Emile Heskey is back in demand for England after a long spell in the shadows but the Wigan forward insists he never felt like he had gone out of fashion. Heskey was the unsung hero of England's stunning 4-1 victory over Croatia in last month's crucial 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifier in Zagreb.
The former Liverpool star linked impressively with Wayne Rooney and gave Croatia's defenders a torrid time with his combination of power and poise in his first start for coach Fabio Capello. It was just like old times for Heskey, who formed an equally impressive little and large partnership with Michael Owen during Sven Goran Eriksson's reign.
Heskey was eventually disgarded by Eriksson as a combination of poor form and Rooney's emergence took its toll. But, with Capello showing little faith in Owen, there is a vacancy for a foil to Rooney and Heskey grabbed his chance with both hands against the Croatians.
A strange sensation
"I don't know if I went out of fashion but it's nice to be wanted," he said. "Obviously the game against Croatia was tailor made for me because I like to put myself about and they had some pretty big centre halves. So it was nice. It was physical but I don't mind that. Not having played for about four years, it's just nice to be back. When I first came back it was strange because there were so many young players. I thought I was young myself but when you come into this squad, you feel a little bit old!"
The 30-year-old, who could miss Saturday's qualifier against Kazakhstan with a back injury, has been a revitalised figure since joining Wigan from Birmingham in 2006 and is benefitting from taking a more laidback approach to the game.
"I'm a bit more relaxed when it comes to football," he said. "When you're younger, you're really tense when you're going into game and you get really nervous. I can see it in some of the lads when they go out on the pitch. ."
For me, it's not like it's another game but you prepare differently and you focus your mind a lot better
Playing with Wayne
Heskey's physical presence and selfless nature allowed Rooney to thrive in his favoured role, just behind a targetman, against Croatia. It is a role Heskey is happy to fulfil if it brings the best out of Rooney.
"You never know until you actually play with someone what the partnership's going to be like. Wayne's a fantastic player - he's shown that over the years - but you never know how it's going to work out," Heskey said.
"It's only when you start playing with them that you get a little understanding, knowing where he's going to run and where you need to be, and you kind of build your game around your partner. He's a fantastic talent so I hope I am getting the best out of him."
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