Heskey keeps eyes on prize

After three years in the international wilderness, the striker has proved to Fabio Capello that he has what it takes to help England reach the World Cup finals. He tells Sam Wallace how he did it


"There's only one Emile Heskey/He used to be shite/But now he's all right/Walking in a Heskey wonderland"

England fans in Almaty, 6 June, 2009



It says something for the temperament of Emile Heskey that when the song sung about him by fans of England, Aston Villa and his former club Wigan Athletic comes up in conversation he can shrug, smile and take it in his stride.

"Fans are going to be fans," Heskey said yesterday, at England's Grove hotel outside Watford. "They're going to call you names one week, then not know who you are the next. That song's been around for a long time. Birmingham first made that up when I signed for them. Then it went to Wigan, now to Villa. Now England. I like it. I've had all sorts, haven't I."

The big man who is back in the England team might not be in the starting XI come tomorrow night against Andorra but not because he is being dropped. Rather Heskey might well be left out because another booking would mean he missed the game against Croatia on 9 September. He has become too valuable in Fabio Capello's eyes to miss a big qualification game that could clinch England's path to the 2010 World Cup finals.

In an England career that began more than ten years ago, Heskey, 31, really has – as he says himself – "had all-sorts" including an exile from the England team that began almost five years ago today. When, on 13 June, 2004, Heskey gave away the free-kick from which Zinedine Zidane scored the equaliser in France's 2-1 victory over England at Euro 2004, he could hardly have known what was about to follow.

Sven Goran Eriksson only ever picked him for a squad once again, in March 2005 for World Cup qualifiers against Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan, but Heskey did not play for England for more than three years after the France game. His comeback was when Steve McClaren selected him for the 3-0 win against Israel at Wembley in September 2007, and under Capello he finds himself in vogue once again.

"No, it wasn't explained why I was left out," Heskey said. "It was a bit of a strange one but you take that as it is. If the manager doesn't have time to talk to you, he doesn't have time. I just carried on with my game. You're going to feel harshly treated if the manager doesn't explain to you why you're not playing or why you're not in the squad, or whatever.

"But he's got how many players to choose from in the country? Can he go to every one, I don't know? I gave away the free-kick against France but I went on to the field with instructions, I tried to go with what they said. I was told to play behind the front man, and that's what I tried to do.

"It went to 1-1 at the time. Someone's got to take the blame. It could have been [someone else], but it was me. It could have been dealt with a bit better, but he [Eriksson] did have a lot of players to talk to, so it was difficult to say he was going to speak to 30 or 40 players individually."

About ten minutes after he had said those words, Heskey came back into the room to say that he hoped no one was interpreting that as a criticism of Eriksson. It is the kind of bloke he is off the pitch, very softly-spoken and non-confrontational – a player who always hints that his happiest days were when he played for his home-town team Leicester City as a teenager. Is he an easy target for managers?

"I don't know whether I was an easy target to leave out of the squad," he said. "I don't complain. Complaining? You get on with your game and let that do the talking. I don't think I should have gone to the 2006 World Cup at the time. The lads had established themselves in the qualifying campaign, and they deserved to be there. I never gave up, though. I always wanted to get back into the squad and always knew I would."

The problem with Heskey is the sheer lack of goals. He has scored seven goals in 53 caps for England, a woeful strike rate compared to Peter Crouch (15 in 33) and Wayne Rooney (22 in 51) and his goal against Kazakhstan on Saturday was his first in a competitive game for England in seven years. He said that record never played on his mind and he is so laid-back that you have to believe him.

When he was out of the England squad, he would often come to watch games as a fan and his philosophy on how to behave towards the referee on the pitch is a pretty good one for the whole of his career. "[Not complaining], that's a strength," he said. "Complaining isn't going to get much out of the ref, so you might as well shut up and go again."

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Sport
football
News
i100
Life and Style
Virtual reality headset: 'Essentially a cinema screen that you strap to your face'
techHow virtual reality is thrusting viewers into frontline of global events and putting film-goers at the heart of the action
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness