Vegard Heggem joined Liverpool Football Club from Rosenborg in July 1998 and spent 5 years at Anfield. Having made 65 appearances for the reds, he became a fan favourite despite having his career cruelly cut short at the age of just 28. From his time on Merseyside to his current role as Director at Rosenborg, he’s held Liverpool close to his heart & our own Drew Diamond had a chat with him to discuss his career.
Firstly, let me say thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to let me harass you for your insights into the highs and lows of your career with Rosenborg, Norway and of course Liverpool and I’ll also be picking your brain all about your opinions on the current LFC squad and that man, Jurgen.
How did it feel to pull on that famous Liverpool kit and represent one of the most recognised teams in world football?
“It was a fantastic feeling, and making my debut for Liverpool is something I’ll never forget. I feel proud of having been a part of this club, and when I travel back to Anfield today, more than 15 years since I played my last game, I almost have to pinch my arm!”
How was your time at the club under joint managers Gerard Houlier and Roy Evans? Was there conflict or did it work behind the scenes for yourself and the rest of the senior squad?
“I felt both managers had high confidence in me, so I didn’t worry too much about how they worked together. I never noticed [many] problems between them in their joint roles, but of course I know there must have been some big challenges for them.”
You famously made way as a substitute for one Steven Gerrard’s debut for Liverpool. Was there a sense around the squad of just how special he was and what was your opinion of him?
“I remember Stevie as skinny and shy when he first came to Melwood to join the first team for training. So I was quite surprised by the way he, from the first day, got stuck into challenges, with no holding back! You could definitely see that the boy had great talent, but it’s long way from young talent to first-team regular, let alone a club legend!”
With the World Cup in Russia looming and you having represented Norway in France ’98, what advice can you offer to young Liverpool players like Joe Gomez and Mohamed Salah who will be hoping to represent their nations on the big stage for the first time?
“Don’t pick up any injuries, so that you come back fit and ready for a new season for Liverpool! Only kidding! To play in the World Cup is a dream for every young footballer, so it’s an occasion to really take in and enjoy every aspect of.”
Just a follow up to that, who is your pick to win the tournament?
“The boring pick would be Germany, but with Belgium as an outsider.”
You have somewhat of a cult hero status not just with Liverpool fans, but Rosenborg fans alike. Your goal to knock AC Milan out of the Champions League — was that your finest moment outside of your Liverpool days?
“That 2-1 win in Milan was just crazy, and is still considered one of the biggest upsets in European football. Rosenborg needed three points at the San Siro to snatch the quarterfinal place in the Champions League from AC Milan, and we did it against all odds. And [then] we played Juventus in the quarter final. I remember from a pre-match meeting, it must have been in the 2001-2002 season, and one of the final games of the second group stage, Houllier was talking about how big an opportunity this was, as, ‘None of you have ever played in a CL quarter final before.’ I wanted to raise my arm and say, ‘Errrrr, well I have!’ but I didn’t want to mess up his point in front of all the players!”
Obviously you have some great memories of Champions League football. Do you think Liverpool can create more memories this year in the competition, especially after the 7-0 win against Spartak Moscow?
“Absolutely, but we need our top players fit and playing at their best.”
I imagine it’s incredibly difficult moving to a new country alone and starting with a new team. What helped you the most to settle down and who was the most welcoming person amongst the Liverpool players or staff?
“I have only good memories from moving to Merseyside — the people there are just fantastic! Warm, friendly, and with a great sense of humor. Everyone was helpful, but Jamie Redknapp and Sammy Lee, who both lived in the same building as me, were very good to me.”
What was the first thing you bought yourself after your first big professional paycheck?
“I guess it would be the flat at the Albert Dock, and installing a great B&O system all the way through.”
How impressed have you been with Trent Alexander-Arnold’s ability to settle in to your old right-back role at just 19 years old?
“He’s got great talent and can reach far, but he’s of course facing tough competition, as Joe Gomez is also playing very well.”
You’ve got so many great things to reflect on from your career, even if it was cut short. Would you say you have any regrets regarding your career or the choices you made along the way?
“No, not at all. I was focused and did my best all the way, and didn’t lose myself or any friends in the process.”
Injury is every professional sportsperson’s worst nightmare. How did you manage to come to terms with your injuries and what was your transition like into “civilian” life?
“This was extremely difficult mentally. I felt I was letting the club and the fans down. I really feel with players who suffer from recurring injuries, like Daniel Sturridge and others.”
What is your favourite or finest memory regarding Liverpool football club?
“I guess it must be my first goal for the club, away against Middlesbrough in December 1998. I was playing some of my best football around that time, and felt I could just take on or run at anyone in the world. And my best mate from Norway was in the away fans section in that game!”
Jürgen Klopp is known as one of the biggest personalities in football management worldwide — do you think you would have enjoyed playing under his management?
“I think I would have loved it. His direct style of play and hard-working pressing [of] the opposition would have suited me perfectly.”
Were you at all tempted to stay in the game as a non-player in a coaching role, or was a non-football life always the end goal after your playing career?
“I was never attracted by coaching, but I’m currently in my sixth year as a director of Rosenborg BK, and enjoy that role very much.”