I may not be Ronaldo, but my style is unique: Heskey reflects on his career

17 January 2009 06:23
Laid back: Heskey has always been happy to keep a low profile, but has still had a remarkable career Even Emile Heskey laughs when reminded of a chant that started during his time at Birmingham and has now been adopted by the supporters of Wigan. It's the one that says: 'He used to be s***e but now he's all right.' 'I'd like to think they don't really mean it,' he says with a chuckle. 'But I can't play like Cristiano Ronaldo and I hope nobody expects me to. Not at 31 anyway.' While he regards it as nothing more than good-natured banter, it is worth remembering just how bad he was for England. There was the goal he scored in Munich during that 5-1 demolition of Germany; that tireless, towering performance against Argentina in the 2002 World Cup; the similarly impressive display against Brazil in the quarter-final that followed. In the searing heat of Shizuoka that afternoon he was England's best player, terrorising Cafu amid the chaos of a Brazilian red card and that freakish free-kick from Ronaldinho. He also scored a goal in Japan, in the 3-0 second-round defeat of Denmark. Then there was the success he enjoyed at club level. First at Leicester, where he won two League Cups, and then at Liverpool, where he won the UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup in a single season. 'And the European Super Cup in the August,' he says with a little pride. John Terry once described him as the Premier League opponent he least likes to meet and Martin O'Neill would back him to win a header against anyone. 'I don't care if they're seven feet tall,' O'Neill once said of the impressively athletic striker he nurtured at Leicester. 'Emile will always win that ball.' So it's about right, then. He was a pile of garbage. 'When I look back on my career and I think about the games I've played in and what I've achieved, I'm very happy,' he says. 'Everyone goes into a career wanting to achieve as much as they can and I'm content with what I've made of myself. Like I said, I can't play like Cristiano Ronaldo. But I do what I do and I always try to do it to the best of my ability.'   More. MANCHESTER CITY v Wigan: Bruce with no fresh worries as Latics prepare for another trip to Manchester Palacios to Spurs for£14m is 'virtually' a done deal, confirms Wigan manager Steve Bruce Fergie pips Benitez and Wenger yet again after being hailed best coach on the planet LIVERPOOL v Everton: Torres and Alonso set to start in Merseyside derby WIGAN ATHLETIC FC NEWS FROM ACROSS THE NET LIVERPOOL FC NEWS FROM ACROSS THE NET He does, however, identify weaknesses in the Heskey of old that no longer exist. 'I didn't really understand football the way I do now,' he says as he sits in the dressing room at Wigan's modest training ground. 'Martin O'Neill was a big influence on me. He was the first manager who really gave me the freedom to express myself, who encouraged me to play. 'But I lacked tactical understanding. I didn't have much positional sense. For me, football was just about getting the ball, turning and running at the opposition. 'It was only really when I got to Liverpool that I started to learn. I was playing with better players and coming up against teams that, because we were Liverpool, would sit back and defend deep. 'To beat them you had to be more intelligent in the way you attacked and I developed as a player because of that. It's probably why I'm still part of the England set-up.' Scroll down for more Still going strong: After a distinguished career, Wigan forward Heskey is still pushing for an England spot, and can offer Fabio Capello something different up top Over the years he has fallen in and out of favour with England. Sven Goran Eriksson at first adored him, then discarded him, the emergence of Wayne Rooney convincing the Swede that Heskey was no longer required. He was ignored for more than three years, only returning when Michael Owen is said to have urged Steve McClaren to recall him during a difficult European Championship qualifying campaign. 'McClaren never mentioned it, but it was said that it was Michael who asked him to bring me back,' he says. Ridiculed at first, it turned out to be one of McClaren's better decisions and something of a masterstroke. Heskey helped revive England's chances of qualification, once again operating as the perfect foil to Owen, who scored three goals in two games when defeating Israel and Russia. Heskey was so good that the injured Rooney could not be certain of regaining his place, the debate only ending when Heskey fractured a metatarsal playing for Wigan. Rooney returned, England lost to Russia and then got beaten again - in the absence of Owen, Rooney and Heskey - by Croatia at Wembley. End of England. End of McClaren. It appeared to be the end of Heskey, too, but Fabio Capello saw something at Wigan towards the end of last season that persuaded McClaren's successor to include him for the friendly against the Czech Republic in August. Two appearances on the bench followed and then a start against Croatia in Zagreb. The headlines were dominated by Theo Walcott and Rooney but England's goalscorers owed much to the selfless contribution made by Heskey. Big fan: Michael Owen, seen here in his Liverpool days, conjured up a magical strike partnership with Heskey during their time together at Anfield Rooney, rather like Owen, seemed to thrive in his company and so did Walcott, England delivering their finest display since that remarkable afternoon in Munich seven years earlier. Heskey is modest about his role. 'I didn't play against Croatia at Wembley but the lads were talking about it and they weren't too happy about the way the Croatians had mocked them after the game,' he says. 'There was real determination to put things right in Zagreb, a real desire to beat them. 'Everyone played well in that game. It was a real team performance and something that has created a buzz in the camp again. 'It's always exciting being part of the England set-up. It was great going back, being among the boys. 'But it hasn't always gone to plan. I thought Sven did a great job in getting us back to a certain level but it fizzled out in the end. After Euro 2004 I think we reached a plateau. Sven had probably taken us as far as he could but you don't always realise that until afterwards. 'When I look back at the Brazil game, I see that as a missed opportunity. I think we all do. We were a goal up, then they were a man down after they took the lead. 'Even though they went on to win the World Cup I think we know we could have beaten them that day. I think we just lost our focus. Can't say why. But there's a confidence about this current England squad and I think we can do well.' As things stand, he would appear to be a key member of Capello's team. 'There's going to be stiff competition for places,' he says. 'Players are emerging, like Gabby Agbonlahor. And the likes of Michael Owen are still around. He's not been involved much lately but you can't ignore Michael's scoring record. 'I guess I'm lucky in that I'm fairly unique. Nobody else really plays the way I do. It's strange but at this moment it's probably true.' Scroll down for more Still in the fold: Heskey, seen here tangling with former French midfielder Claude Makelele, is still firmly in the thoughts of England boss Fabio Capello That unique ability is a reason why Wigan are now pushing for a European place under the guidance of Steve Bruce and why Heskey is again attracting suitors. Liverpool want him back and so does O'Neill now he is in charge at Aston Villa. Whether he goes now, in January, or waits until his contract expires at the end of the season remains to be seen. But Bruce is urging him to stay where he can be sure of the first-team football he will need to protect his position with Capello. 'You have to take something like that into consideration,' he says. 'Of course you do. And I will try and answer those questions in my mind before I do anything. 'Leaving Liverpool and moving to Birmingham was a good move for me. My career was going nowhere and I needed to re-establish myself. 'Wigan has been good for me, too, and all I want to do now is help them get as many points as possible. We're flying high. I'm flying high.' Which is saying something when he used to be s***e. 'I'm just the guy who snuck in the back door and had a good career,' he says with a smile.   More. MANCHESTER CITY v Wigan: Bruce with no fresh worries as Latics prepare for another trip to Manchester Palacios to Spurs for£14m is 'virtually' a done deal, confirms Wigan manager Steve Bruce Fergie pips Benitez and Wenger yet again after being hailed best coach on the planet LIVERPOOL v Everton: Torres and Alonso set to start in Merseyside derby WIGAN ATHLETIC FC NEWS FROM ACROSS THE NET LIVERPOOL FC NEWS FROM ACROSS THE NET  

Source: Daily_Mail