From skinny teen to England No 9: the rise and rise of Peter Crouch

Peter Crouch is in line to start his first competitive international on Saturday when he is expected to partner Michael Owen for England against Austria at Old Trafford. His inclusion would cap an impressive rise for the 6ft 7in striker whose career began as a 12-year-old in Queens Park Rangers' youth system. Glenn Moore traces his progress through the eyes of his managers, team-mates and opponents
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"Some kids shoot up in their teens but even at 12 Peter was tall and very skinny. He's obviously taken some ribbing over the years. I remember him walking across the pitch when he joined us at Tottenham and people looking at him thinking 'what the hell is that? There's no way he can play, surely?' Well you should never judge a book by its cover. He had a good touch. He was intelligent, and when he jumped no one could touch him. He is not just tall, he has a good spring which is not always the case with tall people.

"He was at QPR when I was there and when I went to Spurs Des Bulpin, my youth coach, came too. So did Peter. When I went back to QPR, by which stage they were in the First Division and short of cash, I decided to try and sign him with a view to the future. Peter was barely getting a game in Spurs' reserves and David Pleat, their then manager, told me he didn't think Peter would make it there, so he was prepared to sell him. I was delighted. I had that feeling that 'I can make this boy a player.' Injury meant we had to play him straight away and he ended up getting 12 goals for us that season.

"I feel he will be involved with England for some time to come. He may not always start but he offers something different if you're losing or can't break someone down. He will be a dream to play alongside for Michael Owen, it will be like Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips.

"I still speak to his dad. He's a nice kid from a nice family. He maybe needs more aggression. I felt he was one of those players you have to put your arm around and believe in to get the best out of him and I think that's shown in his career."

Vince Bartram (Gillingham goalkeeper 1998-2004. In goal when Crouch scored his first professional goal, 13 September 2000, for QPR at Loftus Road)

"I remember seeing some pre-season footage of him and thinking 'he's a big lad, a bit out of the ordinary'. He came on with us 2-0n up and cruising. I think he set up their first goal, for Chris Kiwomya, then he scored the second, a very good volley, and we drew 2-2.

"Even then he did not get the respect he deserved for his technical ability. With some big men you can think, well let them have possession as they won't cause any problems, but Crouch will.

"As a keeper playing against team with someone 6' 7", or any good header of the ball, the manager will say 'come for crosses, help your defenders out'. It means you have to be more positive and that can lead to mistakes because you are taking risks."

Scott Hiley (Portsmouth team-mate 2001-2002)

"I'd seen him in a reserve game for Tottenham so I knew what to expect. He doesn't look like a footballer. He's very ungainly, and people assume he can't be any good. But when you get the ball at his feet he's different class. He was a handful in training. He doesn't just stand there. He jumps too. That makes it even worse. We had great joy with him. We had two decent wingers, so he was scoring goals and laying them on.

"For a full-back like me he was a fantastic target. He was always available and you could fire it in at any height because his control was exceptional. He was easy to find and the ball tended to stick. But he's more than just a target man. He can link play. I was surprised he went to Villa towards the end of the season as they had no real wingers. I think that's why he struggled there. Liverpool will have to work out how to use him now.

"He's a lovely lad. He joined in the banter but didn't get any stick in the dressing room. He was getting enough from the other fans with all these chants of 'freak' so we weren't going to add to it."

Graham Taylor (Aston Villa manager 2002-2003. Signed Crouch for £5m)

"Peter Crouch is a very good football player. Everyone talks about his height as if that's all there is to him but I can assure everyone he's very good technically. Look at his touch. Look at his passing. Look at his control, how he lays people in, how he holds off defenders. That's the sort of player we are talking about.

"Peter has always wanted to be thought of as a good footballer. Psychologically, he would say his height hasn't affected him but I think it used to. Now he's learned to handle the criticism and he knows he's a good player.

"People don't realise this, but when you are as tall as Peter, you're not necessarily going to be a good header of the ball because playing as a kid he's never had to jump, he's just towered over everyone. So when you come into the man's game, you haven't got that upper body strength in your spine because you've never used it. He's become a better player because he's learned how to handle his body."

Iwan Roberts (Norwich City team-mate 2003)

"He'd been having a difficult time at Villa when came to us on a three-month loan. I don't think the crowd had taken to him but we were lucky to get him. He and Darren Huckerby signed on the same day and it gave us the impetus we needed in the promotion season

"I remembered him from QPR and Portsmouth. He always had a great touch and he's not been given enough credit for it. People say he's not scored any goals for Liverpool this season but I've seen a lot of their matches and he's been outstanding. If he plays for England he'll give them something different.

"He's such a likable fellow you can't help but like him. There's not an ounce of malice in him and if he has a fault it's that he's too nice. He'll foul some grizzled defender and he'll be saying 'are you all right, mate?' He needs a bit more devilment but maybe that will come."

Graeme Le Saux (Southampton team-mate 2004-05)

"If England use him with Michael Owen there is potential for a good complementary partnership but they must use Peter's strengths.

"Watching Liverpool it's infuriating when they have set-pieces or crossing situations and they whizz the ball in. They just have to float to the far post. He's virtually unstoppable then and it is up to others to react off him."

"He is someone who performs when he feels confident. Southampton under Harry Redknapp was probably his first chance for a while to work for someone who believed in him, who played him every week rather than used him as a squad player.

Sven Goran Eriksson (England manager. Gave Crouch his international debut in May 2005)

"He's different, very different. When you go into a tournament, you should have one big striker. If you put the ball up there, he will win it. His touch is not bad at all and if you are trying to break a team down maybe you could put on Peter Crouch."

Steven Gerrard (Liverpool teammate 2005-)

"I've been very impressed with him and thought he had a brilliant game against Chelsea in the Champions' League. He's posed a big problem for every defence he's played against so far this season and sometimes he's just unplayable.

"What a lot of people tend to overlook when discussing Peter is that he's excellent on the floor as well as in the air. He's a great link player. He has been tremendous so far and I'm sure he'll help win us many games this season.

"The only thing that is missing from his game right now is a goal but it wouldn't be fair to criticise him for that because he's been playing brilliantly otherwise. He's a popular figure in the dressing-room and all the lads are willing him to score."

Tall tale of towering headers, terrace abuse and multi-million pound transfers: The varied career of Peter Crouch

TOTTENHAM

Trainee, Premiership; August 1998 to July 2000

QPR

(£60,000) First Division - relegated

July 2000 to July 2001

42 games (5 as substitute), 12 goals

PORTSMOUTH

(£1.5m) First Division

July 2001 to March 2002 39 games, 19 goals

ASTON VILLA

(£5m) Premiership

March 2002 to July 2004

42 games (18 as sub), 6 goals

NORWICH CITY

(Loan) First Division

Sept to December 2003

14 games (1), 4 goals

SOUTHAMPTON

(£2m) Prem - relegated

July 2004 to July 2005

24 (9) 16 goals

LIVERPOOL

(£7m) Premiership

July 2005

8 games, 0 goals

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