Crouch the centre of attention as McClaren makes switch to 3-5-2
Thursday 05 October 2006
Someone asked Peter Crouch yesterday if the burglars who raided his house on the night last week that he scored two goals against Galatasaray had taken any of his medals. Those were safe, he replied, but they had taken his Aston Martin car.
At the moment, however, it would be impossible to take from Crouch that which means most to him as a footballer, and certainly a lot more than last season's FA Cup winner's medal with Liverpool and a Championship gong from his time with Norwich City. He is the first England striker to score 11 goals in a calendar year and even the return of Wayne Rooney has been cast in the long, angular shadow of the man who will be his strike partner on Saturday.
Rooney's last competitive goal? Against Croatia in Euro 2004 - while Crouch has four goals in Euro 2008 qualifiers since the World Cup finals, plus the two he scored against Greece and, overall, 11 goals in only eight starts for England. They are the statistics of a man who should be assured of his starting place in his national team, never mind his club side, and yet the strange truth about the Liverpool striker is he can be sure of neither.
Crouch was asked yesterday whether he felt it was easier to win a place in the Liverpool or the England side. He answered with diplomacy but it must have given him serious food for thought. Yet with Michael Owen out of the picture for the season, and Andy Johnson injured too, Crouch's place with England is a lot more certain than anything Rafael Benitez and his constantly morphing Liverpool side can ever promise.
"The manager goes into each game a different way," Crouch said. "If he sees Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt as the best way to play against the opposition defence then he plays them, and against Galatasaray he wanted to play me. I don't think it's a case of form. It's a different way of thinking. We've grown up in England with the view that when you've done well and scored, you play next week. The manager at Liverpool likes to rotate and he gets results so you can't complain."
This week, however, it should be different, especially if Steve McClaren decides that the absence of Owen Hargreaves is a good enough reason to experiment with a 3-5-2 formation that would suit Crouch nicely in attack. Crosses from behind the wide positions is the kind of service he relishes and the wrong-headed use of a 4-5-1 system by Sven Goran Eriksson in Germany was enough to tell us that Rooney works better with a partner. Crouch said: "In a couple of games we've changed to 3-5-2 while 4-4-2 has obviously worked. We're all top players, all internationals, and we've all played in those formations at some point in our careers. It should be easy to adapt."
It would also be fair to say there are few international goalscorers capable of quite so much humility about their own record as Crouch, who seems eternally patient. Surely it will have to give at some point. There are only so many times you can score with a scissors-kick in front of the Kop, as he did against Galatasaray, and find yourself on the bench for the next match, as he did against Bolton.
In the great Crouch story that began in earnest last season, and somewhere between his robotic dancing demonstration for Prince William and the hat-trick against Andorra there was a moment that came to sum up some of the frustrations about him. It was that spectacularly miscued scissors-kick against Trinidad & Tobago in Nuremberg that almost struck the corner flag and stood as a symbol for what seemed to be Crouch's limitations. Not any more. His second goal against Galatasaray was more evidence that Crouch is capable of stretching what the rest of us might believe are the boundaries of his creative ability.
"It's a difficult skill to do, I don't want to brag and I can't really because I missed that one against Trinidad quite horribly. But... I have always believed that I could do things like that and been comfortable trying them. When they come off it's great, but when they don't it doesn't look quite so good."
He had to travel to Manchester in a cab to join the squad but news from the Cheshire police yesterday was that his car and most of the items stolen from Crouch had been recovered. It would seem that his luck has changed and there will be no arguments that he is the man to partner an off-colour Rooney. "Everyone I meet in the streets, the fans are all complimentary to me so I seem to be turning a few people around," Crouch said. "Now I'm at a high-profile club like Liverpool people see a lot more of me and see that I can play. I think it's the same at international level, now people have seen over a number of games what I can do."
* Eriksson is being lined up to be the next Benfica coach, reports claimed last night.
Best of times or worst of times? The double life of Peter Crouch
For England: He has scored 11 goals in 14 appearances, six of which have been as a substitute. He has played a total of 924 minutes and scored at a ratio of a goal every 84 minutes.
For Liverpool: In nine appearances (five starts) this season he has scored five goals, including a spectacular scissor kick against Galatasaray. He has played 460 minutes, scoring at a ratio of a goal every 92 minutes.
England: The majority of his goals have come against lesser nations: Jamaica (3), Andorra (2) and Trinidad & Tobago (1). May not start if Wayne Rooney, Andrew Johnson and Michael Owen are all fit.
Liverpool: Has spent 620 minutes of the season so far on the bench or in the stands.
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