Gareth Southgate urges Jude Bellingham to keep playing with emotion despite facing ban – after escaping one over gesture

EMILE HESKEY witnessed up close the David Beckham phenomenon.

And in current England hero Jude Bellingham, the former striker sees a kindred spirit to Goldenballs who too possesses a power to transcend football.

Ex-Leicester and Liverpool forward Heskey played with Beckham for many years for the national team.

They competed together at Euro 2000 in Belgium and the Netherlands, World Cup 2002 in Japan and South Korea and Euro 2004 in Portugal.

Beckham mania was at its height during that period and Heskey had a front row seat to it all, so is well-placed to observe if man-of-the-moment Bellingham is following a similar path.

Heskey, 46, told SunSport courtesy of 888Sport: “Beckham was an icon. He took the world by storm, not just football.

“He was the very first figure that took it outside of football. Transcend not just being a footballer, but being this big icon.

“I was at the 2002 World Cup and everyone was sporting Beckham haircuts, from kids to grown-men, to women.

“You’re a huge superstar when you’re doing that, especially in places like Japan.

“We had 3,000 watching training sessions and that was because of him.

“He’s a fantastic and wonderful icon. You can see where Jude is going with that with some of the stuff he’s doing.”

The similarities between Beckham and Bellingham are clear – both are trend-setting pin-up boys who revel in the limelight.

First and foremost, as Heskey pointed out, is their ability on the pitch which is capable of lifting an entire team with one moment of brilliance.
Beckham had it with that unforgettable, last-gasp free-kick against Greece in 2001.

Bellingham had his three days ago in Gelsenkirchen with THAT overhead kick against Slovakia.

Heskey was captained many times by Beckham for England. He recalled: “Becks was quite quiet to be honest.

“He was a fantastic captain because he led by example. You can see that in Jude.

“He’s the one that really wants to take the game by the scruff of the neck, whether it be technically, physically or emotionally.

“He’s the one getting the crowd going, he’s the one that is willing to put his foot in where it hurts. He’s a great all-round leader.

“Becks was that. He was fantastic as a captain for me in the sense of what a captain does. He was the first one there, he led us by example. If there were any problems, he’s the one we can go to and he sorted all that out.

“You can see the similar sort of traits in Jude. A wonderful, wonderful player, a great character who is doing tremendous things on the pitch.”

Heskey is confident his fellow former Birmingham man Bellingham will be able to handle the ever-brightening spotlight that is on him, thanks to the strength of his support network.

And Michael Owen’s old strike partner has been so impressed with how the Real Madrid midfielder speaks publicly despite only turning 21 on Saturday.

Heskey added: “Jude’s family nucleus is very strong.

“His dad is an ex-footballer, a policeman as well. His mother is a role model in the sense of being his mum. You see how strong they are as a family.

“That’s when you’re getting a real grounded and well-versed child who is growing into an amazing man. I think he’ll be able to handle all that.

“Football clubs have all these different ways of helping players with certain things that are going on, even down to media training.

“I doubt Becks would have had any media training. I never had any media training, so you get thrust into that.

“But when you look at the likes of Jude, you see how well they talk on the mic and the television.”

England are still sweating on if Bellingham will escape a ban for Saturday’s quarter-final with Switzerland.

Uefa are investigating a “potential violation of the basic rules of decent conduct” after he made what seemed to be a crude gesture when celebrating his amazing leveller against the Slovaks.

Heskey admits missing Bellingham in Dusseldorf would be a huge blow, but pointed to how back-up players led England to glory the last time we won a major trophy in 1966.

The ex-Aston Villa and Wigan forward added: “Hopefully we don’t lose him.

“Then again it’s then for others, having the opportunity that they might not have had, to step up to the plate.

“We’ve seen it so many times. Even when talking about the last time we won a trophy, I believe that Jimmy Greaves was the one who was supposed to be playing.

“Then you have an injury or a setback and you’ve got to step up to the plate. And the rest is history.”