Lionel Messi is tipped to shade Cristiano Ronaldo for that tag this year.
However, after a stellar season, during which he helped Manchester United land the Premier League title and scored six goals in England's quest to reach next summer's World Cup, Rooney is being spoken about in similar terms.
And, ahead of Wednesday night's qualifier with Andorra at Wembley, Heskey added his weight to the argument.
"Rooney's not far behind the likes of Messi and Ronaldo," he said.
"At any given time, players like that can pull something out of the hat that can make a goal. Wayne's not far away from that."
Although the 23-year-old has not complained himself, there are those who feel Sir Alex Ferguson's decision to use him in a wider role at United has taken the edge off his game.
Heskey takes a different view, feeling the trust Ferguson has in the former Everton star emphasises his quality.
"Wayne might not like playing in different positions but he has the ability to do it. That shows how good a footballer he is," he said.
"He is different to the other strikers I have played with.
"He doesn't play directly up front. He drops off and mixes it around. He is a great player. A lot has been said about him. Now he is living up to it."
Plenty has been said about Heskey down the years too, not all of it complimentary.
Yet, after a three-year exile, triggered by Sven-Goran Eriksson in the wake of England's departure from Euro 2004 when his arrival as a substitute coincided with a French quarter-final fightback, it seems Heskey is very much in vogue again.
Even the notoriously hard-to-please England supporters have adopted the chant, which started at Birmingham and accompanied Heskey to Wigan and Aston Villa, which starts with a less than flattering line but ends with the view that now "Heskey is all right".
"That song's been around for a long time," said Heskey.
"I have had all sorts haven't I? I like this one."
It seems Fabio Capello likes him too. Carlton Cole, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Darren Bent have all been tried at various points in the past year as the big man to act as a foil for Rooney and Steven Gerrard.
Yet, whenever Heskey has been fit, he has been picked.
"It isn't so much an arm around the shoulder - I don't see that. He just helps every player," said Heskey.
"Some people don't need that but the majority do require help and support from the manager to give them confidence.
"Everyone is in exactly the same boat and gets exactly the same treatment.
"He will talk to them individually and tell them how he wants them to play."
England v Andorra 1st Goalscorer: Rooney, W. 11/4