EMILE HESKEY may not be drinking in the last chance saloon yet, but he could be forgiven for thinking closing time is getting closer.
On the surface, the forthcoming England friendly internationals, starting in South Africa tonight, are meaningless. To Heskey (left), however, they are hugely important.
In the last few months he’s seen doubts about his Liverpool career increase, while his international place went to a 17-year-old who, injury permitting, is likely to be first choice for the next generation.
The Liverpool striker was also left out of his club’s biggest game of the season against Chelsea, adding weight to the view Gerard Houllier’s patience has finally evaporated.
Heskey knows his chances have been running out. If Liverpool could sign French sensation Djibril Cisse from Auxerre it would mean Heskey is no longer first choice.
Even if Cisse isn’t for sale, Houllier will be keen to recruit another world class striker and that’s certain to have repercussions for Heskey’s future.
He may be prepared to stay and fight for his place, but it is looking increasingly likely his best chance of saving his Anfield career is if Houllier can’t sign the man he wants, or if no other clubs can afford to sign him.
Spurs were believed to be ready to offer the 25-year-old a new challenge, although their interest in Brighton’s Bobby Zamora suggests they’re looking for a cheaper option.
New Aston Villa boss David O’Leary is also known to be a big admirer of Heskey, although he has limited funds and probably couldn’t afford Liverpool’s valuation.
Celtic boss Martin O’Neill is also a Heskey favourite and Liverpool would also obviously give consideration to a swap deal if either Blackburn or Leeds had an interest in the player.
Elsewhere, Middlesbrough boss Steve McClaren is an admirer of the centre-forward after working with him for England, but having just signed Malcolm Christie and Michael Ricketts, his purse strings will be tightened too.
Whatever the future holds, Heskey will take to the pitch in South African with a point to prove.
With Rooney injured and James Beattie not yet having joined up with the squad, Heskey is poised to, at least temporarily, regain the striking role.