O'Neill hails 'fantastic' Heskey

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Martin O'Neill admits he has "kept an eye" on Emile Heskey's career since the duo worked together at Leicester as he prepares to be reunited with the striker at Aston Villa.

Villa are close to agreeing a deal, believed to be in the region of £3m to £4m, for Heskey, who is out of contract at Wigan this summer.

O'Neill has always been grateful to Heskey for signing a new contract shortly before making the move from Leicester to Liverpool which ensured the Foxes could command an £11m transfer fee in March 2000.

Now the England player, who helped Leicester to League Cup triumphs in 1997 and 2000, is poised to work again with O'Neill nearly a decade later and help Villa's push for a Champions League spot.

O'Neill said: "It would be very difficult not to support someone who was brilliant for you. He was a young kid at Leicester and was fantastic.

"We were desperately disappointed when he moved but he said he wanted to go and play with Michael Owen at Liverpool, but he did his part for Leicester.

"He signed a new contract and we eventually got £11m for him when he could easily have gone and played abroad for a year, because of his age and the rules at that time, and we wouldn't have got any money. He played fairly by Leicester."

O'Neill added: "Of course, I have kept an eye on Emile's career. Something levelled at Emile is that he doesn't score enough goals and I am sure he probably thinks exactly the same.

"But it doesn't mean he hasn't made a massive difference in other areas. Confidence is always a big thing with Emile. When his confidence is high, he is always a player."

If the deal goes through in time, Heskey could make his debut in Saturday's FA Cup fourth round tie at Doncaster.

But O'Neill's biggest target is to sustain a push for a top-four finish in the Barclays Premier League.