Heaton still holds England hopes but has bridges to cross
The 32-year-old earned his first international call-up on the back of the club’s relegation from the Premier League in 2015 after keeping 10 clean sheets during the campaign.
The former Manchester United goalkeeper then became the first Burnley player since Martin Dobson in 1974 to earn a full cap for the Three Lions, replacing Fraser Forster in the 2-1 win over Australia at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light.
That was reward for another impressive season domestically having kept the opposition out on 20 occasions across the board as Sean Dyche’s side were promoted back to the top flight as champions.
Gareth Southgate handed Heaton his second cap in 2016 where he replaced team-mate Joe Hart in a 2-2 draw against Spain at Wembley and a third against France, just after scooping Burnley’s Player of the Year award.
Injury 12 months ago, when dislocating his shoulder against Crystal Palace, set Heaton back significantly but, despite not featuring at Turf Moor, he was brought back into the England fold by being put on stand-by for the 2018 World Cup finals.
“I’ve still got England wishes but I’ve still got a few bridges to get over first,” said Heaton, ahead of UEFA Nations League games against Croatia and Spain. “There are a few stepping stones in-between that.
“You can’t look too far ahead of yourself because if you’re not playing week-in week-out it’s difficult to have any international ambitions at that moment in time.
“It certainly hasn’t gone though. You work in a process of where you’re at and my first step now is to work to get back in to the team.”
Heaton won’t ever acclimatise to being left out of the side, describing his current predicament as ‘different’ and ‘strange’.
He had played 142 league games in succession after signing from Bristol City in 2013, before missing the 2-1 defeat against Manchester City in November 2016 as Paul Robinson deputised, but he has only started 27 times since.
Heaton, who has played three times this term, missed out on facing his former club at the Cardiff City Stadium on Sunday.
He played 40 times for the Bluebirds over two years and famously saved Steven Gerrard’s spot-kick in the League Cup final against Liverpool in 2012.
“It’s been different and a bit strange,” he said. “That’s the nature of the beast, again it comes down to that competition for places.
“I don’t particularly enjoy not playing but that drives you on to work hard and try and get back in the team. Joe’s come in and he’s played really well, his performances have been good.
“I’ll focus on myself, try and get it right and try impacting the team as club captain. I’ll look after my work on the pitch and off it in a manner where I want to be fighting for my shirt.
“It’s been frustrating. It’s tough when you’re not playing. That’s what you want to do but it’s part and parcel of being a professional footballer.”
He added: “You have to channel that energy in to working hard and improving and that’s what I’m trying to do. I enjoyed the Olympiakos games.
“We’ve got a great department, we’re all slightly different and there are things that we can learn from each other. It’s been good. We’ve all got our own focus because that decision making is out of our hands. That’s down to the manager.
“We all have a good relationship so there are no problems.”