"Some of the critical stuff that has been written about Hesk has been unbelievable," Kirkland said. "He was made a scapegoat for some of our problems once and now people are trying to do it again before he's even been picked in the team.
"I find it especially wrong when it comes from ex-pros who have played the game although none of them have played against him or with him. He's England's Didier Drogba. He's as powerful, strong and quick as Drogba and he deserves the same respect. Drogba got some stick when he first came to this country and people were coming after him, too, but they've stopped now.
"He is such a big, big player for us. We base what we do around him a hell of a lot. A lot's been made of the fact that he does not score enough goals but there are no other strikers who do what he does. He has never been prolific but I'd swap his comparative lack of goals for everything else he contributes, every time.
"It's not as if he doesn't score goals. He does. But he works so hard for the team that he buys space and time for others. That's why people like Michael Owen like playing with him.
"The people who are saying these critical things about him haven't seen him play this season or last. I'm sure about that because if they had they would know how impressive he has been. Emile might have read some of it and it's the type of stuff that might affect some players. But I know how it will affect him. He will go out and prove people wrong.
"All you have to do if you want to know how good he is, is ask players who have played against him what it's like.
"To see his name on the team sheet must be a nightmare for defenders. He's great in the air, he's got pace and power. He's everything they hate."