Peter Crouch, BFG: The Big Friendly Goalscorer with a serious Euro 2012 ambition
21:38 GMT, 30 March 2012
As the son of an advertising copywriter, Peter Crouch does appear to have a talent for delivering the occasional one-liner.
His response to being asked what he would be had he not become a professional footballer has just been included in a list of the best 20 quotations from 20 years of the Premier League. Crouch responded by suggesting he would be ‘a virgin’.
Charismatic: Peter Crouch is witty, friendly and determined to go to Euro 2012
So I asked him if he would welcome the appointment of Harry Redknapp as England manager.
He said yes, he’d be delighted: ‘Although he’ll probably try and sell me again.’
Redknapp has sold Crouch three times, and signed him three times too. But it was that first purchase and sale, from Queens Park Rangers to Portsmouth and then to Aston Villa in 2002, that became the subject of a high-profile and what proved to be rather farcical Crown Court corruption trial earlier this year.
Redknapp and the then Portsmouth chairman, Milan Mandaric, were acquitted but it sounds like ‘the Crouchie bonus’ was something that amused the Stoke City striker’s friends enormously.
‘It was all a bit surreal,’ he said. ‘It had nothing to do with me but my name was being mentioned every time I turned on the news. There was a lot of mickey-taking from my mates.’
Crouch laughed with them but what slightly irked him were the headlines generated by one piece of evidence: a taped interview of Redknapp recalling Mandaric’s objection to signing him as a 21-year-old. Mandaric had argued that, at 6ft 7in, Crouch was not a footballer but ‘a basketball player’.
Basketballer Crouch has shown his critics the way he does things
It would be interesting to know if Mandaric, now the chairman of Sheffield Wednesday, saw the basketball player score that goal for Stoke against Manchester City on Saturday. A goal that was worthy of being included in a list of the best 20 in the history of the Premier League.
What made it particularly special was the fact that it was no fluke. It was the product of some serious hard graft and what Mandaric, indeed anyone who might have dismissed Crouch’s talent in the past, should recognise as incredible skill.
‘I’ve scored some good volleys in my time,’ said Crouch, as he chatted over a bottle of Lucozade in the players’ canteen at Stoke’s training ground. There was one against Galatasaray, another against Bolton. But they were one-touch goals — and when you’re swinging a leg at a ball anyone can get lucky.
‘I liked the goal against Joe Hart because it was that much more technical. I had to control the ball first and then volley it, and that is a skill I practise every day.
‘I’m not saying I practise from that distance all the time, and when I do they only come off in training once in a while. But I’ve always loved volleying balls.
‘As a kid I always loved watching players who scored with great volleys. Gianluca Vialli at Sampdoria, Hugo Sanchez at Real Madrid.
‘If I see a ball on the training pitch I’ll flick it up and smash it into the net. It’s a skill that has always come naturally to me but I make a point of doing it at least 10 times every day.
‘The more you practise the more chance you’ve got of executing one in a match.’
Crouch is a real student of the global game. As he sits down at the table he launches into a rant about Barcelona’s Champions League encounter at AC Milan the previous night, complaining that the decisions of the referee proved costly for Pep Guardiola’s side.
That wonder strike: March 24, 2012. Stoke 1 Man City 1, Crouch 59 mins. Crouch takes one cushioned touch, then volleys past Joe Hart from 30 yards.
But he seems to possess a knowledge
of the game that is becoming increasingly rare among the modern
millionaire footballers. Similar, I suggest, to his former colleague at
Liverpool, Jamie Carragher.
one beats Carra in a pub quiz,’ said Crouch. ‘He is the pinnacle. But I
grew up loving the game. I used to watch the great teams. Sampdoria
with Vialli and Mancini. Capello’s Milan. I loved the Gullit and Van
Basten side. Van Basten was one of my favourites.
‘I was about 10 when Gazza went out to Italy and that was when I got really interested in Italian football. It was the best in the world at the time. All the top players were there.
‘Back then there wasn’t much I couldn’t tell you about it. These days it’s hard to watch everything. It’s on every night and if you tried to watch everything you wouldn’t have a life. But I watch it when I can.’
He continues to appreciate good footballers even though his sport has not always been as generous as it should have been towards him. ‘That’s something that has just followed me around,’ he said. ‘But I think I’ve proved people wrong over the years.
‘The more I’ve played the less people have questioned my ability.’
Crouch, like most players, is someone who needs to be loved. He feels the love from Tony Pulis and he tries to ‘repay him’ with his performances. He felt loved by Redknapp too, as well as Sven Goran Eriksson when the Swede was in charge of England.
Records: Crouch has 151 goals in 485 games for his clubs and 22 in 42 for England
But Fabio Capello was among the doubters, despite a run of 18 goals in 17 international starts, and as much as he continues to respect the Italian, he was pleased to see him go. ‘I’ve made no secret of that,’ he said. ‘Look, he’s a fantastic manager. I loved his Milan team. He’s won La Liga. He’s won so much. He also did a reasonable job for England. But for some reason he didn’t like me.
‘I was never one of his favourites. He only put me in, in my view, because he had to. But I hold no grudges. He’s moved on and hopefully I will too, by getting back in. Playing for your country is the best thing in the world.’
He would like to think his chances of adding to his 42 England caps – perhaps as soon as Euro 2012 – would be enhanced by the future appointment of Redknapp.
‘Harry’s obviously got a great job at Tottenham but he would be a good England manager, without a doubt,’ said Crouch.
‘He’s the stand-out English candidate
for me and I’d like to think, if it was him, I’d have a chance. He
knows what I can do and I feel I’ve always done well for him.’
did well for Rafa Benitez too but, like Capello, the Spaniard was not
entirely convinced. Not even when Crouch was second only to Kaka in the
Champions League scoring charts in 2007. When it came to the final
against Milan, Benitez rewarded Crouch with a place on the bench.
‘It remains one of my biggest disappointments really,’ said the striker. ‘I was so frustrated. You don’t say anything.
‘It’s a Champions League final and the team comes first. But I’d scored seven or eight goals in the competition that season and being left out of the final, until the last 13 minutes was a killer.
‘That Milan team was there to be beaten that night. I really felt that if we’d gone for them we would have got the win.
‘The manager decided to play Dirk Kuyt up front on his own and left myself and Craig Bellamy sitting on the bench. I was just left wondering what might have been. We all were.’
The problem, agrees Crouch, can be one of perception.
Tough: Crouch has made Stoke, already a tricky side to play, even more difficult a proposition
Wrong shape: Jamie Carragher believed Crouch was a goalscorer born in the body of a target man
Carragher once said he was ‘a goalscorer trapped in a target man’s body’ and observers do often fail to see the cultured footballer beyond that towering frame.
‘I remember Carra saying that to me,’ he said. ‘If I was 5ft 9in with that goal record for England (22 in 42 appearances in all) I’d be hailed as the next big thing. But what people usually say is that I’m a target man who scores against lowly opposition, which just isn’t true.’
A perfect hat-trick against Arsenal
springs to mind. One when he struck with his left foot, right foot and
his head. But this is a guy who has always had to fight, and not just
not many England internationals who have played non-League football but
Crouch has had to come up the hard way, with a loan spell at Dulwich
Hamlet one of his many stops on the rise to stardom.
main thing that held me back as a kid was my body shape, my frame, the
fact that when I was a kid I wasn’t really strong enough to cope with
the physical aspect of top-flight football,’ he said. ‘Wayne Rooney was
ready at 17. I wasn’t. I was nowhere near, physically. No chance.
‘It probably wasn’t until I was 23 or 24. Even when I went to Aston Villa for quite a lot of money, I wasn’t really ready.
‘The physical side of it, getting up and down the pitch, I just wasn’t strong enough. It was only really when I got to Southampton that I started to feel more comfortable. Dulwich was hard but it taught me a lot about the game. I went to Sweden too. I was getting kicked to bits at Dulwich and it toughened me up. But it also gave me a real desire to succeed. I felt I had enough about me to play at a higher level.’
Even then, though, he needed someone to show some faith in him, and in the end it was a team-mate rather than a manager who made the first real impression.
‘When I was at Southampton I would travel down from Surrey to training with Jamie Redknapp,’ said Crouch. ‘Jamie would often pick me up and he was the first person who said I was good enough to play for England. He could see a footballer in me who was struggling with a bit of self-doubt.
‘I’m not sure I believed him to begin with. I thought, “I could do with getting in the Southampton team first”.
‘But James Beattie left, Harry
(Redknapp) partnered me with Kevin Phillips and 16 goals later I was off
to Liverpool and getting my first England cap.
‘Jamie actually gave me a tremendous amount of belief.’
Different class: Crouch hold Tony Pulis in very high regard
Since Crouch signed for Stoke in August, Pulis has been the same.
‘I love it here,’ he said. ‘Since the manager brought me in he’s been different class. Great with me. I already knew he was a good manager. You only had to look at what he’s done here.
‘The belief he has instilled in the players; the fact that they reached the FA Cup final last year, the latter stages of the Europa League this season, the quarter-finals of the FA Cup again and hopefully a top-10 finish.’
Crouch has a real empathy with Stoke. Like him, they take a fair bit of stick and, like him, they seem to thrive on it.
‘The criticism the club gets is unfair,’ he said. ‘But what annoys big teams is the fact that they might get beaten by us.
‘They look at the Britannia and expect to get a result, and they get upset when it doesn’t go their way.
‘We love that. It’s us against the world and every time teams complain like that it makes us stronger. We won’t start making it easy for the opposition because someone calls us a rugby team.’ Stirring words from a 31-year-old who says he now has a desire to go into coaching or management.
‘Because I was a late developer I think I can carry on playing for at least another five years,’ he said.
‘I’ve never relied on pace but, physically, I’m actually getting stronger. But, yes, I think I will do my coaching badges. I feel it would be something I’d enjoy.’
There is just one last question. What career would he have pursued had he not become a footballer
‘I would have tried to be a copywriter like my dad,’ he said. ‘I remember doing work experience at his agency and really enjoying trying to write the ads.’
The evidence suggests he might have been quite good.