Michael Bridges claims striker Emile Heskey still has the potency to prosper in the English Premier League and would even be worthy of an England recall.
England’s loss appears to be Australia’s gain. The 34-year-old ex-Liverpool, Birmingham City, Wigan Athletic and Aston Villa forward has lit up the A-League with four goals in four starts, with Bridges – the man supplanted in the Newcastle Jets starting side – one of his most vocal advocates.
As table-topping Newcastle chases a fourth win of the season against Perth Glory in the west on Saturday night, Bridges revealed the depth of his admiration for Heskey – who last week was canvassed by a prominent English football website as the man to cure England’s goalscoring ills.
That might seem fanciful, considering his meagre seven goals in 62 England appearances and a strike rate of just one in every five games at club level, but Bridges can see plenty of merit in the “Heskey for England” line of thinking.
“England’s current number nine is Andy Carroll, and while I certainly have nothing against him, I feel Emile could certainly still offer something for his country again were the chance to arise,” Bridges said.
“He’s done many good things for England in the past and people who understand the game acknowledge that.
“As for playing for England again, personally I would say why not?
“When Emile left England after being released by Villa there were two other Premier League clubs interested in him, but he wanted to try a new adventure and getting him has been a real coup for our club.
“He’s definitely still good enough to thrive in the Premier League, no doubt about it.
“He still has that hunger in his belly and I know he’s been very pleasantly surprised at what the A-League has to offer.”
Bridges also believes Heskey’s decision to desert England will extend his career.
“He will only play one game a week, the weather stops the aches and pains from past operations from resurfacing and you are not playing 60 games a season - it’s more like 32 tops,” he said.
“In football terms, he has found a new lease of life. He’s become a hero over here very fast, whereas in England some people always picked on the negatives.
“In Australia the feelings and sentiments couldn’t be more different, and long may that continue.”
While beguiled by Heskey’s presence, the much-travelled Bridges – who has thus far been used as an attacking weapon off the bench – is also a fan of Newcastle’s young bloods - Craig Goodwin and James Virgili.
“Gary van Egmond has given these boys a chance and they are delivering,” he said.
“Craig Goodwin reminds me a lot of Gareth Bale in that he can terrorise defenders with his pace and he has a huge future ahead of him.
“I see him as a Socceroos player in the making and I wouldn’t be surprised if he even broke through into the national team this season.
“The way he glides past players is a sight to behold, he has a lovely left foot and he strikes the ball great.
“As for James Virgili, he’s a whippet who can cause defenders all sorts of problems.
“It is only this year that he has kicked on. He has been told to push on and make his future in the game and that’s exactly what he’s doing.
“These two boys on the wing scare defenders in one-on-one situations. If you can go past players you have to express that.
"These players are a rare breed and nobody should ever try and take that out of their game.
“Gary van Egmond has picked some of the best talent from his time at the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport) and it’s great to be involved with them.
“We are feeding off each other and it’s given the team a good balance. We have the right recipe – and Emile Heskey was the final piece of the jigsaw.
“The fact that Alessandro Del Piero is here in the league flourishing at 38 just shows myself and Emile that we too can keep going for a few more years yet.
“Personally, I am loving my football again and believe I am in the best shape of my life. I want to play as long as I can," the 34-year-old, who is out of contract at the end of the season, said.
"I retired once prematurely and I will not be doing that again.”
With the Jets having won just once in Perth since the formation of the A-League – a record that includes five defeats and four draws – Bridges knows they are in for a battle against a Glory side coming a 2-1 loss to Sydney FC at the weekend.
“We have a really poor record there and for me, this is our first real test this season,” Bridges said.
“It’s a big test for us and we need to come away with a point if we are to be successful this season. We will go and have a go at them.
“We are a team that would rather win 5-4 or even lose 6-5 than go and try and sit back and go for a 0-0 draw.”
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