Crouch: Big man who belongs on the big stage

He is fired up for today's showpiece semi-final but Pompey's plight cuts him down to size
  • @stevetongue

The dedication in Peter Crouch's autobiography, published three years ago, was to all those "who have unfashionably believed in me". Belief in Crouch was not always modish and could still be stronger today. His current club, Tottenham, once allowed him to leave for £60,000 (hardly the best piece of business, as it cost £10m to buy him back); David O'Leary at Aston Villa signed Carlton Cole as a replacement; later, he was infamously booed when coming on as a substitute for England, halfway through a run of failing to score in his first 18 Liverpool games.

During that period, even his self-confidence wavered and he would happily have returned to Southampton. Yet Rafa Benitez was a believer, until accepting £9m from Portsmouth and signing Robbie Keane for twice as much. So was Harry Redknapp, for whom Crouch has now played at three different clubs. Even so, he still cannot call himself an automatic selection for club or country.

Redknapp, always keen to have four strikers to pick from, has made him a substitute in 13 League games out of 32; Fabio Capello has started him once this World Cup season and offered merely faint praise after Crouch came on at half-time to win the last match against Egypt.

Today it is back to Wembley and a big stage for the big man, who will surely have a role to play against his last club, in a competition he has always loved. "I grew up watching the FA Cup, it was the biggest competition around then," he says. "I remember watching all the great games. You have the start of the competition where you have the lower-league sides and it's fantastic to play in those games, difficult ties that we've had like Peterborough and away at Leeds. We've come through those and obviously got our reward, which is a showpiece semi-final.

"I won it with Liverpool and it's probably the best moment of my career. When I was a kid I didn't dream of winning the Champions' League, I didn't dream of winning the League, it was always the FA Cup, playing in that. To do that was great and I'd love it again."

Spurs are strong favourites to earn that opportunity by repeating last month's 2-0 League victory, when their goals were scored by former Pompey players in Niko Kranjcar and Crouch. Only last season, such is the way of football, Crouch and today's probable partner Jermain Defoe were scoring for the south-coast side against Spurs. Mixed emotions, then, all the more so bearing in mind Pompey's plight, to which some might say Crouch and other extravagant signings contributed.

"Obviously I'm not a financial person but I was certain there must be somebody funding it. I just assumed it was being run properly. But it appears it wasn't. I'm feeling quite bad about their situation, because I've got friends there and there are a lot of people behind the scenes who were great to me when I was there. It's difficult for them and the players and fans, who are fantastic, and have been through everything, they've seen some great times and terrible times."

As might be said of Peter Crouch. For the moment, the better times are rolling, with Spurs, as the old song has it, "on their way to Wembley" and in pursuit of a Champions' League place. South Africa is on the horizon and, Emile Heskey or not, he says with renewed confidence: "I'm going into the World Cup scoring a lot more goals for England. I felt I did well at the last World Cup. I'm probably stronger and a lot more experienced for this one. If given the opportunities it will be better for me this time."