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Heskey insists Southgate is the right man to lead England

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Emile Heskey spent four years at Liverpool
Emile Heskey spent four years at Liverpool

Former Liverpool and England star Emile Heskey received plenty of criticism during his career.

Often derided for not being a prolific goalscorer, Heskey’s ability to link-up well with his strike partner was undoubtedly his main attribute.

While the media and fans rarely missed an opportunity to hammer Heskey, he was loved by managers and teammates for his willingness to sacrifice himself for the good of the team.

Given his experiences in football, Heskey is well-placed to comment on the recent negativity hurled towards England manager Gareth Southgate.

Despite leading England to a 6-2 victory over Iran in their opening game at the World Cup, Southgate’s detractors were out in force following the goalless draw with the United States.

His decision to send on Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson to replace Jude Bellingham against the US sparked a flurry of abuse from fans and pundits alike.

However, with the Three Lions still prominent in the latest , Heskey believes that Southgate is getting a raw deal.

He insists that people should back the England manager, particularly given his ability to take the burden off the players and allow them to express themselves.

“If you asked Michael Owen why he was able to flourish at the 1998 World Cup he would say that he felt no fear,” Heskey told Betway.

“He had the total backing of the manager and his teammates. You suddenly want to make the opposition fear you rather than the other way round.

“Having a manager who makes you feel like you can be the best player on the pitch is so crucial and I think Gareth does that really well.

“He looks after them, he shelters them from the noise and allows them to just be them.”

Southgate’s cautious nature increasingly placed him in the firing line as England struggled to produce their best form in the run-up to the World Cup.

His reluctance to use several talented players has been questioned, with Liverpool full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold high on the list of stars Southgate has underused.

The 24-year-old was tipped to miss out on the World Cup, but Reece James and Kyle Walker injuries forced Southgate into a rethink.

However, Alexander-Arnold is yet to feature for England in Qatar, with Newcastle United’s Kieran Trippier nailing down the right-back role.

While many people are quick to question Southgate’s decision-making, Heskey thinks he should be allowed the freedom to manage the squad as he sees fit.

“For me, he’s done a stellar job,” Heskey added. “He’s brought the country back together, galvanised the players and created a superb atmosphere inside the camp.

“Players feel like they’re part of the squad now, which is massive, and he’s been rewarded with the best tournament performances for decades.

“Criticism comes when there’s a downturn, that’s the reality, but you’d hope that he’s earned the time to ride a bit of a blip. The style of play has, at times, been very, very good.”