Tom Heaton believes that he’s a better goalkeeper now than he’s ever been as the Clarets captain looks to secure an England recall.
The 32-year-old has been in outstanding form domestically and, on current form, will presumably be one of the leading candidates to be called up to Gareth Southgate’s squad for the European Championship qualifiers next month.
Heaton has made three appearances for the Three Lions so far, being awarded game time against Australia, Spain and France, and was named on the standby list for the World Cup in Russia last summer, despite having missed the majority of Burnley’s campaign through injury.
Asked if he considers himself to be in the form of his life, the former Manchester United trainee said: “I think so. I’ve worked on my game, while I was off I had the opportunity to work and improve things technically, physically and mentally.
“I definitely think I’m in a better place, certainly a better place than I’ve been in for a long time.
“I’m not trying to forecast it but obviously I harbour ambitions to be back involved. I can’t shy away from that but there’s a lot of water to go under the bridge yet.
“What’s important for me is to stay focussed day in day out, get the performances right and see where that takes me.
“I’ve always had a massive hunger for that and I’ve always harboured ambitions. It’s certainly a goal of mine but I’m very conscious of not getting carried away.
“I’m focussing on what’s right in front of me at the minute. To get back in would be good, it would be very good.”
Heaton received the first call for his country three-and-a-half years ago, when Roy Hodgson revealed his group for games against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin and Slovenia in Ljubljana.
The one-time Cardiff and Bristol City shot-stopper, who became the first Clarets’ player since Martin Dobson in 1974 to earn a full England cap when appearing against the Socceroos, was in good form back then but feels that he’s shown plenty of growth since.
With games against the Czech Republic and Montenegro coming up, Heaton is proud of his progression and has vowed to continue embracing the challenge.
“Not playing during the first half of the season was frustrating, I haven’t hidden that fact, but since getting the opportunity I’ve felt great,” he said.
“Having missed a bit last season with injury it’s obviously a bit difficult but the fire was burning and I had the appetite to get back playing. I’ve got that opportunity now and I’m enjoying every second of it.
“It’s been an interesting journey, I’ve certainly shown a lot of growth in myself. I’m more resilient but I tried to put the work in to make sure I was ready for the opportunity.
“I tried to get better. It’s a bit easier when you’re rehabilitated from the injury because you’ve got something to chase down but once you’re back, you’re fit, you feel good but you’re not playing, it’s difficult. It’s frustrating.
“I think that’s where you find what’s important, putting the work in day in day out. Thankfully at the moment that’s paying me back.
“I’ve enjoyed it, I’m trying to appreciate it at the minute, I’m enjoying every second of it and playing with the lads again.”
Heaton’s spell on the sidelines had given him time to reflect. It was a means of catharsis that gave the goalkeeper the opportunity to gain some perspective.
And he feels that time away has aided his development.
With Heaton’s return coinciding with a record seven Pre mier League games nbeaten, he said: “I learned things about perspective.
“I’ve always been involved in football and chasing a career down but there’s more to life than football and that’s a fact.
“There are more important things in life. I love it, I’ve got a real hunger for it but I can separate the two now which is probably something that I needed
“Don’t get me wrong I love my football more than most but there are more important things. That’s the separation for me. If anything I’m perhaps playing with a touch more freedom than I was before.”