By Emile Heskey
At the start of last season, I began working with Leicester City Women’s team. I was so happy at the opportunity to return to the club where I started out as a 9 year old boy.
It feels wonderful to be back. The club and football have evolved so much since I was last here, more than 20 years ago. One noticeable difference is the amount of support staff around nowadays, as the players have access to specialists in every area of high performance. An important part of my role with the women’s team has been as a part of the coaching team led by manager Jonathan Morgan. The club developed me into a Premier League and England player, and I now have the chance to repay that by using those experiences to help the current players become better.
You gain lots of transferrable skills as a player; How to work as part of a team, performing under pressure, setting objectives, resilience to setbacks etc. These aren’t just relevant to the football industry, and are very valuable in other professions. If I worked in an office, these qualities would be equally important. However, I always wanted to stay in football and really enjoy coaching. I am committed to becoming the best coach I can be. I learned a lot about the game in my playing career, but there are skills you need to add to be a successful coach. That is why I am going through my coaching qualifications currently.
Two of my coaching references are Martin O’Neil and Gerard Houllier, who very sadly passed away last year. They were both very different, but equally got the best out of me when I played for them. Martin was more about man-management. He would take care of you and make you feel 10 feet tall on the pitch. Gerard was a master tactician. He set the team up to be a well-oiled machine and didn’t leave any stone unturned. I know I will get results and will help players develop If I take the best of those two managers and add my own experiences playing at the highest level.
We had a really successful season as we claimed the Women’s Championship and gained promotion to the Women’s Super League. Winning the title as a coach gave me just as much satisfaction as I got from those as a player. It was really rewarding to see those things we had worked on the training pitch come off in a game and all the work accumulated throughout the season translate into becoming champions. It was a very proud moment in my football career.
People ask what women’s football is like coming from the men’s game. It is just the same. Football is football.
Of course, there remains a big gap in terms of coverage and attention, but it is rapidly gaining more popularity. The recent deal for the WSL with Sky and BBC is going to ensure it continues to be better showcased and receive increased investment. For an ambitious club like Leicester City, it is great to be part of that top tier where we will face clubs with established women’s teams like Man City, Arsenal and Chelsea that are full of world-class talent.
Our promotion was a year or so ahead of what we expected, but we always strive to be the best, so we won’t have low expectations now we have joined the highest level. Last year we knocked Man Utd out of the cup, so we know we can compete with some of the best. Many of our players have played in the WSL before, and I will try to support those that haven’t. I will help them understand what it takes to play at the top and how to deal with the added pressure.
It is a very exciting challenge for the players, the club and myself. I really can’t wait until next season kicks off!
Emile Heskey was speaking to Doug Reed.