Emile Heskey, 2001 ( Mike Egerton/EMPICS Sport)

Emile Heskey’s outstanding role in Liverpool’s 2000/01 campaign – and what could have been

When discussing Liverpool’s best strikers of the Premier League era, Emile Heskey is rarely mentioned. But in 2000/01, his first full season at the club, he was outstanding.

Among many younger football fans, Heskey is still wildly underrated; but at his best for Liverpool, he was a battering ram of a centre-forward.

He combined his clear physical qualities with a finesse and intelligence that allowed him to keep up with, and complement, two of the best strikers in Liverpool’s history in Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen.

His most prolific season came in 2000/01, in which Gerard Houllier’s side clinched a treble of the UEFA Cup, the FA Cup and the League Cup, and he scored 22 goals in 56 games.

Fourteen of those came in the Premier League, and Liverpool’s latest compilation of every strike in the league in 2000/01 shows Heskey at his finest.

In front of goal he was a predator, with a fine appreciation of space and timing, and a powerful finish for his second of a hat-trick in the 4-0 thrashing of Derby highlighted this perfectly.

When he turned provider, he was able to use his strength, speed and eye for a pass to lay the ball onto his fellow forwards, with his chest, turn and pass for Owen to score the opener in the 3-2 win over Man City particularly impressive.

His trademark DJ celebration showed a player with a natural shyness simply enjoying himself at the peak of his powers; at just 23, he produced the best-ever goalscoring tally of his long career.

With that reality comes a pang of disappointment at what could have been for Heskey, who remained important for Liverpool but never again broke the 15-goal mark for the club in all competitions.

BANGKOK, THAILAND - Thailand. Thursday, July 24, 2003: Liverpool's (l-r) Anthony Le Tallec, Emile Heskey and El-Hadji Diouf line up to face Thailand before a preseason friendly match at the Rajamangala National Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

He left for Birmingham in 2004, having scored 60 goals in 223 appearances, and went on to impress at Wigan and Aston Villa, as well as proving a key cog for England, before winding down his career with the Newcastle Jets and finally Bolton.

Heskey may have never reached those heights of 2000/01 again, but six honours with Liverpool—including the three trophies that season—will be fondly remembered in years to come.

Of course, the treble-winning campaign will never be considered ‘the Heskey season’, with Houllier fostering a team mentality that saw many take to the fore.

It was a season that saw Liverpool’s midfield depth shine through, as not only did Steven Gerrard contribute to the goals but the likes of Didi Hamann, Gary McAllister, Patrik Berger, Danny Murphy and Vladimir Smicer all struck in the league.

Liverpool's Gary McAllister celebrates his goal from the penalty spot ((Mike Egerton/EMPICS Sport)

Both Owen (16 in the league) and Fowler (eight in the league) were scoring regularly, while at the other end Sami Hyypia excelled in his third year on Merseyside.

And Markus Babbel should join Heskey as one of the underrated gems of Liverpool’s run on the turn of the millennium, with the German playing 60 times across all competitions, including almost every minute of every game in the league—in which he scored three goals.

Perhaps best of all from this particular compilation, though, is the ability to rewatch Gerrard’s incredible long-ranger in the 2-0 win over Man United.

Barthez’s slip, the audacity of our No. 8 to shoot from there, the sliding celebration. What a moment.

Oh, and there’s no forgetting that free-kick from Gary Mac in the Merseyside derby!