Exclusive – Emile Heskey has claimed that, while winning the FA Cup was his own career highlight, the trophy has lost some of its appeal in recent times and he understands why Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has not prioritised the competition.
Two of Heskey’s former clubs, Aston Villa and Liverpool, go head to head in the FA Cup on Friday night, in one of the more eye-catching fixtures of the third round.
The last time the two sides met back in October, the Premier League champions suffered a shock 7-2 defeat, while they also went out of the League Cup to Villa 5-1 last season – albeit with a much weakened squad.
Speaking to 90min ahead of Liverpool’s return to Villa Park, Heskey admitted that many will have Villa down as favourites, considering recent form.
“”We’re talking about Liverpool having a a rut. It’s three games, but if you go to the game before that they scored seven goals!””
– Heskey, on Liverpool’s form
“I think people will call them [Villa] the favourites but then can you go against what you know Liverpool can do?” Heskey said.
“We’re talking about them having a bit of a rut. It’s three games [without a win], but if you go to the game before that they scored seven goals!
“With Liverpool, when one [of the front three] is having an off day, the others are usually on their game whereas now more are having their off days at the same time.”
On whether Klopp – who has never taken Liverpool past the fifth-round of the FA Cup – should give the domestic cups more importance, Heskey admitted he can see both sides of the argument from a manager’s perspective.
“I would like them to [do well in the FA Cup], because I’m from England and I know what it means growing up watching the finals, but when you’re a manager you think about priorities,” he said.
“A lot of people’s priorities is, when you’re halfway down [the table], staying in the Premier League and the other half is thinking about winning it.
“You’re only ten games, probably less now, away from being sacked, so you’re focussing more on the games you think you can win and influence the league.
“There’s a lot of games, especially this season. It’s so condensed. Games are going to be called off and kicked down the road, where you’re going to have short periods of time between the games. And you’re going to have injuries. it’s tough. It’s very very tough.
“It would be nice for them to play stronger sides in the FA Cup but I understand why they don’t.”
42-year-old Heskey was, of course, part of the treble-winning Liverpool side in 2001 that lifted both domestic cups and the UEFA Cup under the late Gerard Houllier.
“”I would ask the foreign lads which one was better for them, the FA Cup or the UEFA Cup. They would say UEFA. I would say FA””
– Heskey on the FA Cup’s importance
Asked if the FA Cup win – in which the Reds came from behind to defeat Arsenal late on – was the pinnacle of his own career, the former striker was unequivocal. However, he admitted it was not the same for everyone even back at the start of the century.
“100% [the FA Cup win was the pinnacle for me],” he said.
“I would ask the foreign lads which one was better for them, the FA Cup or the UEFA Cup. They would say UEFA. I would say FA and so would the other English lads.
“I don’t know if it’s still got that same appeal today. It is losing it a bit. We can put the blame on all sorts of factors. Managers not playing their strongest teams, the games not being broadcast enough or whatever, I don’t know.”
Following the trip to Villa Park on Friday, Liverpool return to Premier League action to take on Manchester United at Anfield on 17 January.
With United playing their game in hand before the derby clash, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side could be top of the table by the time they visit Anfield, making it a game which, suddenly, looks to have significance for the rest of the season ahead.
“I think it is a defining game,” Heskey commented. “It sets down a marker. No-one foresaw, when United were down in 10th, that they would come back up to the top with the potential of overtaking Liverpool.
“So, it sets down a marker where either team can stamp their authority.”
BT Sport will show multiple live Emirates FA Cup third round games, including Aston Villa v Liverpool live on BT Sport 1 from 7pm on Friday 8th January. For more info go to bt.com/sport