Heskey must bide his time for England, says O'Neill

Villa manager reminds unhappy striker that the World Cup finals are still eight months away
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Martin O'Neill has reminded Emile Heskey that there is plenty of time for him to reclaim his place in the Aston Villa side before next summer's World Cup finals. But the Villa manager has refused to be drawn on Heskey's announcement that he may have to leave the club in order to ensure that he stays in the England squad.

Heskey said after England's defeat to Ukraine on Saturday that he was considering leaving the club in order to remain in contention for Fabio Capello's squad for South Africa next summer. It was unusual for Heskey to be so outspoken and it was bound to prompt a response of some kind from his manager, who signed him from Wigan in January for £3.5m.

Heskey has started just one Premier League game for Villa this season and O'Neill has tended to bring John Carew on as a substitute before the England striker. Yesterday, the Villa manager told The Birmingham Mail that Heskey should remember there would be plenty of twists and turns in the season before Capello came to pick his squad in May.

"Players need to remember themselves here," O'Neill said. "The World Cup is not next week, not before Christmas and not even before Easter. It's a long, long way away. The side picked, if the World Cup was just round the corner, might be a lot different to the one picked for next summer. There could be five changes or more with things like injuries or loss of form.

"There's players at this football club with proper ambitions to be in the England reckoning next summer – and so they should – like Ashley Young, James Milner, Stewart Downing, Gabby Agbonlahor and Emile Heskey. But I wouldn't get overly concerned about all that just yet if I were them."

With Agbonlahor due to start for England in their final World Cup qualifier against Belarus last night, Heskey is aware that he is already slipping back in the England reckoning. Capello has used him successfully as a foil for Wayne Rooney but the 31-year-old's woeful goalscoring record always makes him vulnerable. He has scored just seven goals in 57 caps and missed two good chances against Croatia.

O'Neill said he would not discuss the possibility of Heskey being sold in the next transfer window. The manager said: "You can ask me as much as you want about it, but I won't have anything to say at this moment [about Heskey's remarks over the weekend]. I've been away from my desk for a couple of days, so I will genuinely have to sit down and have a think about it before I make any comment on that."

John Terry said on Tuesday that he could understand Heskey's frustration at not playing for his club because none of the current England squad could take their places for granted. The England captain said: "I totally understand Emile's point. He has been very open about things. I am sure inside he wants to fight for his place and get back in the Villa side.

"Players want to play week in and week out. Hopefully, he won't be playing next week for Villa against Chelsea. He is a fantastic player and really hard to play against. People go on about his goalscoring but he brings an awful lot more to the pitch than just that. His link up play is fantastic. It is difficult for him. They have Carew there as well."