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By Stel Stylianou of Shoot The Defence
Stel Stylianou sat down with former Norwich, Southampton and Liverpool defender Jon Otsemobor to talk about his career, mental health and teammates for Shoot The Defence podcast.
On life at Norwich City as a father and a young footballer
Before Norwich I thought about quitting the game. I was at Liverpool from the age of 15 and near the end of each contract I wasn’t ever thinking about my next move. I went on a few loans during my time at Liverpool but when I came back from one, Rafa Benitez said they weren’t renewing my contract. I went from the luxury of training with Steven Gerard at Melwood to training at a public park at Rotherham.
Also, when I moved, I lost my best friend in a motorcycle accident so I was mourning and wasn’t in the right frame of mind. I wanted to be at home and really thought about quitting. Mick Harford was really good with me but I don’t think he understood what I was going through and didn’t play me much.
On his own mental health situation after leaving Liverpool
At the time, when you’re going through it as a footballer, you don’t have the time to evaluate it. You’ve always got something on to take your mind off it which is why when players retire, it really hits them. They go from an environment to being with your mates on a daily basis to nothing.
I think the type of person I was, the attention wasn’t really for me. I’d rather not be noticed. In Liverpool I was noticed a bit but not to the extent that the big players did. Norwich was a bit different because the next closest club was Ipswich – which was an hour away – but everyone knew who I was there because they all supported Norwich.
Moving to Hull on loan
Peter Taylor was in charge at the time and he was a great manager. He was so laid back and his training sessions were fun. I went from playing in Liverpool’s reserves to playing for Hull’s first team, which was different because it meant so much more as the lads were on win bonuses.
How Jon got involved in the game
I went to a school in Widnes and the main sport was Rugby so I thought it was my chance to do something in football. Then, during one PE lesson, we were told to put on these shorts and given this strange shaped ball. I was only there for 6-8 weeks before going to a school in Speke where I excelled there.
I then had a trial at the Liverpool schoolboy trials where all the best boys are scouted by the likes of Liverpool, Man Utd and Everton.
Alex Ferguson rang me personally and I went to United, who offered me a contract. Everton also offered me a contract and I agreed to it. I then went to Liverpool a couple of days later and half way through, Jim Aspinall (club scout) asked if I signed for Everton and I said “yes”. He then said “you can’t be seen here because we’ll get into trouble” so they dragged me out.
I couldn’t stop thinking about Liverpool though. They were the club I supported as a kid. Everything happened so quick for me at a young age, I was just excited about signing for Everton. I would have signed for anyone who offered me a deal. It wasn’t until after I signed for Everton where Liverpool showed real interest.
After my Everton contract expired, Liverpool came in for me again and I signed on a YTS.
Making his Liverpool debut in the Worthington Cup tie against Southampton
At the time there were a couple of us involved with the first team and knew that the young lads would go along with the first team in the League Cup.
On the morning of the game, Phil Thompson rang me in my hotel room (I was rooming with John Arne Riise) and asked “are your parents going tonight” so I said “not really, they don’t know what’s going on” and he said “you better call them because you’re starting tonight”. I just remember thinking I’d made it. All that work put in over the years and I had my opportunity to show people I can play for the football club.
On Sami Hyppia
Just by seeing him in the training sessions, the way he commanded the back 4, he’s been one of Liverpool’s best centre halves. He didn’t get the credit he deserved.
On Didi Hamann
He was a character with the lads. He and Markus Babel were very witty. Round the dressing room they were big players. Babel played centre half in the Southampton match and I remember him talking through me throughout. I learned so much that it was almost as if he was playing the game for me.
Towards the end of Didi’s career he slowed down a bit but he changed the impact of the 2005 Champions League final. He played the simple passes and changed the flow of the game.
Didi got a lot of credit. He rarely gave the ball away. I think whoever played next to Steven Gerard was always going to get overlooked because he was such a great player and a scouser.
On Steven Gerrard
I didn’t play a lot of football with him but saw him in training and how much of a leader he was. He’s the only player I can say played just like he trained. Other players did well in training but didn’t perform on the Saturday but Steven Gerard trained exactly how he played. I found this unique because Monday to Friday you feel lethargic then pick it up full throttle at the weekend, but Steven Gerard was on it all the time.