Date: 22nd January 2006 at 9:03pm
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Emile Heskey has publicly backed winger Jermaine Pennant to force his way into the England squad if he maintains his current form.

Pennant has put in a string of recent fine performances, most notably a man-of-the-match performance in Saturday’s 5-0 thrashing of Portsmouth.

And now Heskey has backed the ex-Arsenal winger to force his way into Sven Goran Eriksson’s squad.

He declared: ‘Jermaine is brilliant.

He has been brilliant since he came to Birmingham. He has had a few problems but on the pitch he has shown so much. He has been excellent for us.

‘He is only 23 so he has got a long time ahead of him. He is coming to the peak of his career.

‘Can he make the England team? He can definitely do that and he is playing regularly as well which helps him. He has got every chance.’

Pennant has had notable off-the-pitch problems, including a stint in jail for drink-driving offences, but ex-Liverpool striker Heskey believes the former England under-21 international’s problems are now firmly behind him.

‘He has good professionals around him. We are going to guide him. He knows that. We do talk to him and sit him down at times but he is such a talent.’

Steve Bruce has also backed the winger after his recent performances, saying:

‘Jermaine is exciting. He is one of those sort of players the crowd love. He is a dying breed. He is young and when he came here this time last year, he lifted everybody.

‘With young players, they are going to have ups and downs. Since he scored a headed goal against Wigan he has played ever so well and when he is in full flow like he was on Saturday he is unplayable.

‘His feet are quick and he takes the ball early and causes havoc. It is up to Jermaine how big and how good he wants to be, because he is a terrific talent.

‘You don’t see many wide players dancing and going past people and he wants to do it. He is an old fashioned type of winger and it is great to see.’

Whilst talk of ‘Pennant for England’ may be premature – remember the clamour for Julian Gray last season? – what is certain is if he continues to put in the kind of performances he has recently, he will attract attention both from the national team and other clubs.