FOOTBALL: Crouch aims for the heights to fill Beattie void

Southampton v EvertoN: Passion now essential for a giant striker winning round the manager who once sold him

Peter Crouch has moved between so many clubs he must live in a Winnebago. Peter Crouch is so big he must have been 5ft 9in at birth. The tall guy, it seems, is used to being the fall guy. Indeed, it is the Southampton striker, all 6ft 7in of him, who offers the above observations.

He does an engaging line in self-deprecating humour but knows that, having turned 24 last week, and after spells at Tottenham Hotspur, Queen's Park Rangers, Portsmouth, Aston Villa, and on loan to Norwich City, before moving to St Mary's last summer, it's time for his career to get serious. And it doesn't get any more serious than Southampton's predicament right now.

The irony isn't lost on Crouch that just as he is cementing his place in the top division, the club he now plays for might be about to lose that status for the first time in 27 years. "I do want to stay here for as long as possible," Crouch explains, "because I feel about 30 already. I've moved around so much. I want to stay, first and foremost to keep this club in the Premier League."

A "relegation dogfight", as he calls it, was the last thing on his mind when he was signed for pounds 2m by the then manager, Paul Sturrock. "We were looking to push on from tenth [last season's finish]," Crouch says. "But we started badly and never really recovered. I wasn't expecting that but it's one of those things and we can't think about it. We just need to start winning."

He readily accepted the move from Villa. "I was coming off the bench and so on but that wasn't good enough for me," Crouch says of his time in the West Midlands. "It didn't suit me at all. I got the odd game but I had to move on."

The odd game is what many thought was all he would get at Southampton - especially as James Beattie stayed at the season's start. But it's a measure of Crouch's confidence that he never doubted he would get the opportunity.

"The manager [Sturrock] said that he felt I was good enough to put a lot of pressure on Beatts and Kevin [Phillips]," Crouch says. "He said that there was no way two players could go through a season and play every game, especially front-men. He had confidence in me, but obviously he left straight away and I didn't know what was going to happen."

It seems to be a feature of Crouch's career. "At one time you can be a favourite with the manager and then someone else comes in and discards you," he says ruefully. It was Graham Taylor who had taken him to Villa for pounds 5m - only to leave the next season - and the man who sold him from Portsmouth, just 48 hours after he took over, of course, was Harry Redknapp, now the Southampton manager.

"It might have played on my mind a bit," Crouch admits when asked how he felt when Redknapp arrived, "but as soon as Harry came in he said, `The reason I sold you is not because you are a bad player'. He said it was just because someone was willing to pay a lot of money. And if you look at the money he spent at Portsmouth he totally changed the side from when I was there and made it into an established Premiership team."

Redknapp, with a flurry of transfer-window signings, has tried to do a similar rebuilding act with the pounds 6m he received from Everton for Beattie. The two sides meet today at St Mary's. "I spoke to James and he's looking forward to it," Crouch says. The two are friends. "He's a good player, a goalscorer, someone you need to be wary of."

Nevertheless, Crouch admits that he had expected Beattie to leave. "I always felt in the back of my mind that Beatts would move on in January and obviously that was the case," he says. "It has opened a gap and I'm looking to fill it, to prove to the manager that he doesn't need to bring someone in and that the replacement is here already."

With four goals in five games, it's working, even if the team have continued to struggle. Redknapp's first move after taking over was to pick Crouch after the player had been ignored by Sturrock's successor, Steve Wigley. Indeed, Crouch's signing added to the pressure on the Scot, with claims that Southampton would revert to more direct football.

"Anyone who watches me play week in, week out knows that's not the case," says Crouch emphatically. "As soon as I join a club the fans might be thinking, `Oh, we're going to play the long ball'. But as soon as they see me play they know that's not right. You can play the ball into my feet and we can take it from there."

He has the surest of touches but his height, unsurprisingly, always seems to be an issue. "I think without a doubt people look at me and my physique and being so tall," Crouch says. "I've always just enjoyed playing football and it's never really got to me. I've had it all my life. I've always been the tallest, even at school. I think I was 5ft 9in at birth. No, I've always steadily grown. It's just one of those things. I've learned to live with it and I enjoy it."

He's also more aware of what he can and cannot do. "If someone wants two quick strikers and getting in behind them, and so on, then they are not going to play me. That's obvious," Crouch says. "But there are other managers who like to play myself with someone like Kevin running off me, bringing others into play."

Redknapp hopes Crouch can create the same kind of partnership that Niall Quinn enjoyed with Phillips at Sunderland. To do that, Crouch has also had to find a bit more aggression. His time at Villa gave him that. "I just think I wasn't going to stand for not being in the team again," Crouch says. "Also I feel a lot stronger now and the two years I had there have really helped me grow. I just feel better and, without a doubt, I've improved. Hopefully that is showing."

His confidence certainly is, especially in the way he took the winning injury-time penalty against Portsmouth last weekend to knock his former club, and Southampton's all-too-bitter rivals, out of the FA Cup. "Once I had the ball no one was taking it off me," says Crouch, who is not a regular from the spot. "I saw the manager giving it this [he waves his hands frantically in front of him]."

The striker had been emboldened by a penalty competition he had taken part in during the week, in which he beat a former Southampton player 15-12. That player was Matt Le Tissier. If Crouch can leave anywhere near the same mark on the South Coast as that local legend he will indeed be able to walk tall.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Microsoft Gold partner, our c...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant

£14500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for an experie...

Recruitment Genius: Canteen Manager Required

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's Frozen...

Recruitment Genius: Canteen Assistants Required

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's Frozen...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum