Peter Crouch: The stick I get just makes me laugh
In his first major interview since leaving Spurs, the striker tells Sam Wallace how he is loving life at Stoke and why he will never give up on England
As a veteran of eight different clubs, and nine transfer and loan deals over an 11-year career, the transfer window should hold no surprises for Peter Crouch but, even by his standards, deadline day on 31 August was, he says, "chaos".
He went in to training at Tottenham Hotspur expecting to return the next day as a Spurs player and was pitched into talks in which the club told him he was no longer wanted. Then there were contract negotiations and a drive up the M6 to sign for Stoke for a club-record £10m before the 11pm deadline. That was the complicated part. The easy bit, he says, was deciding to join the quiet football revolution in the Potteries.
It is not hard to see why Crouch was impressed by Stoke's training ground, Clayton Wood, where we met this week, which opened last year and is one of the most modern in the Premier League. But it was the man in the manager's office, Tony Pulis, who clinched the deal. Crouch has played for 12 different club managers in his career but very few have connected with him like Pulis.
Viewed from afar, there are parallels between the two men. Both are regarded as unorthodox in their approach and, as a result, both get more than their fair share of sniping. Neither will ever be regarded as "fashionable" figures in the modern game and neither of them could care less what anyone else thinks. Both have developed a habit of proving the doubters wrong.
And most importantly, Crouch, after his curt farewell from Spurs, needed a club that would appreciate him. "He [Pulis] certainly gives me that belief," Crouch says. "The best football I have ever played in my career has always been with a manager who rates me extremely highly."
He bought into Pulis' methods straight away. "He has really, really impressed me with his attention to detail and the work he does on every player and team's stats," Crouch says. "He is not concerned what anyone else says about the way we play. All he is concerned about is getting results, a stable Premier League team doing well in the cup competitions. He has achieved that.
"We are an established team now. We have done well in Europe so far, the team reached the FA Cup final last year and for me it is going to get better and better. We are not concerned what people say outside. As a manager I can't talk about him highly enough."
When they first met, it was Pulis' enthusiasm that told Crouch he was in the right place despite a similar offer from Sunderland. With Stoke also in the Europa League (they play Maccabi Tel Aviv at the Britannia tonight) there is a mood about the club that Crouch loves. As The Independent's photographer takes pictures, Crouch expresses concern at the time being taken. He is not in a rush, rather, as he points out, "the lads will be through here any minute".
Thirty seconds later his worst fears are realised as Jonathan Woodgate and Jermaine Pennant come round the corner and roar with laughter at Crouch and the photographer on top of a stepladder. Crouch grins and knows he has to take the stick. This is a club where there are no big-time Charlies.
"That's certainly the way Stoke is run," Crouch says. "From the top it is about hard work before anything else. Hard work, determination and you have to fit into the team otherwise we will lose the identity of Stoke. He [Pulis] said that to me when I arrived.
"He does his homework on a player's character as well. He knows whatever I have done previously in my career is out the window. It is a new challenge and about improving Stoke. I know he wouldn't accept [players with a high opinion of themselves] and if he saw anyone getting out of line they wouldn't be playing.
"That is not how I am. The manager has done his homework on me. I am happy to work as hard, if not harder, than those who are here already. The manager certainly won't take anything less."
It was still tough to leave Spurs but football can be a brutal business and, after two years and some crucial goals for the club, Crouch was told he was not wanted. "It was difficult really, I felt I had to leave in the end," Crouch says. "I could have sat there, I had another two years left on my contract. From their point of view they wanted to get Scott Parker in, they needed finances for that. At the end of the day that is nothing to do with me. I have to do what is right for me.
"In the end it worked out best for everyone. They got a good fee for me and they could bring Parker in. I could go to a club where I felt extremely wanted and felt like a real big part of it moving forward. I didn't feel that at Tottenham."
Ask Crouch how he feels about Daniel Levy, the Spurs chairman, and he responds by saying he still has a "fantastic relationship" with Harry Redknapp. "It got to the stage where Daniel wanted the money for me. He wanted to move me on because he already had [Emmanuel] Adebayor and wanted Parker. In the end it was best for all concerned that I moved. There are no hard feelings. I always enjoyed my time working for the manager."
It was just three weeks before they met again, when Stoke eliminated Spurs in the Carling Cup third round. As Crouch stepped up to take his penalty in the shoot-out that followed, Redknapp shouted at him: "We know which side you go for." So Crouch aimed for the other corner, scored and Stoke eventually won 7-6.
Over his career he has generated £47m in transfer fees although he never planned it that way. "I would love to have stayed at one club my whole life," he says. "Liverpool was a fantastic club but I had to move. In the end I felt I got forced out and I had to [go somewhere to] play. There is good reason each time why I have moved. If you look at the relationship I have with the clubs I have played at there are no hard feelings.
"Someone always needs a striker to score goals. Maybe when I am at a club and in and out of a team, they look at me. There have been other times when I have done well but the club has been relegated and I have moved on. That's just part and parcel of football."
Yet despite 22 goals in 42 caps, Crouch has become the forgotten man under Fabio Capello. He last played – and scored – for England against France almost a year ago and since then has been overlooked to the extent he was not even in the last squad.
"Of course I am frustrated," Crouch says. "I see people coming in and going out. I have always been around the squad since 2005. It is only since I moved to Stoke that I wasn't in the squad. I know the [Stoke] fans are annoyed at the fact he [Capello] has never been to the ground. It is frustrating in that I feel I have done extremely well for England and I feel I have not really been given a chance by the manager. I will always work hard and do the best I can do and hopefully it will be enough."
His lowest moment was not playing a single minute of either the Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales in March or the friendly against Ghana that followed it having been told otherwise by Capello. "I was very disappointed. For the Wales game I wasn't on the bench and then the manager told me I was going to play 45 minutes [against Ghana] and I didn't play again.
"I felt extremely frustrated. That is only natural and people started saying 'He is going to retire' but I couldn't retire from international football. It is an absolute privilege and an honour to be involved. That will always remain the case."
He still believes that playing well for Stoke will give him a way back, even if the evidence suggests otherwise. "I saw Jermain Defoe wasn't in the last squad either and a lot of eyebrows were raised at that. He [Capello] has got his opinions. That is not to say you won't be back in. He is not concerned with the past; if you are playing well then you will be in the next one so hopefully that is the case."
Even in the discussions around how England will compensate for Wayne Rooney's three-game absence at Euro 2012, there seems to be little mention of Crouch. "It is quite funny: I wasn't in the last squad, so now I am 'out of the England set-up'. That's just the way it is. It doesn't matter what you have done previously.
"I look at it that I scored in the last game I played. If I am given the chance I think it will go well and I believe it will in the future. At the end of the day it is a game of opinions. It is annoying because I have to wait on someone's say-so to play but I love playing for my country."
Crouch is the kind of sunny character who is never down for long and at Stoke he has found a good match. They are the unfashionable club who have forced their way into contention in English football. He is the striker who has been written off time and again.
"There's always something thrown at me but at the end of the day I am still here. People will write me off and I come back and get a few goals for England. That is something I have had my entire career. I am 30 years old now. It is not going to change. I will always have to 'prove myself' and I have another chance to do that at Stoke."
In Gerry Francis, Stoke's first-team coach, he is reunited with his first manager at Queen's Park Rangers and he has already moved his wife Abbey and daughter Sophia up north. "I'm extremely settled and happy," he said. "I absolutely love being a dad and hopefully I can stay here for a number of years."
We finish up and Crouch has another interview with France Football magazine who are waiting in the lobby. One does not suppose France Football have had much reason to visit Stoke over the last few decades but times are changing, and for one striker in particular there is another challenge to be met and people to be proved wrong.
The king of clubs
Tottenham (1998-2000): Fails to make first-team appearance.
QPR (2000-01): Top scorer in relegated side.
Portsmouth (2001-02): Scores 19 goals on South Coast.
Aston Villa (2002-04): Joins for £5m but gets few chances.
Southampton (2004-05): Scores 16 but unable to avoid drop.
Liverpool (2005-08): Nets 42 times and wins FA Cup.
Portsmouth (2008-09): One season, 16 more goals.
Tottenham (2009-11): Goal ensures Spurs finish fourth.
Stoke (2011-): £10m move breaks transfer record.
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