Alex McLeish believes that Emile Heskey is continuing to be an important part of the Aston Villa line up, with the manager comparing the striker to Bayern Munich legend Franz Beckenbauer.
While Beckenbauer played in a defensive role, McLeish still believes that Heskey is showing skills with the ball that mimic the former superstar.
“We now know what Emile can do, he can play in any position,’’ McLeish said.
“I could even play him at the back without any fears. We played him at centre-back last week and he was spraying the ball about the whole pitch as if I was watching Franz Beckenbauer.
“Emile is a brilliant, all-round player, he understands the game and we need him in the squad. It’s not just about 11 players.’’
McLeish, who played under Sir Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen in the early 80s, said that he learned from the experience that competition for places in a squad is the most important motivator for any player. And the manager believes that this is helping Heskey get even better.
“The one thing when I was a footballer that I was frightened about the most – and no it wasn’t Sir Alex’s wrath – was losing my place,” McLeish explained.
“That’s what drove me, and that’s what motivated me – losing my place.
“Sometimes it happened out of an injury or sometimes it was a suspension and you hoped the team wouldn’t lose but you also hoped the guy who was in your position didn’t have a great game, so you could get back into the team.
“Emile’s motivation is there to impress but that’s what competition is all about.”
And the manager insists that Heskey poses no disciplinary problems at Villa, making him easy to work with from both a physical and mental point of view.
“I never have cheek from him,” he said. “Sometimes you’ll hear coaches shout ‘brilliant’ from the side – most of the time it’s brilliant – but the one minute you criticise them and say ‘you should have done this’ they’re chipping back at you.
“They don’t chip back and say ‘thanks for saying brilliant’ of course.
“But Emile is a guy who gets his head down and gets on with it. He’s a fantastic professional.”
McLeish will be hoping that Heskey is boasting top form this weekend, with Villa facing Manchester City away.