Jimmy, you were one of the best strikers of your time. What do you think about Emile Heskey, much criticised for his lack of an eye for goal, starting for England at the World Cup?
Everybody seems concerned by this. I wouldn’t start with Heskey. Look, goalscoring is all about statistics. You’ve got situations where you can say so-and-so got 36 goals for England, and took 100 games to do it, and someone else scored 36 goals for England in 37 games. To me, that means that the guy who should be in the team is the guy who statistically has scored more goals per game.
You’d prefer to see either Peter Crouch or Jermain Defoe alongside Wayne Rooney then?
Absolutely, Peter Crouch in my mind has to be pretty much number one on the team sheet given his goalscoring record. I don’t understand why there is even speculation over that. For me, he goes straight in the side.
In both the ’62 and ’66 World Cups you played alongside proven goalscorers in attack – Gerry Hitchens and Roger Hunt respectively – but do you not agree that even though Heskey doesn’t get the goals, he allows England’s best player, Rooney, to really perform?
No, I don’t buy that. Do you really play one man just to make another player play? Not for me you don’t. It’s the player’s responsibility to play well whoever he plays with, not to have someone to make him play well.
How about Joe Cole or Steven Gerrard behind Rooney?
I think Joe Cole should be in the side as well to be honest. But I’d let Rooney do what he likes. I would say: “Look, when we’re in the opponents’ half, you do what you like son. I don’t want to see you back in our half. I don’t want you tackling the winger and everyone clapping you, ‘cos that’s not your job. Your job is up there, but you go where you want.”
Geoff Hurst has said that you were the Rooney of the ’66 team…
[Laughs] For God’s sake, I’m better looking than Rooney!
He went on to say that although you were unfortunately injured, England had a good enough squad to go on and win the tournament. If Rooney gets injured, do we still have good enough players to win in South Africa?
No. But, having said that, you never know. You could have said that in ’66 when Geoff Hurst came in, so how do you know? If Rooney got injured and Defoe came in – Defoe’s a good goalscorer – who’s to say that he can’t do it in the World Cup for England? And this is the key to it: it’s a competition this, not a marathon. This is a little bit of a sprint. You’ve only got a few games over a relatively small period of time. We’re not talking about a 38-game Premier League season. You play the players and you hope they take their chance.
My own feeling about Rooney is that he is our outstanding player, there’s no question about that, but I think he’s at his best when you don’t tie him down – when you don’t give him a zone or a responsibility. Give him a free role. Put Crouch up there who can trouble defences with his height and, most crucially, with his goalscoring record and you go with that. For some reason, managers always hate goalscorers, I’ve never understood why [looks up and shakes his head].
Do you think it was the right decision for Theo Walcott not to go to South Africa?
I think it was very unfortunate on Walcott that he went the first time, four years ago, when he should never