The unanswered question - tall guy or fall guy?

Enigma of unorthodox Crouch continues despite flashes of creativity and impressive link-up play
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The Independent Online

Well, they would have been if there wasn't a captain to line up to berate, a truth that this 6ft 7in gentle giant was probably glad of. Quite possibly he escaped a few cries of "you plonker, Rodney" because of a certain sending-off. In the event it was all Beckham, not Peckham.

Which is doubtless a mercy for anyone who is sick of Eriksson's two-dimensional England. The new Liverpool man's third dimension might not be the most aesthetically pleasing, but there were glimpses here of what he could offer; a header here, some swinging forearms there, a loping presence everywhere else. Alas, that is exactly what they were, mere glimpses, and the myths that Crouch has always had to strike out are no closer to disappearing.

At the very least, those who have continually whispered that Crouch should remember that is a surname and not a piece of advice must now admit he can indeed head a ball. Sure, in the main the long balls crept under his radar, but one or two aerial moments showed that his pate knows what to do when in contact with leather. If only that chance in the second half had found net instead of goalkeeper's glove. But, regardless, he should not be judged solely on 90 minutes that were strangely and woefully unfulfilling, even in the muddled world of Sven's and David's England.

With Wayne Rooney forming a mean-enough-looking partnership in the directors' box with Manchester United's Alan Smith - not to mention an old favourite in Phil Neville tucked in neatly in the seat behind - proceedings at Old Trafford were given a distinctly surreal feel.

Why, the Theatre of Beams hadn't seen someone with such lofty ambition on their pitch since Michael Knighton all those years ago. "At least Knighton could play keep-me-up" - or so the cynics were muttering as they trooped through the puddles of Stretford on their way here yesterday.

But for every dissenting voice there was one singing in exultation to the clouds Crouch occupies. Rarely has a striker polarised opinion as widely as Crouch, but then everything about the tallest player ever to appear for England is unique. Indeed, Eriksson's declaration that "Crouch is something different" is about as original as saying "Jermain Defoe is something similar".

But "different to" does not necessarily mean "preferable to", as the bellower of the barbed remark "he's no Niall Quinn" would undoubtedly have been pointing out to anyone within earshot. By then Crouch had enjoyed the kind of competitive first quarter that a leggy colt might - green. True, there was the occasional touch to hint at a talent that will always struggle to transcend his mere size - one pass to Michael Owen on 16 minutes that was perfection whatever the shoe size, and one flicked header inside that led to his partner's opportunistic penalty - but otherwise all that will stick in the mind of that first half were a few errors that were only comedic in their application.

Put simply, when Crouch cocks up he makes it look good. His pipe-cleaning arms and stilt-like legs demand he does. Another centre-forward might have got away with running into his skipper in the area, but not Crouch when stepping all over Beckham like some drunkard stumbling on to the set of Come Dancing. And almost every other frontman would have been able to chase down a Beckham pass that was always the keeper's without falling in a heap, as if his puppeteer had just cut the strings.

If Crouch could ever be described as having a physical disadvantage, it is that he is a damned sight better than he appears to be. A bit like Joe Cole in reverse, in fact. Not that he would want to be compared to that underperformer, who was at his most frustratingly ineffective here.

And saying that, the more the second half wore on and the more Crouch was asked to hold that stretched line on his ownsome, the more he could peer back at his faltering team-mates and feel anything but out of place.

Anfield has a song for him that goes: "He's big, he's red, his feet stick out the bed." Whether those feet are anywhere nearer to the World Cup walkway after this indifferent display is dubious. He remains an interesting talking point, however. A freak, maybe. But an option, without doubt.

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