EMILE HESKEY was today completing his £11million switch to Anfield as Gerard Houllier revealed the signing ended a personal four year chase for the star.
Liverpool raced to get the deal secured before a noon deadline today in order to ensure Heskey was available to make his Anfield debut against Sunderland tomorrow.
Liverpool beat off competition from Leeds United and Arsenal to secure the signature of the 22-year-old forward.
And a delighted Houllier has revealed that his interest in Heskey began four years ago during a UEFA Youth tournament in France.
Houllier said today: "I first saw Emile play alongside Michael Owen in a tournament held in Besancon. I was managing the French Under-18 youth side which went on to win the tournament, but I watched the England games very closely, and was particularly impressed with both Emile and Michael, who were playing as a striking partnership.
Attract the best
"I have watched the player ever since and I'm absolutely delighted that the club has signed him today. I like the player, I like his skills and his pace and I believe he will be a fantastic asset to the team.
"We are very lucky to have him as I know there were many other very big clubs who were chasing him as well as us. The fact he chose Liverpool shows that we are able to attract the best players.
"I remember last season people were saying Liverpool couldn't attract the top stars any more. This shows they were all wrong."
The Liverpool manager also hit back at claims that Heskey's goalscoring record at Leicester should be a cause for concern.
"Emile will score goals for Liverpool and he will create goals for Liverpool - make no mistake about that," said Houllier.
The boss also reiterated that the arrival of another striker had no relevance to the position of any of his other stars.
He said: "When people ask why Liverpool have five strikers they should ask why Arsenal, Manchester United and Leeds also have five strikers. It is because we need five strikers.
"No-one can tell me that you can be successful with only two forwards at the club."
LIVERPOOL supporters might be asking what exactly the club is getting for their £11m.
Emile Ivanhoe Heskey was 17 when he made his Leicester City debut on March 8, 1995 in a 2-0 defeat with QPR at Loftus Road.
Virtually every day since he has attracted admiring glances from Liverpool and been regularly linked with a transfer to Anfield. Liverpool scouts had seen him perform impressively alongside one of their own at England Youth level, a certain Michael Owen, and the admiration was always mutual.
Five years on, the dream of pairing two of the most exciting forwards this country has produced is now a reality.
His call-up in London in March 1995 had more to do with injury in the Leicester squad, then managed by Mark McGhee, and he was soon back in the reserves.
In fact, his next appearance was not until the following September at Norwich City. Coming on as a substitute, he scored his first senior goal and the only goal of the game late on, much to the frustration of the then Norwich boss, ironically, Martin O'Neill.
The striker was to go on to play 20 games and score six more goals in Division One that season, and by the time O'Neill arrived at Filbert Street, Heskey was well established in the Leicester side.
He quickly became the main focal point of Leicester's attack, with power, pace and strength his main attributes rather than claims to be a natural goalscorer.
His toughness and physique is reflected in the fact he's hardly missed a game in the last three seasons.
After a string of under-21 caps, a full England cap was inevitable such were his outstanding performances in the Premiership. He made his international debut last April against Hungary.
Three more substitute appearances followed before his impressive full debut against Argentina last month. It was a performance which alerted hitherto unimpressed observers to the big centre forward's potential.
Within a week he was back at Wembley helping his side to their second - and his second - Worthington Cup victory. His lap of honour was widely assumed to be his final bow in a Leicester City shirt, but the negotiations which began within hours of the final whistle dragged on longer than anticipated.
By now, Liverpool's desire to make the man nicknamed "Bruno" a club record signing was no secret, and Leicester's victory at Wembley cleared the way for Gerard Houllier to pursue Heskey with greater vigour.
Heskey, a self-confessed Liverpool supporter, even had a clause put in his contract last year stating that he could leave Filbert Street for �9m in the summer of 2000.
Such a clause was clearly designed to attract a club as big as Liverpool - in fact, specifically Liverpool - to his signature. But in reality, the Reds needed no convincing to part with their money.
Gerard Houllier has been a long-term admirer of Heskey and has planned his signing for at least 12 months.
The original plan to buy Heskey at the end of this season was changed when injuries to Robbie Fowler, and uncertainty surrounding Michael Owen's fitness threatened to leave Liverpool short of striking cover.
This led to Liverpool raising the stakes and bidding �10.2m to secure Heskey's services this week.
Leicester held out for £12m until finally a compromise was reached and the final figure of £11m was agreed.
Belatedly and reluctantly, Leicester City have finally accepted the cash, leading to today's final resolution of a transfer saga which at one stage was threatening to drag on for a further three months.
Much to Liverpool's relief, and no doubt those who were tiring of vast amount of talk and seemingly little concrete action, Liverpool now have their man.
So Heskey becomes Liverpool's most expensive buy ever, leaving behind the previous record signing at Filbert Street and hoping to succeed where Stanley Victor Collymore failed.
If he does, the £11m will seem worth every penny.
|HESKEY GOALS RECORD AT| |LEICESTER (LEAGUE GAMES)|
1994-95: Played 1 goals 0;
1995-96: Played 20 (+10 sub) goals 7;
1996-97: Played 35 goals 10;
1997-98: Played 35 goals 10;
1998-99: Played 29 (+1) goals 6;
1999-2000: Played 23 goals 7.
Total: Played 154, goals 40.
© Liverpool Daily Post & Echo