Eriksson's fun and games leave court jester Crouch feeling glum
The most famous robotics dance routine in English football was given a royal seal of approval yesterday when Peter Crouch put on an impromptu performance for Prince William during training after, he said, being "goaded" into it by his team-mates. The new president of the Football Association was most amused, although when England got down to the serious business of tactical formations, Crouch was not involved.
As Prince William chatted to Wayne Rooney about his broken metatarsal bone at training yesterday, England lined up in the formation in which they finished the match against Hungary. With Gary Neville likely to be rested against Jamaica tomorrow because of his hamstring trouble, and Jamie Carragher deputising at right-back, it would appear that Owen Hargreaves, who was booed on Tuesday night when he came on, will start in the holding midfield role.
It cannot be ruled out that the England manager, Sven Goran Eriksson, dismayed by the constant leaking of his line-up to the newspapers, is now engaged in a game of bluff with the press, but after yesterday's training it appears that he will stick with the 4-1-4-1 formation for tomorrow at least. Bad news for Crouch, England's modern-day court jester, but good for Hargreaves who may get his chance to emerge from the shadows again. The 25-year-old with 30 caps, who started the first two games of the 2002 World Cup finals, could walk down most high streets in England unrecognised and has never been the supporters' first choice despite the high esteem in which Eriksson holds him. Tomorrow, it seems his defensive qualities in front of the back four will be given the chance to flourish one more time before the Paraguay match on 10 June.
So little time, so many formations to perfect - and then the second in line to the throne turned up for a chat. As the training bibs were being handed out at Manchester United's Carrington training ground, a familiar figure came striding across the pitches to check on the preparations and have a word with the players. "It was the future King of England," Crouch said, "and I have just done a dance in front of him - it was a bit surreal, really."
Having listened to a team talk from one heir-apparent in Steve McClaren - the England manager from 1 August - the players were treated to a pep talk from Prince William that made a serious impression. Frank Lampard said he was "dumbfounded" at the maturity and attitude of Prince William, although it would not be true to say that Crouch's dance routine had a similar effect.
"I think he liked it [the dance], he seemed quite happy," Crouch said. "He spoke to all of us and he seems excited about the World Cup just like all of us. I don't know who talked me into it, to be honest. I got goaded by the lads into doing it.
"There is a lot of pressure on us going into the World Cup and we just try to relax any way we can before a big tournament. It was just a bit of fun that we have had between the lads which seems to have escalated. It was quite funny and the mood of the lads is good - I think you can see that."
Crouch had first demonstrated his dance in the television programme broadcast on Sunday featuring the Beckham's pre-World Cup party. Having been warned before the show was aired by David Beckham that, Crouch said, "his wife [Victoria] had seen it and said it was hilarious" he endured two days of stick from his team-mates before re-enacting the moves after his late goal on Tuesday night.
While the smart money is still on Crouch to start for England in the tried and trusted 4-4-2 formation against Paraguay, the Liverpool striker said that he would not "sulk" if he was left out tomorrow. "There is one more friendly left before we go out there and I think there is as much pressure on me as there is on any one else," Crouch said. "We all want to be starting at the World Cup. I am no different and getting in the starting XI is my aim, but I won't sulk if I am not."
So now the focus moves to Hargreaves, who was hardly the nation's unanimous choice when he came on as a substitute in the Euro 2004 quarter-final against Portugal. The Bayern Munich midfielder has unfairly developed a reputation as a dour, functional footballer among many England supporters - more a symptom of the fact that he plays in the Bundesliga than anything else.
Nevertheless, Hargreaves has his supporters among the England squad and Frank Lampard said yesterday that he believed that his fellow midfielder could play an important role in the side as a "defensive midfield player" who was "very quick, sharp and quick into the tackle". Lampard added: "In that role you need that sharpness because you are likely to come up against some very good players. He is a good lad to have in the squad and right now we need to get behind all of the players and try to win this World Cup."
In his new role as the president of the FA, Prince William said he was keen to support the "Get into football" initiative launched by the FA's director of football, Sir Trevor Brooking, which encourages participation in football at all levels - playing, coaching and administration. An Aston Villa supporter, Prince William described the prospect of the World Cup as "awesome", with "the power to bring the country together".
He would not divulge what Rooney had told him about the state of his injury, but said that the players had promised to bring the World Cup home. For Chelsea's Joe Cole the prince's visit had an added bonus. "They got the posh food from the kitchens," he said.
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