'Diouf took my penalty!' - Mellor on Liverpool, living the dream and THAT lovely cushioned header for Gerrard

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El Hadji Diouf Liverpool
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The former Reds striker spoke to Goal to answer readers' questions on Gerrard, Owen, Carrick, Defoe and much more...

He may have only played 22 times for Liverpool, but it's fair to say Neil Mellor left his mark at Anfield.

From his last-minute winner against Arsenal in front of the Kop, to assisting one of the most famous goals in Reds history for Steven Gerrard, the former striker has plenty of memories to look back on.

Mellor's time on Merseyside was brief but spectacular, though his career would be cruelly cut short through injury at the age of just 29. 

Since retirement, he has forged a media career, and is a regular at Liverpool's Academy games, where he works as a pundit for the club's in-house TV channel.

And very kindly, the 37-year-old, who also enjoyed spells with West Ham, Wigan, Preston and Sheffield Wednesday, agreed to answer a series of questions from Goal readers about his life and times in football...

Which do you prefer; the Arsenal goal or the 'lovely cushioned header' for Steven Gerrard against Olympiacos? Denis Bullock

"Ah, tough one to start with! Can I say both?! They were both meaningful for different reasons. If we hadn’t gone on to win the Champions League after the Olympiacos game, I probably would have said Arsenal. But Olympiacos was unique, the goal meant so much, the atmosphere was the best I ever played in, and I’ve laid the ball off to one of the greatest players Liverpool have ever seen as well! It would have to be that.

"I think the famous commentary helps as well, doesn’t it? I get that a lot, people saying 'lovely cushioned header…'"

HD Steven Gerrard Liverpool Olympiakos

If you were coming through at Liverpool now, do you think you’d have gotten a chance? Mike Price 

"It’s difficult to know. A big problem I had when I was coming through was that the relationship between the first team and the Academy at Liverpool was strained. That hindered a few of us at the time, no doubt.

"Now, the relationship is so strong, and the fact that the first team will be moving to Kirkby soon will only make it stronger. It will give young players a chance to impress and show their qualities."

You watch a lot of Liverpool’s Under-18s and 23s – who are the players you like the look of and can see coming through? Suleiman Abdulquadir Oluwaferanmi

"There’s a lot of talent there. We’ve probably seen more than we would usually see this season due to the Aston Villa and Shrewsbury games. I like a few.

"Obviously, I’m always biased towards attacking players, but I like Layton Stewart. I like that he has that hunger to score goals. I’ve really enjoyed watching Leighton Clarkson, I think him and Jake Cain have done better than most stepping up through the levels."

Do you see Curtis Jones as a first-team option next season? Jamie Campbell 

"I think Curtis has the potential to play for the first team. He makes things happen. I’ve seen him from when he was very young and the way he’s kicked on has been impressive. There was some talk about him going out on loan, and Middlesbrough were mentioned, but I thought to myself ‘Stick around!’ He is training with the best players Liverpool have had for many years, he’s with the best team in the world, he’s learning every day.

"If he goes to the Championship, he won’t be developing as much. Yes, he’ll get game time, but Curtis is 19. There is no rush, not while he’s in and around this squad, learning every single day at the highest level."

How do you see Harry Wilson’s prospects at Liverpool? Ray D'arcy

"I’ve always liked Harry. People have always been asking ‘Is he good enough?’ but look at him. He scores goals and he creates goals, and that’s what you want from an attacking player. He’s always done that throughout his youth days at Liverpool.

"He’s proven he can do it in the Championship with Hull and Derby, and now he’s gone to the Premier League, which I thought he should have done last season to be honest, and proved himself again. I think he’s a great option to be around Liverpool’s squad. He might not start many games, but he’s a good player to have in the squad."

Harry Wilson Bournemouth 2019-20

And what of Rhian Brewster down at Swansea? Joakim Eriksson

"I like him. He leads the line well, he’s a handful. I like the way he interacts with the crowd, he stays involved in the game and reads the momentum of it. I like that in a striker. He has personality to change games, he works hard. He’s the best centre-forward we’ve seen coming through at Liverpool in a long time. He finds space and he’s calm. He doesn’t snatch at chances or blast them; he knows how to finish.

"He was the standout player from the England Under-17 team that won the World Cup, but then he had that horrible injury which took a long time to recover from. But you look at the way people like Sancho, Hudson-Odoi, Foden have kicked on – why not Rhian? There’s a top-class player there."

What’s the toughest decision you ever had to make in your career? Cris Ron

"It’d have to be making the decision to retire, at 29. Obviously, that was made up for me by the medical staff, but it was still heart-breaking. I’d lived my dream of being a footballer, I felt as though I still had more to give. I felt the best I’d felt in my career. I was going well at Preston and there were a lot of clubs sniffing round me at the time. I wanted to get back to the Premier League. That was the big frustration when the surgeon said I would have to call it a day.

"It was an emotional time; it’s not often I cry, but that was definitely one. Another low moment that stands out was missing out on the victory parade after the Champions League final in 2005, when we were on a later flight back from Istanbul. That really upset me."

What do you remember about your debut for Liverpool? Richard Kennedy

"It was against Ipswich in the League Cup at Anfield, December 2002. It was a special night, and all my family were there. I’d done well in the reserves, and I felt I’d earned my chance. I’ll always remember before the game Gerard Houllier, in the changing room, saying randomly ‘Who wants to take penalties tonight?’ I’d missed one in the Youth Cup semi-final, but I put my hand straight up. I enjoyed taking penalties. He looked me in the eye and said ‘You’re on pens.' That gave me a lift. 

"I was poor in the first half and I was worried he was going to take me off at half time. He didn’t, he kept me on, and a few minutes into the second half, Kop End, I’m waiting for Mark Venus to make a challenge inside the box. I nudge the ball past him, he takes me out, bang! Penalty! I’m buzzing.

"I go to get the ball and El-Hadji Diouf, who’d been signed for big money that summer and was struggling to justify his price-tag with goals, has got the ball under his arm and is saying he’s taking it. I'm like 'What are you doing?' but he is having none of it. So, I’m a lad on debut arguing with a £10 million ($12.4m) signing in front of the Kop! People probably thought ‘Who is this kid?’ I looked at Steven Gerrard, who was captain, and he said ‘Just let him take it.' Diouf scored. 

"A few minutes later I’m one-on-one with Andy Marshall the goalkeeper, knock it past him and I swear to God it’s going in until it hits a bit of grass, and comes back off the inside of the post. To this day, I still think it’s going in! We won on penalties that night, and went on to win the League Cup that year. I scored in the semi at Sheffield United and got a medal when we beat Manchester United in the final."

El-Hadji Diouf Liverpool 2002

Did you ever forgive Diouf for that? Neil Jones

"[Laughs] The funny thing is that my next start was at Manchester City, my dad’s old club. It was Liverpool’s last ever visit to Maine Road. Diouf has the ball, he cuts in from the right and he’s on the byline. All he’s got to do is square it to me and I’ve got a tap-in from three yards. What does he do? He tries to beat Peter Schmeichel on his near post and hits the side-netting! I always think back to those two moments, the penalty against Ipswich and that chance at City. I could have had two goals in my first two starts if it weren't for him!"

Who were your heroes growing up? Louisa Hanson

"The standout for me was always Alan Shearer. He had everything. He scored all types of goals, he bullied centre-halves, powered headers, smashed shots from distance, got tap-ins. He was a handful, and he loved scoring goals. I love those type of strikers. I wanted to be like him, an all-round centre-forward."

Why did it not work out for you at West Ham on loan in the 2003-04 season? Ian Wharton

"A few reasons. I was a young boy, 20 years old, going down to London with no friends and family, living in an apartment with another lad, and it was a big change. I couldn’t cook, couldn’t look after myself, I had no support network around me so my lifestyle wasn’t great.

"Another big thing was that the manager who signed me was Glenn Roeder, but he was sacked after a few games. Trevor Brooking came in as caretaker and he loved me, but then Alan Pardew came in and he told me from the word go that I wasn’t a player he wanted, that he’d inherited me and that he wasn’t going to put time in to develop me. I never started a game for him.

"It was a shame because it was a good dressing room and a good team; we had Michael Carrick and Jermain Defoe, David James, Rob Lee, Matty Etherington, Tomas Repka. I remember my first day signing and meeting Defoe, who thought he was going to Manchester United. That never happened and he eventually went to Spurs. You knew he'd move on and be successful, but I remember being on the bench with Carrick away at Rotherham. He didn't always start, believe it or not, but he kicked on and went on to have an amazing career."

What was the toughest part of the injuries you suffered as a player? Jacqui Colliver

"It was the uncertainty. I had seven operations in total, and the first surgeon said I had an 80 per cent chance of getting back to the Premier League. Then, I wake up from the surgery and he says ‘It’s more like 50-50’ because he didn’t realise how much damage there was to my knee. It was hard. It was the fact that I just couldn’t feel fully fit. Even when I scored against Arsenal, Olympiacos, I was taking injections to manage the pain in my knees. I always felt hampered throughout my career."

Neil Mellor Liverpool 2004

Who are the best players you played and trained with? Sununu Bah

"Steven Gerrard is the best, that’s obvious. I was lucky to be at Liverpool with great players – Carragher, Alonso, Jari Litmanen, what a player he was. Michael Owen, wow! What a goalscorer! He was a player who could win a game from nothing. When I was coming through and I was scoring goals, he was always the one who held the record for that competition or that age group!"

What’s the best team talk you’ve ever experienced? Leigh Burton

"It was Gary Megson at Sheffield Wednesday. He gave this speech once before a game, and honestly it was one of those where all the lads wanted to hug him at the end of it! He used to have a couple of brandies to loosen himself up, and he spoke about family, religion, everything except football. It was one of the most inspirational speeches I'd ever heard. After it, we were all like 'Wow!'"

"What happened afterwards? We played Tranmere away and got battered, 3-0 I think! But it was a good speech!"

Why did you never go into coaching? Harinder Noor

"I was put off by seeing great coaches lose their jobs, and seeing what the job did to them. I don’t like that side of the game. And also, I really enjoyed the media side of things. That appealed to me. I’ve done bits of grassroots coaching, which I enjoyed, but that’s honest football. It’s not putting pressure on kids to go and play three, four, five times a week. Kids have to enjoy football, they don’t have to be professional players at 10 or 11, missing school to go and train. That's not right, in my opinion."

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Mike Farley

"A couple stand out. Steve Heighway told me when I was at the Academy that I'd have a better chance of succeeding if I dedicated myself to the club, learned everything there was to know about the club and loved the club. That always stuck with me.

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"And I always remember Sammy Lee at Melwood saying to me 'Do you think I like you?' He explained that you can't please everyone all the time, that some people for whatever reason just won't like you, so stop worrying about being liked. That was something I took on board, and I suppose now that’s more prevalent than ever in the age of social media."

Who was your toughest opponent? Helen Morgan

"My first ever first-team game at Anfield was a friendly against Lazio, and I was up against Alessandro Nesta. Obviously, he went on to become one of the great centre-halves in world football, so he’d have to be right up there. But the toughest I ever came up against, honestly, was Olof Mellberg at Aston Villa. He was like a wall! He was solid, quick, strong, aggressive. He was really good. I didn’t get much out of him."

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