Emile Heskey, revelling in a new-found and unfamiliar role as England's latest terrace hero, has set his sights not only on the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ but also on a return to UEFA Champions League football.

The Wigan Athletic striker has made such an impressive return to the international fold, helping his side to four qualifying victories in a row, that all of a sudden the Premier League's big clubs are said to be monitoring his situation.

It's a rumour that clearly excites the 30-year-old and although he has no intentions of asking for a transfer at unfashionable Wigan his performance in England's 3-1 victory over Belarus in Minsk on Wednesday could well open doors for the affable striker.

Heskey, in fact, is being credited as the architect behind Wayne Rooney's remarkable return to form for England after the Manchester United striker scored twice on Wednesday to make it five in his last three international matches.

Not surprisingly Rooney won most of the plaudits for his efforts but as the dust settled on a fine victory, England players lined up to praise Heskey, too. And considering the centre-forward has yet to begin talks about a new contract at Wigan it is almost inconceivable that one or two rival clubs were not doing the same.

"I hope a few managers will be taking notice. It's a nice situation that I'm in," said Heskey. "I'm still a Wigan player and I want to do my best for them. But everyone wants to be playing on these stages and for their club in the Champions League. I'm no different."

The message to England's top clubs couldn't be clearer and with the January transfer window only a couple of months away and with no new deal on the table for Heskey at Wigan at present there is certain to be speculation.

Heskey has tasted UEFA Champions League football before at Anfield but had left the club by the time Liverpool won the trophy in 2005 and admits he has unfinished business' in European football.

In those days he was far from a terrace hero with England fans, despite his part in the most famous England victory of the period when they beat Germany 5-1 in Munich.

"Five-one, even Heskey scored," was the ironic chant for many years to come following that match - a reference to Heskey's miserable goalscoring record for his country which now stretches to only five goals in 50 games.

But these days supporters have seen other attributes they like in the hard-working striker, whose intelligent runs are finally getting the credit they deserve.

His contribution to Rooney's first goal against Belarus was outstanding, out-thinking the home defence as he made a darting run to collect a long throw on the left flank before over-powering his marker and crossing perfectly for his team-mate to steer the ball home.

The talk in England now is that in Heskey and Rooney, Fabio Capello has found a partnership that can lead his team to great things.

Heskey said: "We are trying to get that understanding together and we enjoy playing together. On the training pitch we try to work on bits and pieces together and it is paying off. I try to bring Wayne in and make space for him and it's going well.

"When you're enjoying your football the game is a lot easier and you can see it on his face that Wayne is loving it. He got the two goals he deserved and was brilliant.

"This is as well as he has played since Euro 2004, but we hope he can get better. We always want him to play at his best, but we hope he can progress even more."

New fan favourite
For Rooney, of course, the plaudits are par for the course. But for Heskey it's a new feeling after being lambasted for so long over a perceived clumsiness and a lack of goals.

The goals are still few and far between but the fans were singing his name in Minsk and Heskey could enjoy it.

"You take it in, but you have still got a game to play so you have to focus on that. But it was great. The fans got behind me perfectly," he said.

If Heskey is important to England then Rooney's value is almost impossible to estimate and the good news for England is that he is being pushed not only at international level but also with his club, re-invigorated by the arrival of Dimitar Berbatov.

England and Manchester United team-mate Rio Ferdinand said: "Wayne is confident, playing well. And one of the reasons I was happy that Berbatov signed for United was that I knew it would inspire other players in the team to step their game up another level. And that's what's happened. I think Wazza has taken that on board and gone from strength to strength."