Emile Heskey has told Safe Betting Sites he believes Bakayo Saka is England’s MVP after starring in the Three Lions’ 6-2 demolition of Iran in their World Cup opener.
In an exclusive interview, the former England striker has also told former club Liverpool to go all out to sign Jude Bellingham after he also put in one of the stand out performances from the Group B game.
Heskey also talks about how England manager Gareth Southgate should line up in their next game against USA, how he thinks they will fare in the World Cup, as well as talking about former clubs Liverpool and their potential sale and Leicester.
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Highlights from the interview:
- Saka England’s best player on form
- Kane should not be worried about not scoring
- Bellingham a certified starter for England
- Liverpool should try and sign Bellingham
- Southgate should keep same starting XI
- FSG Liverpool sale will not destabilse club
Q: How impressed were you with England’s 6-2 win over Iran?
Heskey: “It was great to see but we don’t want to get carried away because clearly Iran are nowhere near the toughest team England will face in this tournament. It’s great to see Saka, Rashford and Bellingham scoring goals and getting plaudits now rather than the racist abuse they suffered just over a year ago after the Euros. Saka in particular put in a great performance and was arguably man of the match. You can draw a comparison to a ‘regular’ summer World Cup where players would have four weeks off after the end of the season ahead of the tournament. But Saka has come from Arsenal, where he and the club have been in fantastic form, to going straight into this game against Iran. So he hasn’t had any time off for his form to dip and I think the timing of the World Cup has worked out well for him in particular.”
Q: Despite England scoring six goals, are you worried that Harry Kane didn’t find the net?
Heskey: “I wouldn’t be too concerned because Harry Kane can turn it around and score goals at any time. Goalscorers are a bit selfish by their own nature but when you’re the captain as well, like he is, you also have to focus on getting the best out of your teammates. Perhaps his failure to score against Iran is something that can be partly attributed to that. But with Kane you know at any time he’s capable of going on a run and popping up with three or four goals in this tournament.
“Southgate won’t be too worried because he’ll look at Jack Grealish coming off the bench and scoring and Marcus Rashford too. It’s fantastic for Marcus. He’s in unbelievable form at the moment. He’s firing on all cylinders and that’s down to his confidence and club form for Manchester United too.
Q: Is Jude Bellingham nailed on to start after his performance or can you see Kalvin Phillips getting a look in down the line?
Heskey: “Jude’s a guaranteed starter for me after how he played against Iran. His energy, his ability on the ball and his calmness, not to mention his threat going forward because he is a big lad for a 19-year-old. His maturity is phenomenal considering his age and it’s fantastic to see him playing the way he is. I can’t see anyone taking him out of the team at this moment in time. Would I start Kalvin Philips? No. I’d keep things how they are. Once the second goal went in against Iran I said ‘This is going to be six’. I didn’t see them scoring but in fairness their first goal was a really good goal.
Q: Phil Foden was on the bench for England’s opener but would you bring him in against the USA?
“Where would you put him? That would be my issue with Phil Foden at this moment. He wouldn’t take Saka’s place. Would he take Mount’s? I’d say that’s more plausible but I don’t see why you’d change a winning formula right now. It’s a nice problem for Southgate to have. The further England go in the tournament, the more important it will be to have fresh legs available. Foden is as good as any of them on the pitch and it’s great to have him waiting in the wings because he’ll be champing at the bit to get out there.”
Q: Will it take an injury to someone ahead of him for James Maddison to get in this England team?
Heskey: “No, I don’t think it will take an injury. I don’t see Maddison as a starter but as an impact player off the bench? Yes 100%. I’m not sure which specific position but he could play either in a wide role or more centrally in a number 10 role where Mason Mount is. The good thing is that there’s a great level of positional flexibility among this England team and squad as a whole.”
Q: How has Southgate turned England around so quickly from their poor Nations League results?
Heskey: “When you’re losing it takes great characters to pull you out of that and England have got those in abundance. Their confidence seems to be sky high again now. Even Harry Maguire should be feeling better about his form after that game, despite conceding a couple of goals. I think attack might be the best form of defence for England at this World Cup because if you attack them high and rush their best defender then the opposition can’t settle. We’ve got so many dynamic players that can do that and this system seems to be getting the best out of them now.”
Q: Where do you rank Bukayo Saka among the most valuable players at this World Cup and in the Premier League?
Heskey: “It fascinates me how someone so young can take so much responsibility on their shoulders. It’s not easy. I moved from big clubs to smaller clubs and everyone was looking to me to take that mantle and that’s not easy either. But Saka’s doing it week in, week out at a big club like Arsenal at the age of 21 and that shows where he is mentally. And when you’re in a good place mentally, nothing is impossible. So he’s showing that he’s happy to take the weight on his shoulders. He’s only 21 and there will be times where has to cope with a dip in form. But we need to just bare with him because he will bounce back. Because with playing that many games you can burn yourself out.
“It’s key that he’s being played in his best position now. Players don’t usually say anything when they’re being out of position, even if it’s to their own detriment they’ll just do what the manager tells them. But if you play them in their right position you’ll get the best out of them like Southgate is with Saka now.”
Q: How far can England go in this World Cup based on the win over Iran?
Heskey: “It’s early days but I think after the USA game we’ll have a clearer picture. No disrespect to Iran but they weren’t a match for England. I caught the USA vs Wales game and I said at half time Wales will score at some point, which they did. USA look good though, fast on the break and very athletic. It will be interesting but I still feel we will beat them and then I believe we can target the semi-finals. If we win the group we could play France, depending on how other results go. But they’re lost a lot of players through injury so that might not be such a bad draw. Benzema is a big miss for them. “
Q: If England reach the semi-finals again would that make Southgate England’s greatest ever manager?
Heskey: “Well they won it in 1966 so I’m not sure about that. But yes he’ll be up there for our generation in terms of the best England managers. I think the way that he’s brought everyone together and brought the media and fans and players more together has been impressive. He’s dealt with the criticism well and taken the burden off the players, which allows them to perform more freely. He’s connected the fans, media and players together again. I played in two World Cups and it was far from that in those times. It’s great to see everyone pulling in the same direction and with social media it feels like you’re in the camp.
Q: If you had to pick England’s World Cup MvP based on what you’ve seen so far, who would it be?
“Bukayo Saka. Young players like him don’t overthink things. He isn’t affected by the external noise. He’s just playing on instinct and letting his talent do the talking. It’s great to see and he’s showing what a special player he is.”
Q: What’s your views on Harry Kane not wearing the ‘One Love’ armband following FIFA’s directive that players will be cautioned if they do wear it?
Heskey: “I think that’s it now. We all stand by our beliefs but if it’s going to be to the detriment of the team then it’s difficult. It shouldn’t be but they [Qatar] have taken that stance and you’re playing in their World Cup. If the rules say that and you choose to break them and face the consequences then fair play but it’s far from ideal.”
Q: The atmosphere in the stadiums has been criticised but do you think it will improve as the tournament gets going?
Heskey: “Yeah for sure. The Wales fans made a lot of noise in the USA game and I’m sure once the South American fans get involved I’m sure it will heat up. They like to party, so we’ll see the dancing and drums and it will be vibrant.”
Q: Liverpool made a poor start to the Premier League but has the World Cup come at a good time for them?
Heskey: “Yeah I’d agree to an extent although their form had improved in the past month or so. But it will be a good chance for them to get some players back fit again. Beating Napoli helped restore a lot of confidence because they hadn’t lost in a long time before that and were sitting top of Serie A. Jurgen Klopp will take these few weeks to regroup and come again and try and push for top six or four because as unlikely as it may look right now, anything is possible. Newcastle are flying but their players haven’t been in this situation before so for them to get over the line will take a lot. Liverpool have been there and done it.”
Q: How eager will Jurgen Klopp be to reinforce his squad in January and what positions will he be aiming to focus on?
Heskey: “I think they could do with freshening up the midfield with a bit more energy. Jude Bellingham is 100% the first choice in my eyes. He can play in every single position in midfield. So someone like that would be ideal because that energy he would bring is exactly what Liverpool have been missing at times this season. That’s what we actually need. Don’t get me wrong, Harvey Elliott has done really well and Henderson is a great captain and great leader but he’s getting to the latter stage of his career now. He’s not got the legs he used to have when he was 22 or 23 so he probably is someone that Klopp might be looking to phase out in the next couple of years.”
Q: Is Napoli striker Victor Osimhen a player you could see Liverpool signing?
Heskey: “He would certainly give them something different to what they have now. He’s different to Nunez who can play out wide, Osimhen would be that central goal threat. He’s quick, has an eye for goal and can finish really well with both feet. He’s a top player. I think Napoli paid quite a lot for him so that’s why he’s commanding a £100m transfer fee. I saw him score against Leicester last season in the Europa League and he’s a top striker and would certainly enhance Liverpool’s options in attack without a doubt. He’s a phenomenal player and I think his pace means he would be very much suited to the Premier League.”
Q: Did FSG putting Liverpool up for sale surprise you and could it destabilise the club?
Heskey: “It did surprise me, yes but we should never be surprised. It shouldn’t destabilise the club, they’re a huge club in the global sense. In terms of investment buying a player like Jude Bellingham is only going to make the club more valuable. So I can’t see them backing down in the transfer market and not looking to spend on players either just because the club is up for sale. There will be plenty of bids for Liverpool, it’s just a matter of finding the right buyers.
Q: Could you see Leicester challenging for a top six place based on recent form?
Heskey: “I think top 10 is the aim for Leicester at the moment. First and foremost they need to convince Youri Tielemans to sign a new contract. He’s an integral part to the way Brendan Rodgers wants his team to play and he’s scored some incredible goals. Defensively they’ve made some gradual improvements and with the goalkeeper Danny Ward he’s stepped up now. They’ve tightened up and are doing a lot better at the back but they still need to find a striker. Jamie Vardy isn’t the threat he once was and Daka and Iheancaho don’t score consistently enough so they need to look to bring someone in up front. Harvey Barnes and Maddison have been the main men so far this year but they can’t be expected to do too much.”