Neil Warnock: All teams need a player like Heskey. I should know – mine won us promotion

What I’ve Learnt This Week
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The Independent Online

I had a wry smile when I watched England demolish Croatia. I read most newspapers and it was obvious that a lot of journalists were crying out for Jermain Defoe to start instead of Emile Heskey, then Heskey plays and England score five.

It all reminded me of a situation we had in our promotion year at Sheffield United. We were doing well and to give us what I thought would be the final push I spent the best part of £2m on Ade Akinbiyi. I tried everything to get him to gel with the team, even bringing in another striker on loan to partner him, but while he'd done well at other clubs, and to be fair scored three goals in seven starts for us in this period, the goals dried up from the rest of the team. We won one match in six and Leeds were catching us up, so one night I sat down and had a chat to myself. I thought, "If I don't change things now we are never going to get promotion, there is only one thing for it".

I brought Neil Shipperley back in. He'd not started a game for weeks and some people criticised his condition, but I told him I was going to play him for the rest of the season, nine more games, irrespective of results. Aside from when he was injured for a couple of games I did. We lost our first two matches after his recall but the performances were better, and then we started winning. "Ship" only scored twice himself, but he brought everyone into play. It's like Heskey. While everyone sees Defoe scoring the goals I think Fabio Capello recognises that Heskey takes the brunt of the opposition and allows people like Gerrard, Rooney and Lennon to be themselves.

For me Heskey is a must because of what he brings to the table. I don't think it will matter in the slightest to Capello that he is not a prolific scorer. He will be one of the first on the teamsheet, because when you are manager you know what works for you. The only question is whether Emile can stay fit because there is no obvious replacement. I don't think Peter Crouch is the same as Emile, he hasn't the physical presence.

I didn't watch Saturday's game against Slovenia. I thought it was a waste of time and by all accounts didn't miss anything. If you want to know what I was doing while England were playing such fantastic opposition, I was go-karting. William and I had a wonderful afternoon, though I did panic a little when I saw the speed they go at. It was amazing.

The first time they took a look at William's age and put him in a car with speed limitations. He complained he could not go fast enough so I told the guy and they gave him another for the second go. I lapped him 10 times in the first race, I couldn't get near him in the second, only passing him on the last bend. He was flying. It does give you a small inkling into what those Formula One guys go through. It must be frightening. I'm told they have tremendous neck muscles because they get thrown around and I'm not surprised: even in a go-kart my neck ached afterwards.

2. How poaching by big boys broke my chairman's heart

It is all coming out in the wash now, all this scandal regarding young kids being poached by big clubs. We know all about it after John Bostock was effectively stolen off us by Spurs. We had him from seven years of age to the brink of his 16th birthday. We cared for him, developed him and coached him throughout. We helped him get established in the England youth side and made him our youngest ever first-team player.

All that, then a big club comes in and takes him away because they know we are not allowed to sign him until he's 16 and they can get him cheap at a tribunal. It's morally wrong and it has had big repercussions for us. That broke Simon Jordan's faith in the game and really hit his interest as chairman. He'd put a lot of money into the academy, and for what? We got £700,000. Bostock was worth two or three times that. At the same time Aaron Ramsey went for £5m. At least we got something. We lost another player, also 16, after a big club came in and offered his family a new house to live in.

That's the sort of thing that goes on and the chairman's been trying to get the rules changed to protect the smaller clubs who develop players, so while I'm not always a fan of the hierarchy at Uefa and Fifa I think a crackdown's not before time. I don't believe players should move countries until they're 18 myself.

3. Palace staff help Irish to bring in some Paddy power

There's two cracking games today. Everyone wants to see how Adebayor and Touré go against Arsenal, and with Tottenham starting so well what a great time to play United, who are not really firing on all cylinders, and are coming off an international break.

There will have been managers all over crossing their fingers this week wondering what state their players will return in. Arshavin and Tevez are just top of a long list who will have come back injured, or at the very least physically and mentally drained. It's bad enough if they've won, but imagine how Javier Mascherano must feel having gone all the way to South America only to lose twice with Argentina. I know we've had our issues with Argentina but I would still like to see them at the World Cup. Maybe it's payback time for Maradona. He's not having a good time. I saw some of their games and they are struggling, there does not appear to be any direction from the bench at all. Poor old Julian Speroni is getting some stick.

We had a few people away. I was delighted that Nathaniel Clyne had England recognition at last, with the under-19s, Sean Scannell was with the Republic's equivalent, and Freddie Sears has been with England under-21s. It was great to see Freddie score a goal that actually counted. It was his first of the season officially, but we all know better. There was also a call-up for Paddy McCarthy. Only, it was a late one and he'd already gone with his family to Center Parcs. So we had the office, and the Irish, trying to track him down so he could join up.

For the rest of us it was a weird weekend, it's nearly two weeks without a game, now we've three in eight days. After Scunthorpe today – and haven't they been rewarded for sticking with Nigel Adkins after they were relegated two years ago – we have our local derby, at QPR. They have just taken Ben Watson on loan. I bumped into him in the week having a coffee in Beckenham. It's ironic they have got him at last, they must have spent nine months trying to get him for nothing from us when his contract was winding down. All along we said we'd settle for nothing less than what, in the end, Wigan paid. I suppose getting him on loan means they have got him for nothing in the end. He's a super lad, I hope his career takes off again once he's left QPR.

4. Rush into silly one-day series is just not cricket

Is it me, or is the current one-day cricket series as pointless as England v Slovenia? Yet people pay good money to go to both. Which I guess is why they play them. It's a shame though. I want to dwell on the fact that we beat the Aussies, as it is there has not been enough time to savour it. I feel a bit sad for the cricketers. They win the Ashes, then it's straight off to Ireland, then into a series which is looking like being an embarrassment.

5. If only my strikers could learn to score like the ladies

On Thursday I rushed home with William to watch the women and we were not disappointed. While the 6-2 score looks bad, for more than an hour it was a cracking match and our women did us proud. But when the Germans' fourth went in their heads dropped and their legs were tired. I can't understand why they don't play 80-minute matches to maintain the quality. I hope that doesn't sound chauvinistic, because there were aspects of the game that impressed me, especially the finishing. I wish my lads could finish like Kelly Smith and some of the Germans.

6. William opens his rugby account in blazer of glory

William had his first rugby game of the season this week. The good news is he scored five tries. The bad news is his team lost seven tries to six. Even worse news was the bill for his school blazer: £85! He's eight years old. There's only one shop which sells it. It's scandalous.

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