Robin Scott-Elliot: Crouch, giant of the game, proves that big is beautiful

The Way I See It: Fabio Capello was never going to trust a player who appears part Van Basten, part Rodney Trotter

There was a moment on Saturday evening when Peter Crouch, his body shaped as if Marco van Basten, became fleetingly one of the true giants of the game. The fact that he later paused before answering the question "your best ever?", as if mentally flicking back through his collected works of great goals, only heightened the moment. The parabola that Crouch traced audaciously through the Potteries sky simultaneously pencilled in another chapter of his breed's football parable; big can be beautiful.

Actually it is more specific than that. Crouch and his ilk are not the towering brickhouse frontmen so beloved of Sam Allardyce; rather, his breed exists uneasily outside the game's big five – the strapping centre-half, the languid creator, the tearaway wide man, the goal poacher and that brickhouse. They are tall but more beanpole than battering ram, and with that come a peculiar spread of skills and an unparalleled ability to mix the gracious with the clumsy, the bewildering with the breathtaking. We're in giraffe country.

It was in the early 1990s that the skyscraping striker first gambolled into my affections. Aberdeen recruited Wim van der Ark, who, at 6ft 5in, was small by today's standards. As with many of this type he was all odd angles, elbows and knees, erratic in the air. Van der Ark often played as if his head was in the clouds, which during a North Sea haar it sometimes was. But every now and then he would do something special; score four times in a Scottish Cup tie at Partick or set up a cup final winner. It is the trademark of his band of lofty brothers. Van der Ark is now an estate agent back in the Netherlands but even so is still held in high affection in the north-east of Scotland.

They are not a common breed which may explain the familiar direction their career paths have followed. Jan Koller is half an inch taller than the 6ft 7in Crouch and bulkier too, but was a similar player in that his abilities were more grounded than airborne. Koller played for eight clubs; Stoke is Crouch's ninth. Nikola Zigic, who is the same height as Koller, is also on his ninth employer at Birmingham (for whom, incidentally, he scored four times at Leeds in January to double his season's return). It is as if managers look at the catalogue entry, are impressed by the big numbers – all three have a notable international scoring rate – and decide they want one, only to discover when they get it home that it does not go with what they already have.

 

There appears a lack of trust in Crouch and Co. No one, not least the player himself, is quite sure what is going to happen next. When they are good they stand out and when they are bad they stand out even more. There is football snobbery at work too. Fabio Capello, seeped in the Italian tradition, was never going to trust a player who can appear part Van Basten, part Rodney Trotter. To Capello, Crouch didn't look the part of an international footballer.

Yet his record suggests otherwise, as do those of Koller and Zigic. Koller scored 55 times in 91 games for a good Czech Republic side, playing in three European Championship finals and one World Cup. He formed a classic partnership with Milan Baros, the pair's contrasting abilities fitting together as well as Sir Dave Richards and an ornamental water feature. Zigic has 20 goals in 57 games for Serbia and Crouch has 22 in 42 for England. Harry Redknapp was once an admirer (although he did crate him up and ship him to Stoke) so there remains some hope of an international return.

Whether or not Crouch, who is now 31, ever gets to play for his country again, he already has an international reputation. He is big in China, although not as big as Yang Chanpeng. When the 6ft 8in (some have him at 6ft 11in – the variance is all part of the endearing mystery of the giraffe men) arrived for a trial at Bolton he revealed that back home he was known as "Two metre" or "Crouchie". The Sun came up with the Great Tall of China but he fell short. It leaves the Norwegian Tor Hogne Aaroy to lay claim to being the world's tallest outfield player. Aaroy is 6ft 81/2in and a striker in the Crouch mould. This is a man who stands out in a crowd, not least because he plays in Japan, where the average height is 5ft 7in.

Norway are head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to current footballing giants, with Oyvind Hoas, who once had a trial at Luton, and Even Iversen both 6ft 8in. From down here neither appears particularly proficient, but can't looks be deceiving? As Crouch demonstrated for the umpteenth time in that one moment of absolute, head-to-toe synchronicity on Saturday.

Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
science
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before