of football, I now use an advanced statistical platform called StatsBomb through Player 4 Player, which is amazing for the level of detail it provides. All the top teams use it. I find it particularly useful for comparing the profiles of players in the same position.
Key to Success
I really enjoy my work in the media. You are getting paid to talk about football and identifying the strengths and weaknesses of teams and players. This is something I have a strong passion for. This is the same reason I’m involved in coaching, and the media is another great way to stay immersed in the football world.
It was very different when it came to my first live appearance though. I was so nervous!
It is funny because I had come from being completely comfortable playing in an important game with 90,000 fans going crazy in a stadium to being terrified having a handful of crew and a few cameras in front of me.
The reason is it is something completely different where you are starting as a beginner and can only succeed if you commit to developing and learning like you did as a player.
To get to where I feel comfortable and relaxed required lots of practice and preparation. It is not just understanding the game, but how to communicate that in an effective and engaging way.
Player 4 Player developed a support package for players wanting to get in the media and as co-founder I have served as the guinea pig for it. One part of that is I receive media coaching, which has been excellent.
I can see my performances have improved and have been getting really good feedback from broadcasters. I would recommend it to any former player thinking of going into this area.
One of the favourite moments of my media career was watching my boyhood club lift the FA Cup whilst on BT Sport alongside my former England teammates Rio Ferdinand and Joe Cole.
It was made extra special because the fans had just been allowed to return since the start of the pandemic. It made it all so emotional and highlighted how the presence of supporters had been taken for granted before.
I’m writing this as I do work for Euro 2020, so I'm hoping I’m at Wembley again to cover another of my former teams win a title! That would be something special.
Emile Heskey was speaking to Doug Reed.